Brain diseases are the main cause of disability, with a greater impact than cancer or cardiovascular diseases. However, there are many factors that can be changed to considerably decrease the risk of getting them.
Research is providing information on the effects of each of these factors and the best way to use them in our favor. Because, in addition to treatments, we urgently need to promote brain health, educating and encouraging people to adopt lifestyles that lower their risk of illness and disability.
To discuss the importance of this problem and the latest advances, a group of top international experts met for a short course boosted by EIT Health, an initiative of Biocat and “la Caixa” Foundation to promote scientific debate, co-organized with Institut Guttmann in this case, under the framework of B·Debate. The topics covered included the healthiest lifestyles, but also concepts like cognitive reserve and even the pandemic’s repercussions on mental health.
• Three of the most important modifiable factors that affect brain health are nutrition, exercise, and sleep. Evidence shows the benefits of eating a complete Mediterranean diet over specific nutritional supplements, the need to encourage an active lifestyle and getting enough good-quality sleep.
• The effects of air pollution on the brain, the damage caused by social isolation and the influence of personality traits are other, less commonly discussed elements that also have a notable influence on our brains.
• ‘Cognitive reserve’ is an important concept that decreases the risk of disability. It acts as a type of neurological ‘cushion’ that can delay the onset of symptoms when damage builds up with age.
• The pandemic and lockdown have affected people’s mental health in different ways depending on their age and situation. Paradoxically, feelings of isolation and loneliness have decreased in general, probably due to the effect of public shows of solidarity.