The brain is the most important organ in our body, and yet we hardly ever give much thought about how to care for its health.

We go to the gym to work out our arms, legs, back, core, etc. We jog to exercise and strengthen our heart and lungs. We moderate and balance our diet to improve our digestive abilities, and so on.

But we rarely take conscious steps to care for and exercise our brains. Yet, as neuroscientist Dr. Norman Doidge points out in a Wall Street Journal Essay, “Our brains are far more likely to waste away from underuse than to wear down from overuse.” In a summary of recent brain research he points to findings which indicate:

- Exercising the brain becomes more important as we get older.

- Although the rule for a machine is, “Use it and lose it,” a more accurate rule for our brains is, “Use it or lose it.”

- Exercise, both mental and physical, can lower the risk of experiencing dementia in general and Alzheimers in particular.

But here’s the really good news: when you’re working out at the gym to strengthen your body, you’re also working out your brain and strengthening your mental faculties. Research findings include:

1. Men can strengthen their brains and reduce their risk of cognitive decline and dementia by 60% by following five simple steps:

  • Eating a healthy diet (at least three to four servings of fruits and vegetables a day)
  • Maintaining a normal weight, with a body-mass index from 18 to under 25
  • Limiting alcohol to about a glass of wine a day
  • Not smoking
  • Exercising

As Dr. Doidge says: “Imagine if there were a drug that could reduce the risk of dementia by 60%. It would be the most talked-about drug in history, but this astonishing finding has been fairly quietly received.”

2. The activity with the biggest impact on reducing risk was walking at least 2 miles a day or engaging in some other regular, vigorous physical exercise.

3. Exercise triggers the growth of new brain cells in the hippocampus. It also triggers the release of “neurotrophic growth factors”—a kind of brain fertilizer, helping the brain to grow, maintain new connections and stay healthy.

4. Recent studies have also found that exercise can reduce the symptoms of Parkinson’s with one scientist concluding that “exercise deserved a central place in the treatment of Parkinson’s.”

In the same article, there are also some amazing reports about the advances in audio and electrical treatments which are reducing symptoms of autism, MS, and brain injuries.

And just in case you’re thinking this is only for those with brain problems, Dr. Doidge warns everyone:

The basic neuroplastic principle of “use it or lose it” and the benefit of forming new brain connections through intensive learning also apply to people without brain problems. Physical exercise produces some new cells in the memory system, but mental exercise preserves and strengthens existing connections in the brain, giving a person a “cognitive reserve” to fend off future losses and to perfect skills.

Read the whole article here.