Our brains are amazing, says Dr Nicola Gates. “They are responsible for everything, from co-ordinating all our movements, to controlling our heart beat, understanding the sensory world, solving problems, learning, and providing us with a sense of our selves”.
And yet, most of us take them for granted.
Dr Gates reminds us that our lifespans are extending – many of us will live well beyond age 80. But longevity is most valuable if we have a healthy body and a healthy mind.
So, how do we ensure that our brain span matches our life span?
To answer that question, in this month’s letter, we share some of the key points from Dr Gates’ recent presentation at our March Client Wellbeing event.
What we cover here only touches the surface – so if you want to learn more about the science of brain health and strategies to have a healthier brain, grab a copy of Dr Gates’ excellent book “A Brain for Life”.
The big picture
Today the majority of life-threatening diseases in the developed world are non-communicable: that is, they are not due to contagion, but to lifestyle.
What’s concerning is that many well-known risk factors and chronic diseases, like cardiovascular disease and diabetes type 2 – which affect millions of people – are also linked to dementia. In Australia, dementia currently affects between 5 and 15 per cent of 65 year olds, rising to one in two for adults over age 85. But as more people are living longer, the number of adults with dementia is on the increase.
As Dr Gates reminds us, there is little point saving our pennies for retirement if we don’t address the risk of losing our marbles.
So, what can we do to reduce those odds for ourselves? She says there are three things to consider:
- Our genetic predisposition, which we can’t modify.
- Our current state of health, which we can often modify.
- Our lifestyle, over which we have full command.
Clearly, our health and lifestyle choices offer the most significant opportunities to reduce the risk of disease and to improve our lives.
According to Dr Gates, to be on the thriving end of the health spectrum, there are four primary strategies to start work on today:
- Boosting brain health – with a diet that provides fuel for your brain, and contributes to good gut health.
- Building brain reserve – through physical exercise, restorative sleep, mental activity, social connection and meditation and mindful practices.
- Reducing brain burden – by avoiding such things as intoxication, managing negative stress and building resilience.
- Cultivating a wise mind – by developing a positive mindstyle, embracing self-compassion, expressing gratitude, and enjoying a sense of play in your life.
As you know, we are passionate about living well (and sleeping well) – and so we encourage you to learn more about optimal brain health and to make positive decisions to improve your life.
What areas of your life or lifestyle are not helpful to your brain health? What small steps can you make towards change?