Brain health is an often-overlooked aspect of healthy lifestyle practices for many people.  We tend to focus on those ‘number’ items such as our blood sugar numbers, cholesterol levels numbers, the number on the scale, and those blood pressure numbers. Many of us work together and pro-actively with our health care provider and wellness professionals such as the Rolling Strong team of CDL Wellness Coaches to help mediate these ‘number focused’ conditions.  But what about our brain health?   Many of us either fear the road to dementia, Alzheimer’s and cognitive impairment for ourselves or for our loved ones.  If you have experienced the utter pain of being completely unrecognized by your beloved parent you surely know that the road to cognitive impairment and neuro-degenerative diseases is indeed a bleak, terrifying place.  The Alliance for Aging Research says that “A new survey shows the majority of Boomers are anxious about how Alzheimer’s disease (AD) will affect their health and quality of life”.  Dementia has been called the “Mother of all Boomer Fears”. And even if you are not in that age bracket you may very well be placed in the position of caretaking someone who is suffering.

There are approximately 5.7 million people in the United States living with dementia and Alzheimer’s accounts for about 60-70% of those cases and vascular dementia accounting for the remainder.  These numbers are expected to grow as life expectancy increases with a projection of 13.9 million people over the age of 65 with Alzheimer’s or other dementia diseases expected by the year 2060.

 How our Brains Work:  Weighing in at about 3 pounds our brains process about 70,000 thoughts every day. Without our brain we would have no sense of ‘self’ or awareness of what is going on around us. Over 100 billion nerve cells serve to communicate with our bodies at more than 500 trillion points that travel at more than 300 miles per hour.  These interconnected nerve cells form the foundations of our memories, our thoughts, feelings and emotions and the patterns they form become a way of ‘coding’ for humans that create our individuality, our skill sets, our self-awareness and even our hopes and dreams.  Some of the main functions include its role in sensory processing, control of our respiration, heart and nervous systems not only in the physical sense but the neurochemical processes form the encoding of our emotional responses- how and who we love, what we hope and pray for, which foods we like, pleasure, pain, and more.

Our bodies are built to protect the brain; the skull forms a sturdy bone barrier and tightly knitted cells form what is known as the “blood-brain barrier” on the inside to make sure nothing passes through that could cause harm to this precious organ. 

Feeding our Brain:  The energy demands of the brain surpass all other organs or physical structures in your body.   Blood flow to the brain is essential for both the nutrient supplies as well as a steady supply of glucose and oxygen- the brain consumes a whopping 20 % of our energy (think calories) and oxygen.  About ⅔ of that energy goes to the complex neural processing and about ⅓ of the energy is used for ‘maintenance’- the cleaning up of those important brain cells.  It is not possible for the brain to store either oxygen or glucose so without a steady supply it cannot survive.  Just 10 minutes of deprivation of either can cause the brain to begin to die.   It is easy to understand that what you eat and whether you exercise can play a large role in the health of your brain. If you have heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or diabetes you are a greater risk for developing Alzheimer’s and dementia. Blood flow is crucial for your brain to work and of these chronic conditions contribute to decreased blood flow and circulatory issues. It makes sense that the lifestyle changes that help with chronic conditions will also help support your brain health.  

 Healthy Eating for a Healthy Brain:  

Not surprisingly, the same foods that you want to eat for heart health are the same foods that help with brain health.  When you protect and preserve the health of your heart and blood vessels and circulatory system, you protect your brain.  

  • Eat fatty fish 2-3 times per week
  • Eat a lot of plants!  Eat all the colors of the rainbow in fruits and vegetables ( a bare minimum of 5  servings/ day, even MORE is better)  Load up on leafy greens
  • Eat nuts and seeds and healthy fats like olive oil, avocados 
  • Avoid red meat
  • Eliminate all refined sugars and grains
  • Eliminate packaged and processed foods
  • Limit saturated fats and refined processed oils and trans fats

Fish and Walnuts Build Brain Cells and Improve Reaction Time:  

  • Our brains are made up of 60% fat.  Healthy fats nourish and replenish the brain. Fatty fish and Walnuts provide a healthy fat in the form of Omega 3 fatty acids.  These Omega 3 Fatty Acids help to build those billions of nerve cells in your brain- keeping you “wired and fired” for learning, memory, performance and cognitive and executive function in reaction time and decision making.  Healthy unsaturated fats have been shown to be linked to lower the levels of a certain protein called beta-amyloid in the blood which is tied to the damaging clumps of plaque in the brain of those with Alzheimer’s disease. 
  • Choose wild salmon, herring, trout, sardines and tuna as well as plant sources of omega 3 fatty acids like flaxseeds and walnuts.  

