Modern science and medicine is constantly evolving. Indeed, it is believed that current medical knowledge is doubled roughly every few months, meaning that much of what physicians and clinicians learn in medical school is outdated in only a few years after graduation. With that, it was only in 1998 that we learned, from the work of Dr. Peter Eriksson and team, that the human brain continues to have the capacity to grow brain cells (called neurogenesis) and repair itself well into adulthood. Before this remarkable discovery, it was assumed that, following a peak at roughly age 18 or so, that the brain simply declined for the rest of one’s life. This finding pointed to one very clear fact: we are much more in control of our cognitive destinies than we ever thought possible.
Cognitive destiny refers to the idea that there is a predetermined endpoint to our brains, predicated on the peculiarities of our own genetic lottery. Whether we are going to develop dementia or experience age-related cognitive decline, for example, were thought to have been based almost exclusively on our genetics and how our brains were performing at the end of puberty.
Recently, however, we have learned that we have much more control over how our brains age and develop than we believed. Significant factors—such as our diet, whether or not we exercise, and our sleep habits—have a huge influence on whether and how we will experience cognitive decline and other conditions as we age.
Knowing that we can improve our brain’s destiny is great but knowing how to do it is even better. The good news on this front is that it starts by doing all of the things that you probably already know are good for you.
One of the best places to start when it comes to taking control of your cognitive destiny is your dinner plate. You certainly know that you should eat a healthy, well balanced meal for your general health. What you may not know, however, is how much evidence there is out there about the positive effects of a healthy diet—particularly a whole foods, plant-based diet—on cognitive health.
If prevention really is the best medicine (and it is!), then eating well and doing physical activities are the ultimate prescription. The best news is that you don’t need to do a lot. We aren’t talking about running a marathon here or even hitting the gym (although both are great if they are activities that you enjoy). Just a simple walk can do wonders for your physical and brain health and well-being.
If moving is good, moving outside is even better! Countless studies have shown the positive effect that sunlight and being in nature can have on our brains. Similar to moving, there is no need to overdo it here. Just a few minutes each day can make a tremendous difference in how you feel, in part due to the increased production and uptake of Vitamin D that comes with sun exposure.
It may sound strange, but studies have shown that a cluttered environment can lead to a cluttered brain. See about reducing some of the “stuff” that accumulates around us all and see how that makes you feel. If you’re like most people, you’ll note a reduction in anxiety and an improvement in your overall sense of well-being. Not too bad for a little bit of housework!
One of the best things that you can do for yourself is improve the quality of your sleep. If you’ve woken up from a terrible night’s sleep (and you almost certainly have), you probably noticed how you felt relative to days when you slept well. Your brain uses sleep to help clean out the “junk” that accumulates in addition to helping your physical body repair itself and prepare for the new day. This is one of the most important fronts that we are working on here at BRIGHT with our BEACON40 Light Systems, which are shown to help improve sleep.
While the above steps are not exhaustive, they are a great place to start if you are interested in improving the cognitive destiny of yourself or of your loved ones. If you still want to learn more, you can check out the great work being done on understanding the so-called “Blue Zones,” which are the places where people tend to live the longest, happiest lives on earth.