Dossier: Healthy brain

Keeping the brain fit

Can we help our brain stay healthy for longer? If so, how? Dr. Andreas Monsch, neuropsychologist and head of the Memory Clinic in Basel, explains what we know today.

Text: Michael Suter; video: Simon Keller and Michael Suter

The human brain resembles a state-of-the-art supercomputer that’s incredibly fast, delivers a top performance, and has a network of nerve cells that work day and night. For our body to work properly, several areas of the brain have to communicate with one another. Even picking up a water bottle is a complex task.

Like a computer, our brain gets slower as we get older. We find it harder to remember names and have trouble learning new things. “The forgetfulness that hinders some people in old age is never normal, but always a sign of a pathological process,” says neuropsychologist Andreas Monsch, professor at the Memory Clinic in Basel.

Pleasure is key

Unlike a computer, we can’t simply uninstall programs we no longer use or add extra memory so our brain works faster again. However, adds Monsch, there are ways for healthy people to keep their brain cells functioning properly or pepping them up again. For example, you could play chess, dance or have an interesting conversation with friends. There isn’t one single activity that’s suitable for everyone. It’s more important to find something that makes you happy and that challenges you time and time again without becoming repetitive.

Smoking is bad for the brain

In addition to actively training your brain, there are a number of other factors that influence the brain’s performance. For example, it has been proven that social contact, sport and a healthy diet have a very stimulating and therefore positive effect on the brain, whereas tobacco products and excessive alcohol have a harmful effect.