The Adult Brain - How to keep it healthy?

Even if it is no longer growing exponentially, the adult brain is not on the way to decline. It has for itself the advantages of experience.

After the age of 25, our neurons are no longer as dynamic to connect to each other and build new brain circuits. So the brain takes care of itself differently. "It is beginning a phase of stabilizing existing circuits and consolidating its achievements. It's a time of refinement," explains Nicolas Renier, a researcher at the Brain and Spinal Cord Institute (ICM).

Far from becoming less efficient, the brain now relies on assets specific to its maturity. "When an adult brain learns new things, it may be a little slower to collect them, but it does so in a more intelligent way, especially by linking them and comparing them with everything it already knows. In fact, he will hold them longer than a child, even if he does not use them regularly," notes the researcher.

 It is also now that he is refining the functioning of his mirror neurons and developing their full capacities. "These neurons reflect in our brain the state of joy or sadness expressed by a person in front of us. They allow us to put ourselves in his place. Thanks to them, an adult brain is more expert at reading other people's emotions," insists Nicolas Renier. This is probably what we call the experience!

Maintaining your reserve cognitive

Even if the time is no longer right for building new networks, the brain can perfectly recover thanks to its tremendous plasticity and adaptability if it is stimulated. "The great challenge of adulthood is to maintain your brain capital, or your cognitive reserve as researchers call it. This will make it possible to tackle ageing with a high probability of delaying the first signs of cognitive decline, or even neurodegenerative diseases," adds Philippe Amouyel, Professor of Public Health at the University Hospital of Lille and researcher at Inserm. "The brain only wears out if you don't use it! ", he adds.

Leave the area of comfort

"Destabilizing the brain, confronting it with activities that it cannot carry out by relying on automatisms, forces it to make new connections to meet the challenge," analyses Philippe Amouyel. Every day, for ten minutes, use his non-directive hand to perform routine tasks. "Long-term perseverance is the key to success, because it takes time to build and consolidate new neural circuits," he insists. All activities that involve multiple areas of the brain are also recommended. "Reading especially because it stimulates the area of vision, that of language (you speak in your head when you read), the area of emotions, of deductive thinking (for example, when you read a thriller), the area of memory (the story reminds you of such an event in your own life)," describes the teacher.

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Move regularly

"There is a lot of research that shows that regular physical activity promotes the brain's plasticity and ability to create new connections. During physical effort, the brain secretes a protein (BDNF, Brain Derived Neutrophic Factor), which is directly involved in connecting neurons together," explains Philippe Amouyel. The brain also appreciates the endorphins produced during exercise that put it in a state of well-being. "He needs pleasure and a low level of stress to do well. Cortisol, a hormone produced in too large a quantity in chronic stress, has harmful inflammatory effects," the specialist continues. Finally, exercising allows for overall good health. "Physical activity maintains the cardiovascular and oxygenation systems, two pillars to provide the energy, oxygen and nutrients it needs under the right conditions," the doctor concludes.

Quality relationships

Without contact, our brains wither away. "Human relations is what stimulates him the most. The fact of discussing, of being interested in others and that others are interested in us, exchanging banalities or even arguing, forces him to mobilize," explains Philippe Amouyel. For the beneficial effects to be achieved, the quality of the social relations maintained is more important than their quantity. With spouse, children and friends, let us make the effort to maintain rich bonds, let us give ourselves the means to nourish them with time spent together, with attention. Let us not let ourselves be nibbled away by the force of habits and daily life!

Eat properly

Le brain draws the necessary substrates for its proper functioning from the food. "The Mediterranean diet is the most suitable for a healthy brain. People who have adopted it have better cognitive performance and if they report Alzheimer's disease, they do so later than average," says Professor Amouyel. On the menu of this diet: fatty fish rich in omega 3 twice a week (salmon, sardines, herring); little red meat, too rich in saturated fats, and rather poultry; lots of fruit and vegetables, as well as oilseeds (nuts, almonds, hazelnuts) and seeds (squash, sunflower...); whole grains (rice, pasta, bulgur...) and legumes (chickpeas, lentils); dairy products, mainly goat and sheep's cheese; and olive oil, spices and herbs as an accompaniment.

Cultivating optimism

Ceux who only perceive the bad sides of life do not do their brains any good. "Strong negative emotions not only affect the brain's emotional areas, they can also affect the state of all brain circuits. Indeed, the different areas are very connected to each other," notes Nicolas Renier. Okay, but it's not easy to be optimistic... "You have to work on it! Thanks to the plasticity of our brain, we can reprogram it at any time in life," says Philippe Amouyel. Start by forcing yourself to smile, even if you don't want to. This puts warmth into the voice and gaze, and causes positive interactions with others. Something to put us in a good mood." Another idea for training: list two events each day that have given us satisfaction. To your notebooks!

