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Cognition Reserves Matter in Today's Stressful World

Friday, September 28, 2018

Cognition stems from the brain and the sophisticated network made up of billions of neural connections responsible for brain adaptability all through the aging process, according to a newly published Harvard Medical School report.

Science suggests that although the brain does not regularly replace cells after a certain age, it continuously reshapes the connections between cells. This is referred to as brain plasticity, an intrinsic property of the brain that indicates the nervous system's capacity to adjust to environmental stimuli, physical changes, and experiences on one hand, while on the other hand, plasticity can also be responsible for symptoms of brain illnesses, as well as chronic pain, stiff, spastic muscles, and emotional instability.


Cognitive fitness should be, or become, our number one goal, and developing cognitive reserves can save our emotional sanity in environmentally stressful times like we are now experiencing and possibly save our lives and the lives of others.

One of the aging and mental health challenges is to control brain plasticity that may cause problems, while enhancing brain plasticity that results in positive behavioral benefits.

Neurogenesis and plasticity

For years, scientists suggested that we lose brain cells as we age. The good news: that is not necessarily so.

In the late 1990s, a research team out of the Salk Institute for Biological Studies found evidence of neurogenesis in the hippocampus of human adults, with a large group of researchers solidifying the idea that stem cells in the brain can produce 700 new neurons every single day in physically and mentally active older humans.

A number of medical disorders and pharmaceutical drugs are suggested to contribute to cognitive difficulties and personality changes. Today's Friday Pearl will focus on developing cognitive reserves through healthy diet, physical fitness, and stress management, since these issues fall into our passion wheelhouse.


Food nourishes our eyes, brain, and full body. The foods we choose have an enormous impact on our health, including mental sharpness and risks of developing dementia, so choose well and leave the high-calorie, nutrient-empty junk food on the supermarket shelf.

Unfortunately, obesity leads to inflammation throughout the whole body, including in the brain, so do your best to keep your weight in the normal range. Try your best to give up obsessing about low dietary fat intake after age 50, because lack of appropriate body fat can disrupt the release of hormones the brain needs to function properly. 

Exercise every day if possible

Exercise benefits are well-documented in medical literature. It gives us an immediate boost of energy and alertness and research indicates that exercise benefits both mood and cognitive function, as well. Fit individuals score higher on tests of attention, verbal fluency, verbal memory, and other cognitive abilities. They are also better at executive functions including planning, scheduling, and multitasking.

Cognition reserves require daily exercise.


We can't escape stress. It is an ever-present part of life in today's world. Although some people thrive on it, most of us don't.

When stress is intense or continues unabated, it changes the brain's structure and function. According to these Harvard experts, long-term exposure to cortisol and other stress hormones can have real, measurable effects on the brain's particularly in the areas of the hippocampus, amygdala, and prefrontal cortex, which can dramatically affect emotional stability.

The good news: The effects of stress on the brain can be significant, but they are reversible to some extent. Building cognitive reserve through diet, exercise, and relaxation can build back lost hippocampal volume, while simultaneously helping us better cope with the future stress we encounter.

Challenge your brain regularly

Try new things. Attend plays, films, concerts, and museums. They are intellectually stimulating, and they help create cognition reserves.  

Social connections matter

Hopefully our friends, colleagues, and families stimulate and challenge our brains. If not, consider finding some new friends that dare to challenge some of our embedded belief systems that may not be serving us well.

Ellen Troyer, with Spencer Thornton, MD, David Amess and the Biosyntrx staff


Given the the stress levels most of us are experiencing, particularly in today's world, a nutrient dense diet, exercise, and stress control seems vital for both emotional and physical health all through the lifespan.

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