Brain Week and Beyond

by Sue Taggart

This week is Brain Awareness Week. With global campaigns to increase public awareness of the progress and benefits of brain research gaining traction, there is growing momentum supporting the brain.

The majority of attention worldwide has focused on how brain injuries and brain diseases limit a person’s life. But, what has been overlooked is the brain’s remarkable ability to work around injuries and problems. In fact, the brain can be strengthened and repaired months, even years, after injury with the right interventions.

Trying to unlock the complexities of brain function, has led to very narrow focusing as diverse disciplines attempt to do their work in relative isolation from the other disciplines. For example, molecular biologists seek solutions to advance understanding of the genetic underpinnings of a disease, while medicine seeks to reach diagnoses. Similarly, cognitive neuroscientists work to characterize how brain systems break down in support of cognitive function. We need to break research out of these silos and truly collaborate.

For the first time in many years, Congress has significantly increased the budget for the National Institutes of Health, that conducts research and award grants to research institutions. The president’s budget request for 2017 includes $195 million, an increase of $45 million, for the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative. Additionally, the House Energy and Commerce Committee announced that — following years of uncertainty surrounding the causes, effects and treatments for concussions — members of Congress will work with staff members and medical experts from a variety of backgrounds to review these injuries and their implications this year.

This collaboration is precisely what’s needed right now.

So, while the research continues, what can you do to improve your brain function? Brain Awareness Week is the perfect time to consider ways that you can take care of your own personal super computer.

Integrated Thinking:

The brain is not just stimulated by mental exercises, you need to go beyond that to include, physical exercise, nutrition and stress reduction as well.


1.Mental Challenges

The positive effects on the brain include strengthening neural connections, which improves cognitive function and protects the brain against potential disease. Think about:

  • Reading
  • Doing puzzles
  • Playing card or board games
  • Crosswords
  • Social engagement – not online, but in person – this is a great stress reliever!

2.Physical Challenges

Your brain needs you to engage in physical exercise just as much as the rest of your body. Particularly beneficial is aerobic exercise that increases the heart rate for between thirty to sixty minutes a day, and on at least three days per week. This cardiovascular regimen will improve brain functions by:

  • Increasing blood supply
  • Increasing brain volume
  • Increasing growth hormone levels


3.Nutrition Challenges

The brain needs a large amount of energy to function. Feeding the brain needs almost 50% of the oxygen in your arterial blood supply and 10% of the glucose. You can also take steps to help decrease cognitive decline as well as dementia by:

  • Increasing your Omega-3 fatty acid intake – think oily fish like salmon, trout, mackerel, herring, sardines, pilchards and kippers
  • Take B-Vitamins – in particular B6, B12 and folic acid
  • Eat whole grains
  • Eating more antioxidant packed fruits and vegetables – blueberries, black currants, broccoli and tomatoes are particularly good
  • Consuming alcohol in moderation
  • Stop smoking

Take up the challenge to be better to your brain. Your brain is too important to let it waste away!

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