While it’s a part of the body that many don’t give much thought to, the brain is capable of some pretty amazing things that USHEALTH Group wants you to know about. Responsible for our every thought and feeling, it’s an organ that doesn’t often get the amount of attention it deserves. Whether it’s the pain felt after an injury, the ability to complete a crossword puzzle, or the visions that take place during a nightly dream, the powers of the brain have been studied and uncovered for thousands of years.
In fact, the brain is so awe-inspiring that a group of individuals has dedicated an entire organization to celebrating just how wonderful it is. The Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives was founded in 1993 by members who promised to focus on spreading information about the brain in an easy-to-understand way. In 2015, it became a worldwide organization and now has over 600 members across 38 different countries.
Not only does The Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives work to educate people about the brain, but it also hosts a variety of events each year. Between Cognitive Fitness at Work, the Lending Library, the New York City Regional Brain Bee Competition, and more, the organization has created a long-lasting legacy when it comes to brain health. Perhaps its most important endeavor, however, is Brain Awareness Week.
Founded in 1996, BAW originally included 160 organizations in the United States alone. In the last several decades, it’s grown to incorporate all types of academic material and now partners with over 5,600 entities across 120 countries. In 2018 alone, Brain Awareness Week was celebrated in 44 states, 42 countries, and across 895 individual events.
What exactly does it include? Specific events are left to the discretion of each partner but can entail open house days at neuroscience labs, social media efforts, workshops in schools, exhibitions about the brain, library displays, community lectures, and much more. Given that so much attention is devoted toward the brain and how it functions, it’s only fitting to devote even more time to this amazing organ.
USHEALTH Group’s Fun Facts About the Brain
Mentioning the human brain often conjures up images of a pink and jiggly mass full of lots of lines and wrinkles, and while this depiction of the brain may be fairly accurate, there’s so much more to it than many realize. Its power is immense, and how it works is often far beyond people’s common knowledge:
- The adult brain isn’t as heavy as one might think, as it only weighs about three pounds. However, 75 percent of it is made up of water, making staying hydrated incredibly important. Even the slightest decrease in water consumption can lead to trouble concentrating, so drinking water helps keep cognitive abilities sharp.
- While brain surgery is truly a remarkable accomplishment of the 21st century, there is evidence that shows that this type of procedure has been occurring since the Stone Age. Along somewhat similar lines, the Egyptians used to remove a person’s brain through the nose during the mummification process.
- A human brain grows an immense amount during the first year of life, tripling in size by the time a child reaches his or her first birthday. It continues to expand until age 18 but ends up shrinking at some point. Around midlife, the brain begins to get smaller as a person ages. Despite the fact that in one’s late 20s, the brain is still at its largest size, it will naturally begin to lose some of its cognitive skills and memory abilities.
- On a more scientific level, the brain uses 20 percent of the blood and oxygen in the body and contains approximately 100 billion neurons. These neurons are the essential connections required to send information to and from the brain, and these messages travel at varying speeds. In some cases, data can pass between neurons at 250 miles per hour.
- Although the brain itself cannot feel pain but rather interprets certain signals as painful, there are still many uncomfortable situations that fall into the category of brain pain. One of the more common occurrences is “brain freeze,” which actually has little to do with the organ itself. Instead, very cold food or drinks cause the arteries and blood vessels in the throat to constrict and reduce blood flow to the head. This is what causes the headache that many experience from ice cream or cold beverages.
- Individuals who have undergone an amputation may be familiar with some interesting brain tricks, specifically phantom limb pain. This occurs when a person feels pain in the limb that’s no longer present, but in reality, it’s just the brain and the rest of the central nervous system malfunctioning.
- Headaches also tend to signal a problem in the brain, and while it may seem like the brain is hurting, in fact, the pain is caused by a chemical reaction combined with the nerves and muscles in the head and neck. Individuals may experience a variety of types of headaches and even migraines during their lifetimes, but excessive head pain may be cause for a visit to a primary care physician.
