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Brain Fitness and its Impact on Neuropsychiatric Health

BY: Divya Narayan | Category: Healthcare | Submitted: 2014-01-17 01:05:12
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Article Summary: "Brain fitness provides numerous protective effects to the brain and the nervous system against free radical damage, inflammatory effects, and oxidative damage. Cognitive functioning of the brain can be maintained at a constant level or even increased with age, primarily due to a healthy lifestyle and high levels of brain stimula.."

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What is brain fitness?

The term "cognition" refers to the overall mental processing of sensory information received by the brain. It comprises of retention of information (memory), language processing, reasoning, problem solving skills, etc. Activities dealing with cognition are known as "cognitive activities". [1]

"Cognitive fitness" is also known as "brain fitness". This is a hypothesis which states that the cognitive functioning of the brain can be maintained at a constant level or even increased with age, primarily due to a healthy lifestyle and high levels of brain stimulatory exercises. [2]

Need for Brain Fitness - "Use it or lose it!"

Neurogenesis is defined as the process of formation of new neurons (brain cells). The process of neurogenesis is the most active during the prenatal developmental stage. Neurons are most actively formed during the foetal stage.

Brain fitness provides numerous protective effects to the brain and the nervous system against free radical damage, inflammatory effects, and oxidative damage. It is seen that those individuals who keep themselves "brain fit" have less likelihood of developing neuropsychiatric illnesses as compared to those individuals who are not "brain fit". [3]
The brain undergoes continuous changes throughout a person's lifetime. Research has shown that the brain possess the property of "plasticity". In other words, so long as the brain is kept active and fit, newer neurons keep getting synthesized. In other words, the functioning of the entire nervous system and its overall fitness is based on the principle of "Use it or lose it!" [4]

How can brain fitness be achieved?
Brain fitness can be achieved by indulging in - [5]

Healthy lifestyle habits Brain stimulatory
Physical Activity Learning new hobbies and/or languages - preferably unfamiliar tasks
Proper Nutrition Indulging in intellectually demanding activities
Adequate Sleep Increasing memory power through mnemonics
Stress Management Yoga and meditation in order to improve focus and powers of concentration

Brain fitness (as well as overall health) undergoes deterioration due to the following unhealthy activities -
• Stress
• Ageing
• Depression
• Hormonal imbalances
• Improper nutrition
• Lack of sleep
• Sedentary lifestyle
• Alcoholism
• Drug addiction
• Smoking

Impact of brain fitness on neuropsychiatric health

Neuropsychiatry deals with the study of mental illnesses arising due to disorders related to the nervous system. Some of the most common neuropsychiatric illnesses include Alzheimer's disease, Depression, Bipolar Disorder, Schizophrenia, etc.

The impact of brain fitness on neuropsychiatric health can be studied under three parameters -
• Brain Stimulatory Activities
• Diet and Nutrition
• Physical Activity

Neuropsychiatric illness

Impact of brain fitness on illness

Alzheimer's Disease

  • Brain Stimulatory Activities -

   ♦ Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) delays the onset of Alzheimer's disease by decreasing occurrence of plaques and tangles

   ♦ Impact of shrinking of certain parts of brain is decreased

   ♦ Intellectual stimulation increases neurogenesis and improves communication between them [6]

  • Physical activity -

   ♦ Aerobic exercise increases oxygen input, thus improving brain activity [7]

   ♦ Exercise improves memory recall in patients suffering from Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) [8]

  • Diet and Nutrition -

   ♦ Increased consumption of turmeric and unsaturated fatty acids (omega-3-fatty acids) in the diet delays onset of Alzheimer's Disease [9]

   ♦ Consumption of antioxidant-rich diet (antioxidants such as Vitamin E and Vitamin C) beneficial for improving brain health and protecting against damage from free radicals and metallic ions (Pb, Fe, Al, Cu, Zn), which cause oxidative damage [10]


(decline in cognitive functioning)

  • Brain Stimulatory Activities -

   ♦ Brain stimulatory activities may help prevent clinical symptoms of dementia [11]

   ♦ Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) enhances memory of epileptic patients suffering from memory problems [12]

   ♦ "Healthier" brain white matter seen in patients exposed to brain stimulatory activity [13]

  • Physical activity -

   ♦ Improved volume of grey matter in brain - 5% more grey matter seen in physically active individuals [14]

   ♦ Physical activity induces the production of brain-derived neurotrophic factor - important for propagation and survival of neurons [15]


  • Physical activity -

   ♦ Exercise releases endorphins, which uplift the mood of an individual [16]

   ♦ Exercise is a means to treat mild to moderate forms of depression [17]

   ♦ Exercise initiates neurogenesis which improves cognitive fitness [18]

   ♦ Exercise reduces risk of depression occurring in older adults [19]

  • Diet and Nutrition -

   ♦ Deficiency of serotonin and melatonin is one of the causes of depression. In order to avoid or alleviate symptoms of depression, the diet should contain foods rich in serotonin such as milk, oats, bananas, beans, etc. [20]

   ♦ Insulin levels should be regulated so as to avoid spikes in blood sugar level [21]

   ♦ Consumption of omega-3-fatty acids should be increased. EPA is the most potent dietary anti-depressant. [22]

  • Brain Stimulatory Activities -

   ♦ Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) an effective means to treat depression [23]

   ♦ Treat the root cause of depression rather than treating depression itself [24]

   ♦ Effective brain stimulatory activities to treat depression include individual counseling, socialization, exercise, yoga, meditation, etc. [25]


  • Physical activity -

   ♦ Yoga and meditation have a greater impact on the mental state of patients rather than physical exercise [26]

  • Diet and Nutrition -

   ♦ Diet rich in niacin (Vitamin B3), essential fats, antioxidants, folic acid, Vitamin B12 [27]

   ♦ Zinc and copper are required to be consumed in order to counter imbalance in histamine metabolism

   ♦ Blood sugar levels need to be maintained

  • Brain stimulatory activities -

   ♦ Socialization improves facial recognition and expression of emotions [28]

   ♦ Brain games which train patients in mental tasks can improve systemic cognitive functioning [29]

   ♦ Computer-assisted cognitive remediation improves neurocognitive functioning and improves work productivity in schizophrenics [30]

Bipolar Disorder

  • Physical activity -

   ♦ Exercise helps in controlling weight gain - a common problem for people suffering from bipolar disorder [31]

   ♦ Symptoms of bipolar disorder can be managed through regular physical activity [32]

  • Diet and Nutrition -

   ♦ Avoiding red meats, saturated and trans fats, simple carbohydrates [33]

   ♦ Consumption of foods rich in riboflavin, which help in reducing anxiety [34]

   ♦ Increased consumption of foods containing omega-3-fatty acids [35]

Anxiety Disorders

  • Diet and Nutrition -

   ♦ Foods to be avoided - Fried foods, caffeine, alcohol, refined and processed foods, simple sugars [36]

   ♦ Foods to be consumed to avoid anxiety attacks - Sources of tryptophan, vitamin B, dietary fibre, omega-3-fatty acids, protein [37]

  • Physical activity -

   ♦ Aerobic exercise relieves tension, elevates mood, and improves sleep [38]

   ♦ Physically active individuals face lesser risk of developing anxiety attacks [39]

  • Brain Stimulatory Activities -

   ♦ Hypnosis and hypnotherapy are effective means of treating anxiety disorders, especially social anxiety [40]



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