The exercise is moving-numbers

Are you ready to do math? Using the numbers 2, 4, 6, 6, 7 and 9, find all the ways to get 61. The "reverse" mental calculation, which consists of starting from a result and finding the operations that can lead to it, is not limited to automatisms. We have to devise strategies and work on orders of magnitude. In short, several areas of the brain are being used.

Attention to pollution

Some research suggests that pollution is involved in strokes and some dementia. In other words, fine particles, heavy metals, pesticides and chemicals are not the best friends of the brain! Avoid sports near major traffic routes. Whenever you can, eat organic. Do not eat salmon or tuna more than twice a week.

3 important things to know about mental health

The World Health Organization mentions that there is no health without mental health. Psychological distress, anxiety and stress are far from being a marginal phenomenon. This is a major social issue. Here are 3 important things to know about mental health.
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1. What is mental health?

Mental health is an essential component of health. It allows us to adapt, in the short, medium or long term, to the various situations in life made up of joys and frustrations, happy and difficult moments, problems to solve.

Even today, mental illness remains a taboo subject because people are afraid of judgment, of losing their jobs... There is still a long way to go.

2. The different mental health disorders

Mental health is greatly influenced by what we experience. Here are some amazing statistics:
  •      1 in 3 students experience violence in high school - which can lead to anxiety or depression.
  •      At the post-secondary level, 2 out of 3 students report that stress has a negative impact on their studies.
  •      At the university level, 1 in 2 students experience depressive symptoms.
  •      And finally, 1 in 4 employees say they experience psychological distress.

Impressive figures that make you think.

3. Tips for taking care of your mental health

To maintain good mental health, we must find ways to recharge our batteries. Here are 7 effective tips:
  •      Act - be able to act to give meaning to your life.
  •      Feeling - recognizing, understanding and appropriating emotions
  •      Accepting ourselves - recognizing our strengths, abilities and limitations
  •      Recharge your batteries - make room for something that feels good.
  •      Discover - open up to life, experiences and new people.
  •      Choosing - it's autonomy, being able to make choices.
  •      Building relationships - building satisfying and caring relationships.

Is there anyone in your circle who is going through a difficult time? The most important thing is to talk to him and listen to him, without judging. Throw poles.... "It seems to me you're not so well lately. "Get the person to open up. If you are a relative or close friend, it is important to get help for yourself too.

In closing, we all have to learn to take the time again! Take the time to move, to play outside! It's good for the children, but it's good for us too!

Depression: Exercise is good for mental health, and that includes the household

To reduce the risk of depression, physical exercise is strongly recommended. Playing sports, walking... and even cleaning, according to a study published this Thursday in The Lancet Psychiatry magazine.

"All types of physical exercise have been associated with improved mental health," the authors say. The benefit is still more pronounced with "team sports, cycling, aerobics and gym sports".

Three days of "poor mental health" per month

The results of the study are based on questionnaires submitted to more than 1.2 million Americans between 2011 and 2015. The questionnaires listed 75 types of physical activity, including gardening and fishing. Respondents were asked how regular this activity is in their lives, and how long on average each time.

Another question was: "If you think about your mental health, including stress, depression and emotional problems, how many days in the last 30 years has it not been good? ». Respondents reported on average about 3.5 days of "poor mental health" per month.

A purely statistical conclusion

According to the release accompanying the study, "people who are physically active report 1.5 fewer days of poor mental health per month compared to those who are not active. The ideal dose of physical exercise is "45 minutes three to five times a week". Beyond that, the profit drops. Respondents who reached 3 hours of sport per day even reported poorer mental health than those who did not do so at all.

Coordinated by Adam Chekroud, a psychiatric researcher at Yale (United States), the study is simply statistical and does not establish a cause-and-effect relationship. The relationship between physical activity and depression reduction "could go both ways: inactivity could be a symptom and factor of poor mental health, and activity could be a sign of or contribute to resilience," according to the researchers.

Junk food is also very bad for your mental health...

Eating well is good for our brains, say researchers who have compared about 40 studies linking diet and depression.

Navigating the maze of diets would be enough to discourage the most assiduous of healthy living enthusiasts, and one wonders how dietitians manage not to lose their footing. When a new study establishes a link between food and depression, one might give in to the desire to add it to the long list of pieces of the puzzle that is the relationship between our food and health.

However, the work that has just been published in the journal "Molecular Psychiatry" deserves more attention than the others. It is indeed a "meta-study", an inventory of the research carried out on the subject. The international team led by Dr. Camille Lassale, from the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health at University College London (and including researchers from Montpellier University Hospital and Inserm) analyzed 41 previous studies linking food quality to depression.