- Many people joke about how humans only use 10 percent of their brains, but in fact, much more of this organ is utilized on a regular basis. During sleep alone, more than 10 percent of the brain is used by dreams, which combine your imagination and psychological and neurological factors to give your brain a workout when you are sleeping.
- The brain is a very sensitive organ that can be affected by a variety of substances that are introduced into the body. While alcohol abuse is often linked to the damage of other organs, the brain can also be seriously jeopardized. Regular alcohol abuse can cause memory loss and lowered cognitive function.
- Finally, the brain isn’t quite as dependable as some might think. Studies have shown that eyewitness accounts of criminal suspects are accurate only about 50 percent of the time. Additionally, experiencing traumatic events can significantly affect the brain’s ability to remember details correctly.
Getting Older and Wiser
Just as the rest of the human body tends to deteriorate with age, the brain does undergo certain changes as people get older. USHEALTH Group has used their Living Good Health blog to draw attention to some common health facts that might not be common knowledge. One such study published in the U.S. National Institutes of Health’s National Library of Medicine dives rather deep into this topic and uncovers a range of factors that can contribute to how the brain ages. While research is still being conducted to more fully understand how the brain changes, it’s incredible to see just how much is currently known about the brain’s functional abilities.
Interestingly enough, the brain does not age at the same rate across the entire organ, but rather at different times within various sections. Men and women experience these shifts at different stages as well, and while it seems like it would be nearly impossible to predict when exactly these changes occur, one thing is certain: the volume and weight of the human brain begin to decline by around five percent per decade after the age of 40.
When it comes to the processing and storage power of the brain, it’s a common assumption that the brain is full of memories, but in fact, there are four different types of memory recall that are affected as humans age. The semantic memory, procedural memory, episodic memory, and working memory work to differentiate various thoughts. For example, recalling an event in one’s lifetime is not the same as reciting a fact that was learned yesterday. As one gets older, the portions of the brain responsible for these various types of memories begin to change, which explains why some individuals have a harder time remembering information or even performing basic repetitive tasks later in life.
On a chemical level, dopamine and serotonin also begin to be produced in smaller quantities as the brain ages, and this can lead to issues with motor skills and cognitive abilities. Even hormones relating to sexual drives are housed in the brain and can affect men and women differently as life goes on. While no one can truly stop the aging process, it’s surprising just how much the brain changes as people approach their later years. Is there anything that can be done to protect this important organ? Many experts say that there is.
Working It Out
The idea of exercising one’s brain may seem a bit funny at first, as it’s not quite the same as doing curls at the gym to increase bicep size. However, since it’s well-known just how much the brain deteriorates with age, why not consider taking steps to strengthen this important organ before it’s too late? Harvard Health Publishing, a part of Harvard Medical School, has compiled 12 easy ways to keep the brain young and active for years to come:
- Get social: The brain thrives on making connections with others, and individuals with strong ties to friends and family have been found to have lower rates of dementia and high blood pressure. They also tend to experience a longer life expectancy. Typically, those with a strong support system tend to be more active anyway, ensuring an overall better chance of health and wellness.
- Protect and preserve: Although the brain has a pretty great built-in protection system in the form of the skull, that doesn’t mean that it’s not still susceptible to injury. Using a helmet to prevent head injuries can offer life-changing benefits, as concussions and even mild trauma to the brain can permanently impact cognitive abilities.
- Consider mental health: Emotions can affect the way humans think, as feelings of depression, stress, or even sleep deprivation can all impact the ability to score well on cognitive tests. While there isn’t a clear link between these negative attributes and mental decline, to put your best foot forward, it’s important to pay attention to your emotional state.
- Limit drinking: Enjoying an alcoholic beverage every now and again shouldn’t be cause for concern, but excessive drinking has been clearly linked to the development of dementia. Aside from the damage it can cause to other parts of the body, alcohol impacts the brain on both a short- and long-term basis, so limiting intake to two drinks per day is important.
- Say no to tobacco: This is a message that’s been communicated for decades, but it still rings true; tobacco in all forms is extremely dangerous to one’s health. The brain is no exception here, so avoiding smoking, vaping, and chewing will pay off in the long run.
