What is mental agility

health : Mentally agile

One tip right away: jog. This is the best you can do for your brain. The side effects are few, the benefits are great: Because you can literally run away from the greatest dangers that lurk in your brain.

Example depression. Around four million people in Germany suffer from the mental illness: "You are listless, paralyzed, and not just for one or two days, but permanently, for weeks," describes Isabella Heuser, director of the Psychiatry Clinic at the Berlin Charité, Benjamin campus Franklin, the feeling. "Nothing is more fun."

The experts are increasingly realizing the terrifying extent to which gloom interferes with the anatomy of the brain. Today we know: Depression causes the nerve cells in our head, the neurons, to wither little by little. The contacts between the neurons, the synapses, die off, the nerve processes shrivel up, and even entire parts of the brain can shrink. Like the hippocampus, a structure that is crucial for memory formation.

But there is something you can do about brain atrophy and bad mood: jogging, swimming, cycling, dancing - half an hour training three times a week has even proven to be just as effective against melancholy in some depressed patients as the best drugs currently available . “A run in the woods is like a little psychotherapy”, says the science journalist Stefan Klein, author of the “happiness formula”.

In addition, exercise promotes the growth and regeneration of nerve cells, as the US brain researcher Fred Gage found in animal experiments. He found more nerve growth factors and more than twice as many newly formed neurons in mice that had a treadmill in their cage to run with than in other mice who just hung around lazily in their enclosure. Movement could also brighten the depressed mind to the extent that it counteracts the atrophy of the brain that is so typical of depression.

Of course, sport is only one of many ways to drive away the shadows on the soul - but it is one that also has a positive side effect. Because the second major danger that threatens the brain can also be partially combated with regular endurance training: mental degradation.

"Sport means that the brain is better supplied with oxygen," says neurobiologist Hans-Joachim Pflüger from the Free University of Berlin. "And then it also works more effectively - in this respect our brain does not react any differently than a well-trained muscle." The brain is, by the way, the organ in the body that uses by far the most oxygen.

And there is one more point that our thinking organ can be compared to a muscle: the more we use it, the better it works - and the more effectively we are protected from deterioration. "We therefore recommend everyone over the age of 50 to regularly learn something new," says Heuser, for example: chess, a foreign language or an instrument. “Active, creative activity keeps the brain busy,” says Pflüger.

But can you really protect yourself against dementia, such as Alzheimer's, with this kind of brain jogging? “There is no such thing as absolute protection,” says Heuser. Alzheimer's disease is also largely determined by our genetic make-up. Nevertheless: With a good brain network, the consequences of a breakdown can be better “cushioned”.

You can also do something good for your brain with a balanced diet. The Heidelberg brain researcher Konrad Bayreuther also recommends vitamin E, which, in moderate doses, has a protective effect against Alzheimer's. "Many Alzheimer's researchers take vitamin E," says Heuser. "Me too."

Eating a healthy diet is especially important for those who are prone to high blood pressure. Less salt, more fruits and vegetables (and: exercise) help lower blood pressure. That, in turn, is good for our gray matter. Because high blood pressure increases the risk of a stroke - the third archenemy of our brain.

"The brain runs on fun" - the brain is driven by fun, say the Americans. Science can only subscribe to that. Stress, for example, is poison for the brain, in the truest sense of the word: the stress hormone cortisol attacks the brain cells. Joy, on the other hand, makes our neurons grow. When feeling happy, the brain releases the messenger substance dopamine - at the same time, this pleasure molecule causes our nerve cells to establish new connections: the brain learns through these connections (see info box on the right). "The best way to do something good for your brain," says Heuser, "is to make yourself happy every now and then."

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