The Six Building Blocks of Brain Health

older adults in a classroom


September 21 is World Alzheimer’s Day. Every 65 seconds, someone in the United States develops Alzheimer’s disease. One in three senior die with the disease of another form of dementia. It is the sixth leading cause of death in the country and with an aging population, its impact on society will continue to grow.

At LifeCare Advocates, we deal with the effects of Alzheimer’s every day and thought today would be a good day to share with our readers some things we can all do to help keep our brains performing at their peak. Here are six basic elements of brain health.

Mental stimulation

A study conducted by the University of California, Berkeley, suggests that not all people who develop beta-amyloid deposits – a destructive protein association with Alzheimer’s disease – go on to manifest the symptoms associated with Alzheimer’s. So why do some people with these deposits develop Alzheimer’s while others don’t? Dr. William Jagust, the study’s principle investigator, hypothesizes that “people who spend a lifetime involved in cognitively stimulating activity have brains that are better able to adapt to potential damage.” According to Dr. Anne Fabiny, chief of geriatric chief of geriatrics at Cambridge Health Alliance and an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, suggests that tasks that mentally challenge the brain – such as learning a new language or skill – provide the greatest benefit for brain health.

Physical activity

We’ve discussed the importance of remaining physically active on brain health in our past posts. According to the Harvard Health Letter, aerobic exercise helps cognitive function by reducing insulin resistance and inflammation and by releasing growth factors that stimulate the growth of new blood vessels in the brain. While most experts recommend between 120 and 150 minutes of aerobic exercise a week to gain maximum benefit, in one study of seniors, those who reported that they exercised for at least 30 minutes a day, three times a week, reduced their risk of vascular-related dementia by 40 percent.


The brain doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Whatever is good for the body is usually good for the brain. This is particularly true with what you eat. We know that eating too much or eating the wrong kinds of food is detrimental to staying in peak physical condition. So it is with the brain. Paul Thompson, professor of neurology at UCLA’s School of Medicine, published research that found that the brains of obese seniors had about eight percent less brain volume than their normal-weight counterparts. Lower brain volume increases one’s risk for Alzheimer’s. The MIND diet –a hybrid of the Mediterranean and DASH diets – has been shown to reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s by 53 percent.


Human connection is essential to maintaining a healthy and meaningful life. It also appears to help in the fight against cognitive decline. Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health discovered that people who, in their 50s and 60s, regularly engaged in social activity had the slowest rates of memory loss. Mayo Clinic’s National Institute on Aging conducted a study that found that participants who socialized regularly with others were 55 percent less likely to develop mild cognitive impairment.


Spirituality is a broad tent. When we talk about spirituality in the context of brain health, we’re talking about any practice that brings a sense of peace to one’s life. This could include going to church, meditating, practicing yoga or simply being still. A study conducted by researchers at Columbia University and the New York State Psychiatric Institute found that people who placed a high level of importance on spirituality in their lives had significantly thicker cerebral cortexes. Researchers at Johns Hopkins University studied over 19,000 meditation studies and concluded that mindfulness meditation can help ease psychological stresses like anxiety, depression, and pain – all of which are risk factors for Alzheimer’s.


Getting plenty of quality sleep is essential to maintaining a healthy brain. A study at the Rochester Medical Center in New York discovered that sleep allows the space between brain cells to expand, which helps to eliminate toxins that build up during the day. Poor sleep can actually cause beta-amyloid proteins to accumulate in the brain.