Let’s be honest. Your company didn’t hire you for your brawn or your finely sculpted six pack. In business, brain power wins the day, not horsepower. Your ability to think, communicate and exhibit emotional intelligence and creativity eclipses physical strength and stamina. Yet, if you were to design a lifestyle that is the antithesis of good cognitive function and long-term brain health, the life of an average executive would come pretty close.
Consider the human brain—our crown jewel. Scientists have learned more about the brain in the last ten years than in all previous centuries combined. Yet it remains, for all intents and purposes, an unfathomable mystery. Weighing in at just three pounds, it consumes 15 percent of our total cardiac output, 20 percent of our total oxygen consumption and 25 percent of our total glucose use. When the brain is fully working, it uses more energy per unit of tissue weight than fully exercising quadriceps.
The brain is the seat of intelligence, emotion and memory, and it initiates movements and behaviors. How it helps us lift a fork to our mouth or navigate a busy interstate at seventy mph—relatively mindless acts we perform daily—is something we barely understand. There is not a computer in the world that can match its capacity. But we are prone to treating our brains like pieces of junk.
Lack of sleep, poor dietary habits, stress, lack of regular exercise and smoking can all contribute to worsened cognitive performance and brain health. In fact, the same factors that elevate our risk for heart attacks—elevated cholesterol levels, diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity—have also been shown to increase risk for dementia, mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease.