Written By: Peter B. Laird
Published: March 16, 2023
Disponible en Español
With some 100 billion nerve cells, or neurons, the human brain is an astonishing and highly complex organ – and one that must be cared for just like the rest of your body, says Raphael Wald, Psy.D., a neuropsychologist with Baptist Health Marcus Neuroscience Institute at Boca Raton Regional Hospital, which is part of Baptist Health. As part of Brain Awareness Week, Dr. Wald spoke with Resource editors about how people can take better care of their brains as they age.
Raphael Wald, Psy.D., a neuropsychologist with Baptist Health Marcus Neuroscience Institute at Boca Raton Regional Hospital
Resource: What are some of the tried-and-true science-backed methods that adults can do now to keep their brain health strong as they age?
Dr. Wald: Exercise – aerobic exercise, specifically – is very important for cognitive health as it keeps our heart and blood vessels healthy. The healthier they are, the better they stay at nurturing the brain with the oxygen and nutrition it needs to thrive. Staying social is also very important as it prevents feelings of depression and isolation. Socialization stimulates the brain and keeps it active. Reading and doing brain games such as Sudoku or crossword puzzles are also helpful, as they function like muscle-building exercises for the brain.
Resource: Some studies reference a steep decline in cognitive health following retirement, generally speaking. Is this true? How does retirement come into play with cognition?
Dr. Wald: Retirement is not always bad for brain health, though unfortunately more often than not it is. Work gives us a sense of purpose, mental stimulation and socialization. Robbing the brain of all of these benefits frequently precipitates cognitive decline. My suggestion is to retire to an activity that will provide all of these same benefits in a less stressful manner.
Resource: How does stress play a role in cognitive health over time?
Dr. Wald: Some stress is good as it provides the push we need to stay active and accomplish mentally challenging tasks. However, chronic and severe stress can be damaging to the brain in several ways, including through the release of stress hormones that can damage the body’s normal functions.
Resource: On the topic of work, are there certain professions that have been thought to impact cognitive health, one way or the other, more so than others?
Dr. Wald: Careers in which people have to think on a daily basis are good for staying mentally fit. However, if these careers are overly sedentary they can be damaging to cognition through an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. Jobs that involve exposure to toxins like metals can lead to brain damage over time.
Resource: How do sleep and nutrition affect our brain health as we age?
Dr. Wald: You can think of the brain as a living organism that requires all of the things that any living creature needs to survive. It needs good nutrition and rest. Without these, the brain can become weakened and parts of it can die – and once brain tissue dies, it cannot be replaced.
Resource: What healthy habits can we adopt now to keep our brain sharp?
Dr. Wald: As the most complex organism in the universe, with more than 100 billion cells, a lot of things have to go right for the brain to work. Good sleep and good nutrition go a long way toward accomplishing this. Getting into a routine that provides access to healthy, fresh food in addition to a regular sleep routine gives our brains the best possible chances of thriving.