Once upon a time, there was a tribe who lived in a little ball and, about 12,000 years ago, they set out on an epic journey in search of a better quality of life. At that time, tired of making fires in the forest, living in caves, looking for blackberries and chasing food, they thought about domesticating animals and producing blackberries.

One day, before they knew it, time turned into money and they woke up at home, domesticated, sedentary, eating more than they should, running while sitting, stretching the hours of the day, not sleeping to produce and chained to technologies that show them a dubious reality, which allow them to live from click to click.

The figures for this journey show that, in one click, the people who used to live in that little ball, now have more than 4 billion sedentary people, 3 billion obese people, more than 2 billion with sleep disorders, 350 million with anxiety and 300 million with depressive symptoms. If this journey in search of a better quality of life continues in this direction, it is estimated that by 2035, more than 50% of the population will be obese, more than 70% will have sleep disorders and mental illness, especially anxiety, will be the number one disease in the world.

With the aim of mitigating various problems on a global scale, in 2022 the WHO launched a campaign focused on brain health: “Optimizing brain health across the life course”. The focus of this campaign is to make the world aware of the urgent need to care for the brain.

The brain, weighing less than a kilo and a half, has around 180 billion cells, of which around 90 billion are neurons. Every second, it is capable of making more than 100 trillion synapses and, when overloaded, it can reach over 20 quadrillion. It is these synapses, which allow communication between neurons, that are the basis of our ability to make decisions, control impulses, regulate emotions, learn and memorize. Above all, it allows us to process external and internal information, leading to a viable and functional interaction between us and the environment around us. These cognitive functions depend on a complex system of neuronal communication, in which neurotransmitters play an extremely important role. So, for the brain to be healthy and functional, it also needs a good balance between the various neurotransmitters, such as dopamine, serotonin, noradrenaline, adrenaline, acetylcholine, GABA and glutamate.

Today we know that healthy habits, combined with discipline and commitment, can provide a healthy balance between neurotransmitters. By reconfiguring the way our neurons communicate, we can change our mentality, the way we think, act and communicate.

Food is one of those healthy habits that has a significant impact on our brain health and the energy available to feed the 100 trillion synapses. It also contributes to the production and balance of neurotransmitters. The microbiota-gut-brain axis plays an important role in brain health and is one of the main precursors to the production of serotonin, commonly known as the neurotransmitter of happiness.

By focusing on our Mediterranean diet, which is rich in a variety of essential nutrients, we are providing our brain with the necessary building blocks for its maintenance and for the proper production of cells and neurotransmitters. Food therefore plays a fundamental role not only in brain health, but also in our cognitive functioning, emotional regulation and mood states.

In addition to food, hydration is crucial to keeping this whole machine running smoothly. It’s important to know that 75% of our brain is made up of water. Adequate hydration therefore guarantees the brain enough fluids to maintain its structure and function in perfect condition. A “well-hydrated” brain leads to a good balance between salts and minerals and makes it easier to transport nutrients, energy, neurotransmitters and oxygen so that synapses occur effectively.

Good hydration and regular exercise help the brain to remove waste substances and toxins that accumulate when synapses are overloaded. Physical exercise is therefore also essential for brain health. Physical activity helps increase blood flow, facilitating the removal of toxins from the brain, and is also responsible for boosting neuroplasticity, which is the brain’s ability to adapt and reorganize its neuronal connections in response to new experiences and stimuli. Physical exercise is also associated with the production of a neurotrophic factor (BDNF) which helps with neurogenesis (the production of new neurons) and neuroplasticity.

To get the most out of physical exercise, we know that rest is essential and sleep is crucial for our brains. It is during sleep that the brain cleanses and removes metabolic waste, including the elimination of toxins and accumulated proteins that hinder the proper functioning of synapses and which may be associated with cognitive deterioration and the manifestation of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. It is also during sleep that neurons are repaired and neuronal connections are improved. During the so-called deep sleep or REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep, memory consolidation occurs, which facilitates learning and increases the ability to store important information resulting from our daily experiences. Good sleep hygiene is crucial for the brain to recover from the wear and tear of a “working” day. Otherwise, if we are unable to give the brain space to self-repair, we are contributing to its premature aging.

What neuroscience tells us is that in order to maintain a healthy brain throughout our lives, it’s crucial to make a daily commitment to good sleep, healthy diet, hydration and positive socialization habits, while at the same time keeping physically and mentally active. Interestingly, studies associated with different areas of research such as longevity, healthy aging, genetics, well-being, happiness and high-performance, all converge on a common point, which is the positive impact that simple habits and healthy lifestyle choices can have on our lives.

It seems, then, that the secret to a healthy, productive brain and a long, happy life doesn’t lie behind a screen or in some miraculous artificial intelligence application. If we listen carefully, it seems that our brain, our biology, our DNA, every cell in our body and our mental and physical health are crying out for:

  • Healthy Diet;
  • A good night’s sleep;
  • Physical activity;
  • Positive socialization;
  • Simple moments of pleasure;
  • Sex;
  • Meditation.

Well, now that there are no secrets or miracle recipes, it seems that simple healthy habits promote a healthy brain and a significant improvement in the quality of life.

I know it sounds simple, but simplicity, as Leonardo da Vinci said, is the ultimate sophistication, and this journey in search of quality of life seems more challenging than initially thought. The simplicity of this recipe for good habits seems to contrast with the difficulty of applying it on a daily basis. Perhaps this is because: managing priorities is not easy, time management is complex, emotional regulation is a Herculean task, fighting fears is heroic and doubts break anyone’s confidence. If, in more than 12,000 years of history, these people have still not reached their destination, perhaps professional help could be one more ingredient to add to the recipe.

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