January 15, 2022
SRQ Magazine
Brittany Mattie

Staying healthy goes far beyond opting to take the stairs or eating our veggies. Aside from getting exercise and a well-balanced diet, which are certainly important medicines for the brain too, SRQ teams up with the brains behind The Brain Health Initiative (BHI) to explore less obvious areas of focus to boost the mental and physical state of our central organ, this New Year and beyond.

Born from the global brain health crisis that challenges many people today, BHI brings opportunity and hope by revolutionizing neuroscience and pioneering work. Tapping into community engagement and accelerating research, BHI is growing into an emblematic roadmap to engage and empower people to make more brain healthy lifestyle choices. “The first component of the Brain Health Initiative is really about raising awareness to create a brain-healthy community,” says Founder, Executive Director and Neuropsychologist Dr. Stephanie Peabody, PSYD, HSPP. “And in order to do that, we have to help the residents—families, students and workforce—begin to speak a common language, use a common lens, share a common understanding and set common goals.” Headquartered in Lakewood Ranch, Dr. Peabody’s team—founded in a collaborative effort with Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), a Harvard Medical School Teaching Hospital and the Academcy for Brain Health and Performance, recognized the dire nature of combating isolated strains and stressors through extensive research and discoveries. BHI has since garnered local and national attention by cultivating 12 Brain Health Pillars as synergistic protective factors crucial to accelerating brain health for performance optimization, as well as reducing risk factors for brain illness, while supporting early identification, and innovative symptom and recovery intervention.

But the brain is a vast and complicated organ. Which means BHI’s job is only just the beginning. Throughout the pandemic’s peak, and still today, the Initiative continues to pump up their efforts of education and awareness, as well as find progressive solutions to minimize external and internal risk factors, in order to further create a culture of brain healthy communities—especially ours. So we, as a whole, can optimize performance longevity of all ages while preventing/fighting brain illness across the lifespan of the Suncoast region. To celebrate a clean slate and neuro-healthy new year, Dr. Peabody was instrumental in connecting us with her BHI affiliate neuro-savvy network—including clinicians, researchers, academics and innovators from across the U.S. Together, we honed in on five of the Brain Health Pillars; five key components we feel are attainable, and imperative, in keeping us at the top of our game for not only 2022, but the rest of our years. Facials and pedicures are great, but it’s time for some real self-care.

Enhancing Cognitive Stimulation

Expert: Michael Merzenich, PhD

Your brain is begging you to engage (or perhaps in a somewhat tired or dispirited life, RE-engage), in a lively way with the world around you. Your neurological health and the functional capabilities of this most precious of organs are dependent on continuous cognitive engagement driving continuous regenerative and strengthening neurological change. Get lively and STAY lively! Since we’re all endowed with the ability to improve ourselves (our brain and its function) all across the span of our lives, why on earth wouldn’t you take full advantage of this precious gift. — M.Merzenich, PhD Professor Emeritus, UCSF; Chief Scientific Officer, Posit Science; Founder & President, Brain Plasticity Institute; Senior Scientific Advisor, Brain Health Initiative

Keep the brain juices flowing with these intuitive tips from Dr. Merzenich to enable, and enhance, your cognitive stimulation:
  • Amplifying the processes that increase your alertness and brightness is a primary goal of Posit Science’s BrainHQ programs. Scientific studies have shown that specific exercise can restore your attentiveness to a lively ‘youthful’ level, can help bring you out of a funk (if you are in one), and improves your rates of learning new skills or abilities.
  • Most older folks spend much of their time sleepwalking through life. Be like a child again. Recover your childlike sense of wonder about the world out there. There are wonders out there everywhere, if you just look for them.
  • Acquire new skills and abilities that, by their nature, speed up your neurological processes. Faster brains are healthier brains. Progressive fast-responding games or forms of exercise (ping-pong, pickleball, handball, dancing, et alia) are great for your brain. Note to reader: This is only the case if you work to progressively improve your abilities at these activities.
  • The machinery of your brain that controls its plasticity supports your positive good spirits, increases your attentiveness and liveliness. It needs exercise. Again, you can get some of that exercise by going to the ‘brain gym’ (BrainHQ). You can also exercise it by adopting a life strategy of continuous new skill acquisition. In my case,
  • I am continually working to master new practical abilities (outdoors in the mountains or at the beach or riverside, in my workshop and ‘art studio’, in our cultural and
  • social life, in the garden and orchard and kitchen, in community service). All that new skill acquisition directly engages the machinery that keeps me—and will help keep you—lively and alive.
  • Be kind and generous in life. Every act of giving, of kindness, of sympathy exercises the machinery in the brain that controls your positive good spirits. Regular exercise of this crucial brain machinery grows its powers. Being a ‘good soul is very good for your brain.
  • Healthy brains are usually possessed by people who have healthy bodies. That is not an accident. The brain regulates innumerable processes in the body that contribute to your physical health and longevity. At the same time, control of your physical actions is (of course) one of the most important enterprises—and forms of ‘exercise’ —for the brain itself. To the extent that it is possible, keep them both healthy and in action, together.
Want to learn more? Dr. Merzenich is the author of Soft-Wired: How the New Science of Brain Plasticity Can Change Your Life, which is full of advice about how to engage your brain in ways that can help you improve your organic brain health and grow your brainpower. In addition, head to his site BrainHQ.com for “brain games” and exercises.