A Mass General neurologist says sufficient sleep, regular exercise and meditation will help keep our brains healthy.

Brain health is a lifelong journey that begins with taking care of yourself, says Jonathan Rosand, MD, MSc, a neurologist at Massachusetts General Hospital.

“A lot of the things we are supposed to be doing for our bodies, like a healthy diet and exercise, are good for our brain.”

“A lot of the things we are supposed to be doing for our bodies, like a healthy diet and exercise, are good for our brain,” Dr. Rosand says. Research has found lifestyle choices like meditation and continued learning can help, too.

But more research into the prevention of brain diseases is needed, Dr. Rosand explains. That’s why he co-founded and co-directs the Mass General Institute for Brain Health, which brings together patients, healthcare providers and researchers. He says the focus of the institute is to “maximize the potential of each of us by protecting and enhancing our brain function while reducing our risk of brain disease.”

Focus on Brain Health

The majority of the U.S. population will be affected by a brain disease of one type or another during their lifetime, whether directly or through its effect on a loved one, Dr. Rosand says. While research has uncovered many causes of brain diseases, much less is understood about how best each of us can protect our brains.

Jonathan Rosand, MD
Jonathan Rosand, MD, MSc

Dr. Rosand hopes that, in the future, patients will have greater access to brain specialists before they receive a diagnosis so they can reduce their risk of or prevent disease.

Brain specialists have made enormous strides in finding cures for brain diseases. Nonetheless, “treating brain disease once it happens is ultimately far more challenging than prevention,” Dr. Rosand says.

Doctors at the institute are working to change the healthcare model. Doctors from the departments of Neurology, Psychiatry and Neurosurgery see patients who have been diagnosed with brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s and stroke. They also see patients at a high risk of developing these diseases as well as healthy patients.

The institute is working to help patients through research and assessment. One study is testing approaches to prevent post-traumatic stress, anxiety and depression in family members whose loved ones have been hospitalized in the intensive care unit.

“The way you change the brain most potently is through your habits and lifestyle choices.”

Understanding Prevention

Dr. Rosand says the goal is to expand research to study prevention. Researchers seek to develop tools to measure brain health, identify risk factors, discover the impact of lifestyle choices and create new treatments.

Some treatment recommendations could turn out to be things people already incorporate into their lives, like meditation, he says.

“There is no organ in the body as changeable as the brain,” Dr. Rosand says. “The way you change the brain most potently is through your habits and lifestyle choices. Learn new things. Think about how much you changed when you were in school and learned a new language, or, through practice, became skilled at the piano.”

Brain Health Tips:

  1. Exercise regularly. Exercise reduces the risk of heart attack and stroke.
  2. Eat healthy. Try the Mediterranean diet. It emphasizes consuming fruits and vegetables, whole grains and nuts, while limiting meats and replacing butter with olive oil.
  3. Meditate. Meditation can change the brain’s structure and reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
  4. Control blood pressure. Uncontrolled high blood pressure is a leading risk factor for stroke and Alzheimer’s disease. Talk to your doctor about what pressure level works for your body. The lower, the better, from a brain-health perspective.
  5. Get enough sleep. Sleep deprivation can accelerate brain degeneration. Eight hours per night is a common recommendation, but needs vary by person.
  6. Keep learning. Learn something new. Take a class, read a different type of book. Specific brain games have not been proven to be better than other learning activities.
  7. Be aware of your experience of traumatic events. A serious accident or illness or a life-threatening experience can have an impact on your brain that puts you at risk for anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress. These are common conditions that can be treated effectively, if recognized.

To learn more about Dr. Rosand’s patient care and research, contact us.