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BRAIN HEALTH RISK & PROTECTIVE FACTORS

Updated: May 16, 2023

By Michael C. Patterson



There are both risk and protective factors associated with each of the eight behavioral roots of breain health. As per the advice of the Cherokee Legend, we improve our brain health by starving the risk factors while feeding the protective ones.

PHYSICAL EXERCISE & MOVEMENT

Risks: A sedentary life, sitting, excessive comfort

Sarcopenia, osteoporosis, poor balance, poor circulation & respiration, limited mobility

Protections: An active life, aerobic and strength exercise, stretching, balancing, good posture


MENTAL STIMULATION

Risks: Boredom, illiteracy, negative thinking, mindlessness and closed-mindedness

Poor cognitive skills, limited imagination, limited reserve, brain atrophy

Protections: Mental activities that are: novel, challenging, meaningful and creative.


SOCIAL ENGAGEMENT

Risks: Isolation, loneliness, rejection, abuse, absence of support.

Stress, depression, anxiety, vulnerability

Protections: Social skills, engagement, cooperation, friendship, love


STRESS MANAGEMENT

Risks: Chronic, unrelieved stress, perceived low status, rumination, anxiety, PTSD,

High blood pressure, hypertension, high cortisol levels

Protections: Breathing, reframing as challenge (hormesis), slow thinking


DIET & NUTRITION

Risks: Starvation or obesity. Processed foods, toxins, excess carbohydrates and sugar

Leaky gut syndrome, insulin resistance, poor metabolism

Protections: Clean water & air, real food, plant-based diet, fiber


SLEEP & MENTAL REST

Risks: Insomnia, sleep deprivation, sleep apnea, low deep and REM sleep

Poor waste removal, poor memory consolidation, fatigue, and cognitive impairment

Protections: 6-8 hours of sleep, on a regular schedule, good sleep hygiene


MEDICAL FACTORS

Risks: Chronic illness, infection and inflammation. Injuries. Over-medication.

Cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome, diabetes and insulin resistance

Protections: Good medical care and management of chronic conditions.


ENVIRONMENTAL FACTOR

Risks: Pollution, toxins, over-crowding, lack of facilities, lack of green space

Noise, garbage, unsanitary conditions, heavy industry and traffic, mold, disease

Protections: An enriched environment, safety & security, green space.

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