Leafy Green Vegetables Slow Cognitive Decline:

  • Leafy greens such as kale, spinach, and broccoli foods help with slowing cognitive decline because of their anti-inflammatory, antioxidant rich properties.  These leafy greens are loaded with brain boosting nutrients like folate, beta carotene, lutein and vitamin K.  

 Blueberries Improve Neurons and Lower BP: 

  • The brilliant blues and deep pigments flavonoids) in blueberries have been shown to improve memory function and communication within nerve cells delaying aging within the brain.  Let’s not forget the blood pressure and positive effects on blood vessel attributes of blueberries-  a study published in Feb 2019 in the Journal of gerontology found that eating 200 grams (about a cup) of blueberries every day for a month improves blood vessel function and lowers systolic blood pressure.  

 Black Coffee helps Solidify Memories: 

  • Coffee has many health benefits and brain health is one of them. Many people turn this beneficial beverage bad by adding artificial or heavily saturated fat creamers and sugar. Remember to drink it black (or with a dairy-free nut milk like almond or coconut milk).  Coffee is high in antioxidants that quell inflammation and free radical damage to cells throughout the body and brain.  The caffeine in coffee not only helps with mental function and alertness, it has been shown to be beneficial to solidifying new memories in the brain.  Black coffee drinking is linked to a lower incidence of neurological diseases and better mental function. 

 Dark Chocolate to “De-Frag”:  

  • The cacao in dark chocolate is a powerful antioxidant that significantly reduces oxidative stress and helps to grow neurons and certain blood vessels in the brain that are involved in learning and memory and helps with neuroplasticity.  Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to change and be resourceful in its connection processes which means it runs more efficiently; think of it as your brain’s ability to “de-frag” itself.  Choose a dark chocolate with at least 70% cacao

Other lifestyle components of brain health include exercise, getting enough sleep (at least 6-8 hours every night), managing stress (stress interferes with learning, memory and cognitive and executive function), good hydration, maintaining a good social network of friends, and boosting your brain function with new activities and learning challenges.  Remember to always seek medical attention if you or a loved one experiences signs of cognitive impairment. 

 Working with your Rolling Strong Wellness coach can help you reach your goals in any of these lifestyle changes.  Small steps create new habits and each little change can make a world of difference in your cognitive health. 

 By: Cindy Luisi, WHE, WHC, CCP, CDL Wellness Coach

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Interested in helping your Drivers focus on wellness? Rolling Strong is the premier provider of driver wellness programs for transportation companies and their drivers and owner-operators. We provide support in the areas of Nutrition, Fitness, Sleep, Stress Management and Weight Management to help truck drivers make the changes needed for a healthy lifestyle.

We offer in-terminal and on-the-road solutions, with customizable programs, all which revolve around our Rolling Strong Wellness App for drivers. We offer administrative reporting capabilities to help carriers and drivers improve compliance with CDL medical requirements and to implement and manage their wellness initiatives.

If you are interested in what we can do for you, click here

Sources:

“12 Best Brain Foods: Memory, Concentration, and Brain Health.” Medical News Today, MediLexicon International, www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/324044.php.

“12 Best Brain Foods: Memory, Concentration, and Brain Health.” Medical News Today, MediLexicon International, www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/324044.php.

Baby Boomer Attitudes on Alzheimer’s Disease.” Alliance for Aging Research, www.agingresearch.org/press-release/baby-boomer-attitudes-on-alzheimers-disease/.

The ‘Blue’ in Blueberries Can Help Lower Blood Pressure.” ScienceDaily, ScienceDaily, 20 Feb. 2019, www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/02/190220112211.htm.

Harvard Health Publishing. “Foods Linked to Better Brainpower.” Harvard Health, www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/foods-linked-to-better-brainpower.

Jennings, Kerri-Ann. “11 Best Foods to Boost Your Brain and Memory.” Healthline, Healthline Media, 9 May 2017, www.healthline.com/nutrition/11-brain-foods#section4.

Kessler, Eva-Marie, et al. “Dementia Worry: a Psychological Examination of an Unexplored Phenomenon.” EuropeanJournal of Ageing, Springer Netherlands, 22 Sept. 2012, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5549110/.

Swaminathan, Nikhil. “Why Does the Brain Need So Much Power?” Scientific American, Scientific American, 29 Apr. 2008, www.scientificamerican.com/article/why-does-the-brain-need-s/.

https://www.aarp.org/content/dam/aarp/health/brain_health/2018/01/gcbh-nourishing-your-brain-health-report-english-aarp.doi.10.26419%252Fpia.00019.001.pdf

 

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