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Improve Brain Health

Who would have thought that one could improve brain health? I mean, if I go to the gym and do biceps exercises, or squats, there is a way to measure my progress.

Muscles grow and can be measured or I can move more resistance, lift a heavier weight, and I feel better, (because of the endorphins released when I resistance train) but if I go read classical literature or research in a field I am unfamiliar with, I cannot measure my brain's health or growth in the same way as I can a muscle's growth or health.

(When was the last time anyone complimented you on your axon definition? See?)

If I am still thinking, creating words in my brain, then it must be healthy, right?

Not necessarily. Changes in my brain's health are subtle and cumulative, and we are not sure that once things like Alzheimer's disease have begun that cognitive function can be regained.

It turns out that I need to take care of improving my brain's health just like I do my musculature and skeletal health.

There are four or five areas of concern, including physical exercise, which many say is the most important area, nutrition, stress management, sleep, and novel learning challenges.

When those concerns are addressed I am making it possible for my brain to grow new neurons, which is called neurogenesis, and I am asking my brain to be plastic, which allows it to reorganize itself frequently.

Neuroplasticity is the wonderful way my brain has of keeping itself fired up and curious about the things outside of itself.

While I cannot measure neuroplasticity like I can measure weight lifting resistance, I want to encourage it anyway.


Just no way around it folks, to improve brain health, you must eat lots of fruit and vegetables, and give up processed foods, which are filled with appetite stimulants and msg anymore.

That means no more hamburger helper or cereal from the box. (You might find high fructose corn syrup in your toothpaste or your children's OTC vitamins too).

Even the vegetables you eat need to be bought from local growers if at all possible, because if they are picked green and shipped to you without ripening on the vine, they will lack the necessary phytochemicals that develop in the fruit or vegetable when it reaches full maturity on the vine.

It is the vitamins, minerals, fiber, glyconutrients, antioxidants, and phytochemicals that neurons need to keep the neurogenesis and neuroplasticity going strong.

In particular, neurons need omega 3 from cold water ocean going fish if at all possible, which means eating fish, (not farmed fish, which are subject to the same kind of disease issues as farmed pork or beef) and those fish may have lots of mercury in them, so a supplement may be in order here.

The brain is about 2% of your weight, but uses 20% of the energy your body uses, so it must get a steady supply of energy from the food you eat, as it cannot store a supply, which means that you have to make each meal count to improve brain health.

Antioxidants are very important for brain health. The brain uses 20% of the energy we consume per day, which means there are a lot of chemical reactions happening in and around those neuronal mitochondria, which means free radicals from oxidation.

Free radicals seek to stabilize themselves by grabbing a nearby electron from a stable molecule, destabilizing that molecule. It is possible that a cascade of unstable molecules could result, so eat your blue berries, which provide antioxidants to sop up free radicals.

Your reward? A square or two of dark chocolate, filled with good chemicals, or perhaps you like coffee or tea?

Green tea is very good for your immune system, and coffee delivers antioxidants too.


Good news for you who like naps. You have been taking care of your brain's health by doing that. Well, actually you need a good nights sleep.

There is a evidence indicating that the brain prunes some of the new connections formed during the day while you are asleep, and important hormonal events happen at night which need to be completed for improved brain health the next day.

The bad news is that we as a society are getting about 1 and 1/2 less hours of sleep than we used to a few decades ago, and I am sure many are losing sleep over current economic conditions.

Physical Exercise

The single best thing we can do to improve brain health is exercise.

Do you need to buy an expensive gym membership to get the right kind of exercise for your brain?

No. The kind of exercise that is good for your brain is the kind that makes you breathe deeper for ten minutes a couple of times a day.

The measurement is usually deep enough breathing that you cannot continue the exercise and talk at the same time.

What I am talking about is HIIT or high intensity interval training, which can be done at home in the utility room of your basement by doing 30 second intervals of jumping jacks, burpees, push-ups, skipping rope, using an exercise ball, for example, at your level of intensity and expertise, at your pace, so long as the interval lasts 30 seconds.

I like to include trips up and down the stairs too.

Physical exercise means increased blood flow to the brain, which means more small blood vessels built to bathe those new neurons in nutrients and remove waste.

Yes, the waste removal plumbing is very important to improve brain health.

As I mentioned above, exercise means endorphins, your brains own pain killer, is released, which leaves us feeling good after physical exercise, and I like that reward. Stress Management Stress is the name we give to the chemistry created in our body when we are surprised or perceive danger.

Unfortunately, we have gotten in the habit of cuing that chemistry inappropriately, or sustaining it, and our brain, being the good learner that it is, will comply and keep adrenaline and cortisol flowing.

Stress hormones are great for battling dragons when they appear, but they are not good for helping my brain stay healthy.

When a dragon appears, I do battle, or freeze, or run for my life, until there is a resolution of some kind, and if that resolution is in my favor, I rest and resume a more sedate life.

However, that fight or flight response locks me into a very limited behavioral repertoire, fight or flight or freeze, and it is very hard to create a novel solution to a problem when my body is running, or frozen, or prepared to fight.

In order to create novel solutions, I need to learn to cue the opposite of stress, which is relaxation, and I need to practice that using another free tool, called deep breathing.

Novel Learning and Improved Brain Health

Ten years ago we did not know that neurogenesis happened in our brains, and now we are using tools to increase it.

What will they think of next?

There are a lot of marketers creating incredible sales copy to sell improve brain health tools.

So, being a 61 year old guy with young children worried about not being healthy enough to be part of their lives, I have tried out some of the available programs, based on my reading of the literature about them, like the IMPACT and ACTIVE studies testing the impact of the Posit Science tool on Seniors, and the Bueschkall and Jaeggie studies in regards to the dual nback task, I tried three of the programs and really enjoyed them.

They vary in terms of expense and commitment. One asks for an hour per day for 40 days, another is an online subscription program you can do quickly several times per day, another asks for 20 minutes per day for 19 days, another relies on classical music, which I really enjoy, and they are much simpler for me than learning a new language or learning a new instrument.

So there you have it, the scoop for improving brain health. Thanks.

Michael S. Logan is a brain fitness expert, a counselor, a student of Chi Gong, and licensed one on one HeartMath provider. I enjoy the spiritual, the mythological, and psychological, and I am a late life father to Shane, 10, and Hannah Marie, 4, whose brains are so amazing.