Brain Awareness Week

10th March- 16th March 2014

“It is not enough to have a good mind;
the main thing is to use it well.”
- Rene Descartes

Welcome to our first instalment for Brain Awareness Week for 2014.

Don’t worry it sounds worse than it actually is!

Our brain and spinal cord make up the central nervous system.  The Central Nervous system is the single most important organ in our bodies as it is responsible for the coordination of functions of all our other body systems. Although it only accounts for only 2% of our body weight it consumes 20% of the oxygen and 20% of the total energy our bodies use.  

The brain is so complex that how it works is not yet fully understood. It is made up of billions of nerve cells (neurons), billions of supporting cells and a hundred trillion or more synaptic connections that link the cells together. The neurons are responsible for sending electrical impulses that trigger the release of small signal chemicals called neurotransmitters.  These neurotransmitters allow passing of the signal from one neuron to another cell (neuron or other tissues of the body, e.g. muscles).  

   The signals from the central nervous system are conveyed to the body via the peripheral nervous system where neurotransmitters interact with the target cells to get a specific response.  In this way the brain coordinates daily tasks such as breathing, healing injuries, moving muscles and recalling memories. 
When we learn something new a tiny physical change occurs in our brain and new connections are created. This gives our brain alternative routes to send the instructions and ensures greater adaptability as we age.

Use it or Lose it
Having a good mind isn’t enough, you need to use it well in order to keep your brain healthy into old age.  Research has shown that not all brains age the same way and the age related structural changes do make predictable changes in brain/cognitive function.

As the brain ages it is more susceptible to neurological disorders and cognitive decline but the good news is that our brains are highly adaptable and with some training you may be able to minimise the effects.  It is even apparent that the brain can become more efficient or even grow new cells even in advanced years.

Just like with using muscles makes them stronger, using your brain can help make it more efficient and “stronger”.

What can you do to improve and preserve your brain’s health?
Like any high performance machine your brain requires constant care and maintenance. Research has found that human mental decline typically begins in adults as young as 40.
Keep your brain in better shape with:
  • Positive mental stimulation,
  • Physical activity,
  • Good nourishment 
  • Mental and Physical relaxation are all important to a healthy brain


Exercise and Challenge Your Brain
It has been found that challenging your brain with new activities and exercises can help protect against mental decline. It helps to stimulate areas of the brain that may be unused and create new neural pathways, which provides alternative nerve routes for messages to travel.
There are no specific exercises that are going to guarantee optimum brain health instead it is about challenging yourself on a daily basis. These exercises do not need to be complicated but can be simple thinking activities, see examples below:

  • Try to recall what you did a week ago on a particular day
  • Avoid using calculators: Perform simple calculations in your head
  • Swap TV for a book or mind games, such as sudoku
  • Play games that involve memory, such as bridge, or thinking ahead, like chess
  • Take up a new hobby
  • Learn a new language
  • Learn a musical instrument

For some free and fun mental activities visit The Dana Foundation by clicking the link below

Stay tuned this week as we will be posting our other tips on how to improve and maintain your brain health..

Co-contributor Anita Brown