Tuesday, June 16, 2015

The Human Brain

The human brain, which weighs about 2% of our body weight, is the most complex biological structure in natur

e. It is very important to take care of this precious structure, especially during the aging process. My mother passed away at the age of 93 and was still singing and playing the piano while Tony’s mother at the age of 96, was playing word puzzles, working in her garden and helping out at old folks facilities until she passed away. I’m not sure exactly what my mother did to keep her cognitive processes at a high-level, other than continuing to play the piano, sing songs, work crossword puzzles, play bridge and beat me at Scrabble. I am unable to play the piano, sing songs, work crossword puzzles and dislike Scrabble. So this means I have to develop other strategies, in order to keep my brain healthy.

I do know that epigenetic changes [inherited genes, mutational genes and the environment] affect our brain from in utero and remain active throughout our lifespan. Body weight is associated with the major causes of death [heart disease, cancer, COPD, stroke, accidents, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, kidney disease, pneumonia, flu, and suicide], and about 40% of premature mortality is due to behavioral causes. What we eat is likely what we become. Some nutritional facts include: 1. As we age our metabolism began to slow down and we require less caloric intake. About 20 years ago, the average American consumed about 1850 calories per day, while today the number of calories has increased by 148. 365 days later, an individual would be 15 pounds heavier. 2. Items that make terrific brain food include-antioxidant rich foods [broccoli, cauliflower, onions, garlic, tomatoes, melons, potatoes, oranges blueberries, strawberries and red grapes; omega-3 fatty acids-found in tuna, salmon, and sardines or fish oil; and B vitamins found in beans, peas, enriched breads, leafy vegetables such as spinach and kale, bananas and melons.

For me, my nutritional intake includes a morning smoothie. I make enough to have it throughout the day. I use a professional blender with fruits and vegetables. I either peel my fruit like an orange, and/or wash my other fruits and vegetables using non-scented ivory soap. I want to remove those surface pesticides. I’ll also have a salad for dinner. One reason for the smoothie is to make sure I receive many fruits and vegetables.

Further, as the brain begins to atrophy or loose tissue, beginning in the third decade of life, this loss of brain tissue leads to a decline in cognitive functioning. And, research is beginning to reveal more and more how improvement in cardiovascular health also benefits cognitive functioning. Cardiovascular fitness is associated with the sparing of brain tissue, maintaining and enhancing central nervous system health and cognitive functioning-especially aerobic fitness training. As a result, I incorporate cardiovascular aerobic fitness as another strategy.

My aerobic fitness training is relatively simple. I trail run either alone or with Tony and others or use an elliptical machine. For the past 15 years or so, I have totaled roughly 50 miles per week. Currently, that’s a six-day week of running. If I miss that 50 mile mark, I miss it and so be it. On weeks that I’m entering a competition, or have an overuse injury, I reduce my daily and/or weekly miles. This past week I got up to 100% of VO 2 [145 pulse rate] on a tapering run. Tony and I are soon headed to the Bay Area for a 30 K trail run.

As my mother aged, she consumed less and less calories and became more and more slender. At the moment I’m not becoming slender. She incorporated more brain fitness exercises and I’m incorporating more cardiovascular brain exercise for my brain. Time will tell whether or not there were any differences between my strategy and hers. Hopefully, when I reach the age 93, I will know the answer.

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