Brain Health Is Central to Quality of Life
Brain health is important to our overall happiness for the simple reason that the brain is who we are. Our perception of the world and reality originates in the brain. Our ideas, our emotions, our memories are all in the brain. Our humanity, our spirituality, our relationships with others—everything begins with the brain. It’s hard to imagine anyone having a good life if their brain is physically unhealthy or cognitively weak.
Keeping our minds fit has to be one of the major objectives throughout life. The best way to do this is to seek meaningful mental effort and stimulation on a regular basis. This often begins with education, no matter our age. Education provides more interesting and challenging career choices and more stimulating leisure activities, which are central in building the cognitive reserves that protect us later. Those who are already on a career track should pursue any job-related educational opportunities possible. The stimulation of interesting hobbies and travel also strongly benefit the mind and build cognitive strength.
For most people, the critical element in long-term brain health is taking on the most challenging work possible. Studies have shown that regardless of our field of expertise, the most important element in building cognitive strength is the overall complexity (which often translates into difficulty) of the occupation. The greater the number of years spent at complex work, the greater the cognitive benefit. Cumulatively, education plus challenging work can reduce the odds of Alzheimer’s by as much as two-thirds.
“Our humanity, our spirituality, our relationships with others—everything begins with the brain. It’s hard to imagine anyone having a good life if their brain is physically unhealthy or cognitively weak.”
The fact that it takes many years of effort to build up significant cognitive reserves means that we all need to start as soon as possible. By the time the signs of cognitive decline are visible, the physical health of the brain has also deteriorated. Cognitive stimulation then can help offset decline to a modest degree. It’s the difference between walking several miles a day throughout life versus walking a few hundred feet near the end of life. Everything helps, but nothing helps like a lifetime of physical or mental challenge.
Another emerging concern is that life now has many “auto-assist” features that reduce cognitive effort. Today, for instance, ...
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