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How to Maintain a Healthy Brain

  [ 65 votes ]   [ 6 Comments ]
By Todd Goldfarb • • November 13, 2007

Todd Goldfarb is a certified Holistic Health Counselor and writer. This article is reproduced with kind permission from his website/blog We The Change.

“Physical activity” is usually regarded as the pursuit of exercising the muscles, tendons and joints of the body, and rarely thought of as benefiting our internal organs (outside of the heart). But this is a limited viewpoint, as effective fitness can have a profound impact on all of our vital organs, especially the brain.

Researchers now believe that we can work-out our brains by adopting many of the same habits that sustain a healthy body, from focusing on good nutrition and physical fitness to managing stress.

This is important for us because the well-maintained brain is quicker, smarter, less forgetful, and less prone to age-related decline. Here are several ways to treat the brain real good.

Food Choices

Roughly 50% to 60% of the brain’s overall weight is pure fat (the rest of it is a mix of protein and carbohydrates). The brain uses fat as insulation for its billions of nerve cells. The better insulated a cell, the faster it sends messages and the speedier your thinking.

For this reason, fats are excellent food for the brain. But all fats are not created equal, and it is necessary to educate yourself on which fats will serve the functionality of the brain best. As a general rule, any source of omega-3 fats such as walnuts, flaxseed, flaxseed oil or dark, leafy green vegetables will help the brain run smoothly. [To learn more about omega-3 fatty acids and the omega-3 content of foods, click here.]

However, FISH provides the brain with its favorite form of fat: DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). According to David Perlmutter, co-author of The Better Brain Book, “DHA is far and away the most important nutrient for brain health.” Salmon and anchovies are excellent sources of DHA.


Chronic stress takes a heavy toll on the brain because stress hormones (such as corticosteroids) contribute to a general environment of inflammation and attack the brain’s memory center, the hippocampus.

According to researchers, stress is most damaging when you let it eat away at you. Therefore, it is extremely beneficial to find a way to do something about it. Deep breathing is an excellent way to relax, as is the practice of meditation which has long been known to alter brain waves.

In fact, recent studies have shown that meditation can change the physical structure of the brain (in a positive way). Therefore, our thoughts do play a major role when it comes to the health of our brain.


The brain produces more free radicals - highly reactive cells that contribute to cell damage - than any other organ. Antioxidants are the body’s clean-up crew, and work around the clock to scrub the body clean of free radicals. They are found primarily in fruits and vegetables, and are in great abundance in berries (especially blueberries and Goji berries). [See “The 5 Greatest Foods For Your Health.”]


Working up a sweat is critical for brain health. “Across the board, exercise increases brain function, memory retention and other key areas of cognition up to 20 percent” says Arthur F. Kramer, PhD, neuroscientist at the University of Illinois.

The brain accounts for only 2% of the body’s weight, but accounts for 15% of its blood flow, and regular exercise keeps the brain’s arteries open and unclogged. New research is suggesting that exercise may actually encourage the brain to make new connections between neurons and build new vascular structures.

Bottom line, get on that treadmill and lift some weights - it’s good for your brain!*

[*Ed. Note: Clearly, ME/CFS patients must consider their exercise very carefully, to ensure they stay within the exertion 'envelope' that will avoid damaging payback. For insights, see Dr. Lucinda Bateman's article "Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and the Exercise Conundrum," which suggests thinking in terms of 'physical conditioning' rather than 'exercise.']

Refined Sugars

The brain needs sugar (glucose) for energy. However, it prefers a nice steady and natural supply of it - the kind you find in fruits and vegetables - not in the refined sugars heaped in energy drinks and candy.

High sugar foods send a tidal wave of glucose crashing into the bloodstream, overwhelming the body’s ability to restore balance. Habitual ingestion of simple carbs and processed foods causes chronic inflammation, type-2 diabetes, and a host of other health problems.

Needless to say, none of this is good for the brain, and it is great practice to limit your intake of refined sugars.

Purposefully flexing the brain muscle through physical activity, proper nutrition, and deep relaxation is a great way to live a longer and healthier life!

Note: This information has not been reviewed by the FDA. It is not meant to prevent, diagnose, mitigate, treat, or cure any disease. It is very important that you make no change in your healthcare plan or health support regimen without researching and discussing it in collaboration with your professional healthcare team.

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Article Comments Post a Comment

Posted by: jmkinsey
Nov 28, 2007
Get on the treadmill, get out the weights & work up a sweat? With ME/CFS?????
Reply Reply

Exercise for a healthy brain
Posted by: grandma8
Nov 28, 2007
I agree with jmkinsey, was that article really meant for ME/CFS patients? I can barely walk, never mind exercise and working up a sweat would put me in bed for ? days.


Exercise is very risky with ME/CFS
Posted by: quayman
Nov 28, 2007
I don't think this is suitable advice for ME/CFS. Exercise made ME/CFS much worse which has made me cognitively much worse, made me overall much *less* active, which has caused weight gain and lots of other problems. I "fell" for all this stuff when trying to improve. People with ME/CFS need to be warned of the risks of exercise.
Reply Reply

Posted by: lilbabe
Dec 5, 2007
I totally agree!


Posted by: grahamburns
Nov 30, 2007
Its great to hear the stuff about DHA. i take 5000mg per day and i'm sure it has helped my cognitive functions. as far as exercise, i agree with the linked article about APPROPRIATE exercise. lol ie: relative to your own ability, weather its just shuffleing around the house on occasion or going for a short walk in the garden. but working up a sweat sounds a bit hard! I guess the point of the article was the cleansing power of sweat. I drink LOADS of green tea and take super antioxidants, so hopefully this compensates for my sweatless exercise lol
Reply Reply

Re: exercise
Posted by: Larae
Dec 16, 2007
As a certified personal trainer and living with FM/CFS I can empathize with those that are apprehensive about exercising. I've worked with clients that have ME/CFS, FM, Lupus and other autoimmune disorders. With the proper program you can feel better. Some people suffer more than others on any given day so that's why I design each workout tailored to the client. I too workout and I do sweat and I do feel good, memory improved and I'm more productive. Pilates and Yoga have been very beneficial for me. Tai chi is wonderful as well. I have pushed myself at times too much and paid for it so I perceive that as a learning experience and know that I can't throw in the towel and give up. Learning to listen to your body, but not fear what could really give us more quality of life is the key. I was always active as a kid, teenager and adult so it could be that it comes easier for me - I don't know. Therefore, I have concluded that if you weren't very active and you were diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder and then told by your doctor to exercise, it could be more challenging. Remember, sweating rids toxins from our body and releases the endorphins that are our own natural painkillers. With that said, some sweat buckets and some barely at all and still reap the same benefits because sweat glands vary among people. Best wishes to all of you to take the step towards a healthier life. In fitness, LaRae
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