- Take aspirin: Adults should always consult with their primary care physicians before beginning any sort of new regimen, but taking low-dose aspirin on a regular basis has been shown to reduce the risk of dementia in some individuals. While this one pill alone likely won’t be enough to keep the brain healthy into old age, it’s one small step that could make a difference when combined with other brain-boosting activities.
- Eat better: A proper diet naturally brings about a plethora of health benefits, but specifically, it can work to reduce high levels of LDL cholesterol. This “bad” cholesterol can contribute to the development of dementia, so focusing on balanced nutrition, coupled with exercise and weight control, is a huge step toward a healthy brain.
- Keep diabetes at bay: Sometimes, adults end up focusing more seriously on their health after being diagnosed with diabetes, and if that’s the case, making sure one’s blood sugar is kept in check is essential. Once again, dementia is the main reason for concern here, so focusing on diet and exercise can help keep the brain in tip-top shape. Individuals who are having a difficult time controlling their blood sugar should develop a plan with their doctor.
- Focus on blood pressure: As the brain is so densely packed with blood vessels, it’s impossible to talk about brain health without relating it to blood pressure. Those who experience this health issue in midlife greatly increase their chances of cognitive decline, so focusing on a healthy diet, along with limiting stress and getting enough sleep at night, is a great way to keep the brain strong.
- Go Mediterranean: International travel won’t help the brain much, but eating a diet rich in foods found in this part of the world certainly will. Focusing on nuts, fruits, vegetables, fish, and healthy oils are all great ways to protect the brain from unnecessary health concerns down the line. Plus, these foods all taste delicious!
- Stay active: Beyond keeping excess weight off and ensuring good cardiovascular health, regular exercise brings a host of benefits to the brain. Blood vessels that are responsible for the thought sections of the brain increase with regular activity. Physical activity also improves the synapses that take place between nerve cells when they communicate. Ultimately, regular exercise can help one’s brain stay more active and adaptive, helping individuals enjoy greater cognitive abilities later in life.
- Enjoy mental gymnastics: Perhaps the most common piece of advice that’s disseminated when it comes to keeping the brain healthy and active comes in the form of activities that make people think. Whether it’s playing cards, completing a crossword puzzle, or picking up a new hobby like painting, these actions all contribute to just how flexible the brain is.
Keeping the Mind in Mind
Amidst the barrage of health and wellness information that’s regularly communicated to adults, it’s often hard to tell which actions will have the most payoff in the long run. While taking care of one’s body is very important, the benefits of taking care of the brain cannot be overlooked either. From a better diet and using head protection to avoiding risky behaviors and more, there’s a lot that individuals can do to ensure that their brains stay healthy into the later years of life.
Part of this focus on brain health includes sharing knowledge with others, as The Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives can only reach so many people across the world at any given time. Spending time discussing brain health with friends and family doesn’t have to be long or involved, but communicating these important tips and tricks just might make the difference between a long and fulfilling life and struggling with dementia or Alzheimer’s later on.
While Brain Awareness Week may only take place once a year, keep in mind just how important it is to think about this incredibly powerful organ throughout the rest of the year as well. Small changes to one’s lifestyle can go a long way toward overall brain health and cognitive power. Just like exercising the body is great for a variety of reasons, exercising the mind will help you see immense health benefits now and for years to come.
USHEALTH Group’s History With Health
The Living Good Health blog isn’t the first time USHEALTH Group has been involved in making our nation healthier. In fact, their overall mission as a company is to provide innovative insurance solutions to families and small businesses. But providing health coverage isn’t the only helpful service that USHEALTH Group provides for the community.
Ever since the program’s conception in 2010, HOPE has become synonymous with USHEALTH Group and USHEALTH Advisors. The mission was simple, the acronym stands for Helping Other People Everyday, and USHEALTH Advisors has taken that to heart with a variety of different projects. Some of the most notable include USHA’s support for a children’s shelter in Phoenix, AZ.