Dr. Lassalle says,"There is convincing evidence that there is a relationship between the quality of your diet and your mental health. This relationship goes beyond the effect of diet on your body size or other aspects of health that can in turn affect your mood."

In other words, we could well imagine that eating badly makes us gain weight, and that seeing us get bigger could depress us. But the effect of diet goes far beyond that, and your diet has a direct impact on biological functions that affect your mood.
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Antioxidants, inflammation and intestinal flora

How can diet affect our behaviour, our mental health? "By causing damage to the brain," explains Camille Lassale, who cites oxidative stress (aggression of cells by certain compounds) or inflammation that can (also) affect neurotransmitters, the molecules that transmit messages in the brain and regulate emotions.

Diet can also change the formation of neurons "especially in a part of the brain called the hippocampus, which is associated with mood regulation". Finally, what is commonly referred to as "intestinal flora", the microbes present in our digestive system, can act on the brain by transforming our food into molecules that can either cause inflammation or stimulate neural activity, and thus influence our behaviour.

So, what's for dinner?

Not surprisingly, the foods likely to have these adverse effects are sugars, saturated fats and processed foods, which are foods that promote inflammation and are "associated with a higher risk of depression". Basically, you should eat less meat, avoid industrial products, anything sweet....

On the other hand, to reduce the risk of depressive symptoms or clinical depression, a healthy diet should be followed, "especially a traditional Mediterranean diet", by "favouring foods rich in omega-3, fibre, vitamins, magnesium and polyphenols".

What does this mean in practice? Fruits, vegetables, cereals, fish, olive oil...

"A diet rich in anti-inflammatory and antioxidant compounds, commonly found in fruits and vegetables, nuts and wine (drink in moderation) can affect the brain directly by protecting it from oxidative stress and inflammation."

No big surprises therefore, the usual recommendations defining healthy foods apply very well here....

Food as a pillar of health (including mental health)

However, the study was not unanimously approved. "Current evidence is not sufficient to show that diets rich in plants can prevent depression, as most of the evidence to date simply shows that those with poor mental health eat less well," criticizes Naveed Sattar, professor of metabolic medicine at the University of Glasgow. "Similarly, the link with inflammation as a plausible mechanism to explain a link between diet and mental health is extremely tenuous," he says.

However, the authors of the study draw on all the work they have analysed, while calling for more research on the issue "to assess the role of dietary models in preventing the occurrence, severity and recurrence of depressive episodes".

"By showing that adherence to healthy dietary models is associated with a reduced risk of depressive disorders, we are contributing to the growing body of evidence regarding the importance of our daily diet on our mental health and that of our brain," adds Tasnime Akbaraly (Inserm), co-author of the study. For him, dietary advice should be part of medical visits, "especially among mental health practitioners".

According to the researcher, it is also a public health problem, "in a context where poor nutrition is recognized as a leading cause of premature death in middle-income and rich countries, and where mental disorders are a leading cause of disability.

One day of work per week is enough to boost mental health

Work not only brings income, it also promotes self-esteem and social inclusion. But, according to British researchers, eight hours of work per week is enough to benefit from the advantages of working for mental health: there would be no additional benefits - excluding economic considerations - to work more!

Here is a study that should delight supporters of a reduction in employees' working hours.... At a time when artificial intelligence, robotization, is replacing humans more and more, we may have to work less and less. Work is important for mental health, as Brendan Burchell, a sociologist at Cambridge University, points out,"We know that unemployment often affects people's well-being and has a negative impact on identity, status, time use and a sense of collective purpose. »

Also, one may wonder how much paid work is optimal for well-being. To find out, researchers at the Universities of Cambridge and Salford analysed data on 71,000 people aged 16 to 64 living in the United Kingdom. Between 2009 and 2018, participants answered questions to assess their anxiety, sleep problems, and overall mental health. The study appears in the journal Social Science and Medicine.
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Full-time employment does not bring more well-being

There was a significant difference in mental health and well-being between those who were working and those who were unemployed. The authors looked at what happened when people, who were unemployed or not working to care for their children, returned to work. They found that by working eight hours or less per week, these people reduced their risk of suffering from mental health problems by 30%.

But working more than eight hours a week did not bring any additional benefits in terms of well-being. The researchers suggest that the effective dose of work, for mental health, is therefore one day a week and no more! They also highlight other benefits of reduced working time: a better work-life balance, better productivity and a reduction in transport-related CO2 emissions.



  1. Thank you for this great article! Some really good advice on keeping a healthy brain.


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