engAGE Your Brain: What is Brain Health?

We are pleased to introduce you to engAGE Your Brain, Boomer’s newest blog by Doctor of Behavioral Health and Social Gerontologist Dr. Krystal L. Culler, DBH, M.A. Her vision for this blog is to provide a reliable resource of information for brain wellness, healthy aging and memory care. Her blog entries will translate current research into actionable steps that readers can implement into their daily lives today!

Dr. Culler is a Senior Atlantic Fellow with the Global Brain Health Institute, where she was the first scholar from the United States to complete her residency training at Trinity College Dublin, Ireland on dementia prevention and the social determinants of brain health. She is the Founder of the Virtual Brain Health Center, which provides innovative brain health services to individuals, carers, and service providers.

“After the completion of my Fellowship, the goal was to put into practice what I learned abroad to support my local community — Northeast Ohio — to share more about brain health as the information becomes readily available,” she explains. “I appreciate the opportunity for this blog to be able to accomplish this goal in a meaningful way. Thank you to the publisher and editors for this opportunity!”

A Northeast Ohio transplant, Dr. Culler hails from a small town in West Virginia but has been in Ohio for over 15 years. When she is not talking about brain health, dogs, or travel, she can likely be found curled up with a good book (likely related to the brain!) with her weighted dog blankets and fat cat, spending time with her handsome husband, friends, and her smart, funny, witty adorable nieces and nephews who make her heart smile. She is currently working on the restfulness aspect of her brain health through her meditation practice and learning yoga at her Virtual Brain Health Center with the students there.

engAGE Your Brain: What is Brain Health?
by Dr. Krystal L. Culler, DBH, M.A.
I am thrilled that you have decided to learn more about brain health today. It is widely agreed upon that brain health is an important aspect of health, but what is brain health?

Unfortunately, the field does not have a widely agreed-upon definition of brain health at this time. But “brain health” can simply be thought about in the terms of “thinking, moving, and “feeling.” A few years ago, our national brain health awareness campaign defined brain health as the “ability to learn, remember, plan, concentrate, and maintain a clear, active mind.”

Brain health is for individuals of all ages who may or may not have health conditions to manage or a disease diagnosis related to the brain or another body system such as the heart (cardiovascular system). I am a Doctor of Behavioral Health and Social Gerontologist, which means I help adults live active, healthy lifestyles. I approach brain health from a wellness model across the life course (birth until death). Essentially, everything you do or do not do, matters to your brain but our brains have the ability to grow new neurons (neurogenesis) and adapt (neuroplasticity). (More on these two important concepts in our next blog!)

Your Lifestyle & Your Brain
When we consider our lifestyle, many different factors can be considered but research has found certain lifestyle factors have a larger influence on our brain health. In summarizing the major recent studies of brain health lifestyle factors, I encourage people to think about three major categories: brain, body, and environment.

First, we will focus on the brain. In relationship to the brain, individuals would want to receive as much education as possible in early life. It is also important to keep the brain engaged in cognitive activity, an exercise that requires thought. It is important to protect one’s head from injuries and trauma such as traumatic brain injury. Moving down the head a bit, it is important to monitor one’s hearing and to get it checked. Hearing loss can mimic cognitive issues and is something that can be intervened upon. Sleep plays a crucial role in our brain health and it is a myth of aging that one requires less sleep with age! Mental health should be monitored especially low mood such as depression.

The Brain-Body Connection
The next area of health shifts us from the “brain” to the “body” since stress is a full-body response. Relax the mind and avoid daily stressors when possible. After an acute stressor, it takes the body about 90 minutes to recover. Imagine what happens when there are a few stressors each day? A good rule of thumb to help kick-start a brain-healthy lifestyle is to follow heart-healthy guidelines. Maintain a good heart by avoiding cardiovascular disease and monitor stroke history.

Now that we are monitoring the body, we should be checking our blood pressure and avoiding hypertension. Maintain a healthy weight and know the risk that smoking and increased alcohol consumption can cause to one’s brain. Don’t smoke. Limit alcohol consumption to <21 units per week (less than two bottles of wine) and follow guidelines that coincide with your personal health conditions, medications, and wellness goals.

And last but not least, we have to move our bodies. The universal guidelines find a benefit of 150 minutes of moderately intense physical exercise per week… movement that gets the heart rate up! There are documented health benefits with only five minutes of movement. Move the body.

Social Connections are Key
If we consider the environment where our body and brain reside there two recent lifestyle factors that we should be aware of in regard to our brain’s health. An emerging factor is air pollution. Research has also been mounting on the importance of staying socially connected as being socially isolated or lonely is as detrimental to our health as smoking 15 cigarettes per day (Holt-Lunstad, 2017) Even during COVID-19, we can stay socially connected while being physically distant. Aim to connect with one person a day by phone, text, email, mail a card or hand-written letter, or grab a virtual coffee or tea to connect online.

Many of the above lifestyle factors are related to one another but we will take a deeper dive into these topics throughout this blog series, as well as, other related brain health issues and topics that are of interest to many such as diet, supplements, brain games and more!

My Commitment to You
As brain health is growing in popularity and gaining media attention, there is potential for fake news and misinformation surrounding aspects of brain health. One goal of this blog is to be a trusted source of reliable information related to aging, brain health and memory care. I’ve spent 13 years in formalized education and an international fellowship training to specialize in this area and I do my best to stay on top of the emerging science.

My goal is to translate the science into appropriate steps that individuals can take in their daily lives today to support their wellbeing. I also have a network of colleagues to contact when I need to know more, so please do not hesitate to reach out with your questions. I am here to help be a source of truthful information based on the science that we currently have available.

Thank you for reading the new brain health blog. I look forward to sharing more information about brain health and busting some myths about the aging brain along the way with you in this series!

In brain health & wellness,
Krystal Culler


**Written for “EngAGE Your Brain!” blog series for Northeast Ohio Boomer & Beyond Magazine. Read the original article post here.

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