The central nervous system, composed of the brain and the spinal cord, controls virtually every aspect of our existence, including our thoughts, movements, emotions, and desires. Each physical and mental activity is initiated and carried out by our brains. Brain health is a vital part of overall wellness and plays a key role in our ability to live long, healthy, and full lives—but what is brain health and why is it important?
While there is no universal definition of brain health, there are two key aspects that contribute to it—mental and behavioral brain health and neurocognitive brain health. Let’s take a deeper look into these aspects, along with the six pillars of brain health and the best way to measure and monitor your brain health.
When many individuals think about “good” brain health, they think of the absence of diseases that impact our ability to think and move, like Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease, but there is much more to it. The brain is the most complex organ in the human body. It makes up only 2% of our body weight but consumes 20% of the oxygen we breathe and 20% of the energy we consume.
Mental and behavioral health is a significant part of brain health as well as overall health. It includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being and impacts how we feel, think, and act. According to the World Health Organization, mental health is a state of well-being in which an individual realizes his or her abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively, and can make a contribution to his or her society.
Mental health and neurocognitive health go hand-in-hand. For example, depression and social isolation are known risk factors for the development of neurological diseases. On the other hand, neurocognitive impairment is often present in mood disorders.
Neurocognitive function can be broken down into cognitive and functional aspects of brain health. Cognitive aspects refer to how we think, while functional aspects refer to how we move. Neurocognitive brain health impacts our ability to complete our normal activities, or Activities of Daily Living, such as eating, bathing, dressing, and functioning within a community and society. To paint a better picture, let’s take a look at a few neurocognitive domains, or key features of neurocognitive brain health.
Small steps can have big effects on brain health. Your lifestyle, including what you eat and drink, how well you sleep, how much you exercise, and how you stimulate your brain, has a profound impact on brain health. Researchers have identified the following six pillars of brain health that can be incorporated to improve and optimize our mental and neurocognitive brain health while reducing the risk of developing neurological diseases in the future:
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