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Five ways to keep your brain healthy

Image of Infographic with five ways to keep your brain healthy. Click to open a larger version of the image. Five ways to keep your brain healthy

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Every March, the Department of Defense recognizes Brain Injury Awareness Month to raise awareness of the importance of improving brain health and identifying, caring for, and treating individuals affected by traumatic brain injury, or TBI.

Focusing on brain health is key to mission readiness, and there are several steps that the military community – service members and veterans, health care providers, researchers, educators, and families - can take to maintain a healthy brain.

Here are five ways to keep your brain healthy:

1. Get plenty of sleep

Getting restful sleep is one of the most important things you can do for brain health. Sleep also plays a pivotal role in recovery from TBI. You can improve your sleep regimen with these healthy sleep tips:

  • Aim for a minimum of seven hours of sleep on a regular basis
  • Avoid stimulants such as caffeine, nicotine, and energy drinks within six hours of your usual bedtime
  • Exercise regularly, preferably finishing two hours before bedtime
  • Avoid alcohol within two hours of your bedtime
  • Promote a sleep friendly environment; minimize noise and light and maintain a cool but comfortable room temperature
  • Avoid use of smartphones or reading devices that give off light for two or more hours before bedtime.

2. Protect your head

Service members can limit their risk of experiencing a TBI by wearing a helmet or other protective equipment when training, deployed, or recreating. Many activities that service members engage in regularly, such as military training and sports or recreational activities, are potentially dangerous and could result in a TBI.

When wearing a helmet while playing sports or riding a bike or motorcycle, always remember the following tips from A Head for the Future:

  • Never wear a cracked or broken helmet
  • Never alter a helmet yourself
  • Regardless of wear and tear, always replace a helmet five years past the manufacturer's date to be sure it has the latest safety features

3. Take care of your mental health

The brain affects how we think, feel, and act. Damage to the brain, including from TBI, can affect physical function, thinking ability, behavior, mental health, and more. Severe TBIs increase the risk for mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression, as well as sleeping problems. Remember to seek medical treatment if you have symptoms of depression, anxiety, or other mental health concerns, especially if you have recently experienced a TBI.

4. Build your social networks

The ability to engage in productive personal and professional relationships, and positively interact with unit and command networks, is important to overall well-being and brain health. When you experience a TBI, changes to your personal and professional relationships are common. Some TBI symptoms, like mood swings and personality changes, can stress relationships. Friends, families, and coworkers who notice these changes, and are aware of a possible head injury, should encourage medical attention. Seeking medical attention for a potential TBI is a sign of strength, not weakness.

5. Get regular exercise and eat a healthy diet

Physical exercise is very beneficial for maintaining brain health. You can make a major difference in terms of how your body is functioning and, as a result, how your brain is functioning, through regular exercise.

Good nutrition is also essential to everyone's good health and wellness, and to warfighter readiness. The right diet can improve physical and cognitive performance, positively impact your mental health, lower your risk of many chronic diseases, and even help with recovery from some injuries.

The Department of Defense is committed to protecting the brain health of our service members. For more resources, please visit the webpage for the Traumatic Brain Injury Center of Excellence.

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