As we age, our brain, including the memory centers like the hippocampus, may naturally begin to shrink. This is called brain shrinkage.
When it comes to stress, high cortisol levels cause chronic damage to your brain and body. Dealing with your stress is of the utmost importance. This can be through yoga, meditation, exercise, or other activities that help get your body to a better state of calm. There are many apps available such as an app called Calm, you can download on your phone.
Several factors can accelerate brain shrinkage, including chronic stress, poor sleep, a suboptimal diet, and a lack of exercise. Here’s how each of these factors can affect brain health:
- Chronic Stress: High levels of stress can lead to elevated cortisol levels, which can cause chronic damage to the brain and the body. Managing stress is crucial. Activities like yoga, meditation, and regular exercise can help reduce stress and promote a sense of calm. There are also mobile apps like Calm that offer guided meditation and relaxation techniques.
- Poor Sleep: Adequate sleep is essential for overall health, including brain function. Aim for a minimum of 6 hours of sleep per night, ideally getting 7-8 hours for optimal brain health. If you have insomnia, consider cognitive behavioral therapy as a treatment option, and consult with a healthcare professional. Melatonin supplements may also help regulate sleep, but avoid relying on sleep medications, as they can worsen cognitive issues.
- Diet: A balanced diet rich in nutrients, including antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids, can support brain health. Avoid excessive consumption of processed foods and sugars, which can negatively impact cognition.
- Exercise: Regular physical activity, both cardio and strength training, can improve cognition and increase blood flow and oxygen delivery to the brain. If you find it challenging to exercise, consult your doctor for guidance and start with short sessions, gradually increasing duration over time.
In addition to these lifestyle factors, it’s worth noting that conditions like sleep apnea, which can cause interrupted sleep and oxygen deprivation, are linked to brain health issues, including brain shrinkage and an increased risk of stroke and heart attack. If you or someone you know experiences snoring or other sleep-related issues, it’s important to seek medical evaluation and treatment.
Sleep is a must for health. Poor quality sleep or no sleep at all can cause a plethora of mental and physical issues you wouldn’t ever imagine. You should make it a goal to get 6 hours of quality sleep, or ideally, 7-8 hours. If you have insomnia, you should seek out cognitive behavioral therapy as means of treatment, or try taking melatonin, the natural chemical your body excretes when you’re entering a relaxed state.
More often than not, I see issues in many people taking OTC or prescription sleep medications. Sleep medications make cognitive issues worse. Sleep apnea can cause your brain to shrink and is linked to stroke and heart attack. Snoring is not just a funny thing your uncle or father does. It should be checked out.
As a neurologist, when I am working with patients seeking solutions to seemingly unsolvable issues, I am able to uncover solutions to their brain fog, snoring, or body fatigue, but not through treatment plans that are covered by insurance. We can work on sleep issues and cognitive issues through my medical practice, NeuroWellnessMD, and see how much of your best treatment plan is covered. Unfortunately, some of the most effective portions of your treatment plan may not be covered. Attending to these types of issues are priceless, can save marriages, and patients wish they hadn’t waited so long to seek treatment.
In summary, addressing chronic stress, prioritizing quality sleep, maintaining a healthy diet, and incorporating regular exercise into your routine can contribute to preserving brain health as you age.