Maintaining a Healthy Brain

Fitness and nutrition coach Laurie Kelly writes about a wide-range of fitness issues. She points out that while it is good that we focus on having healthy, fit bodies, we often neglect the significance of having a healthy brain.

In her blog article, “The Brain: Your Body’s Most Important Muscle,” Kelly observes certain facts about the brain that should help us as clergy to pay attention to maintaining brain health: the brain makes up only 2% of total body weight, but uses 20% of the body’s energy; 60% of the brain is comprised of essential fats; 1 in 10 Americans over age 65 will develop Alzheimer’s Disease; 60,000 are diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease every year. The following are five recommendations for brain health based on (and adapted for Thrive in 5) from Kelly’s article. Consider the importance of maintaining good brain health as you serve God and others in your role as a pastor:

  1. Stay well hydrated. Kelly states that “when you’re well hydrated, you’re supporting your entire central nervous system. Remember the brain’s mass is 80% water —
    the highest proportion of any organ in the body. When you become dehydrated, your brain is the first thing to be impacted. Feeling ‘foggy’  and stressed out are key indicators of dehydration.
  2. Consume healthy fats. “60% of your brain is comprised of fats. Not the kind of fat that accumulates around your midsection, but essential fatty acids, specifically Omega 3s and Omega 6s. They’re “essential” because your body cannot produce them itself — you can only get them from food. They’re further broken down into the core components EPA and DHA. Your body’s highest concentration of DHA is in your brain. It’s vital to neurogenesis (growth of new neurons) and neuroplasticity (the brain’s ability to form and reorganize synaptic connections, especially in response to learning or experience). An Omega 3 deficiency can adversely affect cognition. Good food sources of Omega 3s are fish, seafood and flaxseed, as well as hemp, sunflower and pumpkin seeds.”
  3. Meditate. Kelly points to the documented health benefits of meditation, which can take many forms. As Christians and as clergy, there are significant benefits of slowing down in silence before God, simply being present to God through the Spirit and offering up all our thoughts and concerns to him, not dwelling on them, but basking in his loving presence and releasing all our concerns to God (1 Peter 5:7). While there are obvious spiritual benefits to quietly meditating on God’s word or maintaining silent prayer before him, there are also benefits to the brain. It increases blood flow which helps with mental awareness and other neurological benefits.
  4. Exercise. We are all aware that exercise increases physical fitness in general, but did you know that it also helps increase the fitness of your brain? Kelly shares that recent research shows that physical exercise actually brings about measurable changes in brain chemistry that leads to the growth of new brain cells and new synaptic connections. This is so important for clergy as we lead, study and guide others. It can also, to a certain degree, reverse the negative effects of aging.
  5. Fuel your brain well. What you eat can affect in a big way your cognitive functioning. As clergy, we need our brains to function as efficiently as possible so that we can serve others well. The brain requires a large amount of glucose in relation to the rest of the body, but it is vital to eat the right kinds of foods to fuel your brain. Kelly advises that rather than making drastic changes to your diet, “focus instead on eating more vegetables, leafy greens, fruits and lean proteins. What you should cut out, though, are refined sugars — like in regular soft drinks, table sugar, baked goods and sneakier sources like ketchup, white bread, breakfast cereal, flavored yogurt, salad dressing and more.”

To learn more about the worth of our physical bodies see the following resources: 

Laura Kelly, The Brain: Your Body’s Most Important Muscle.

John J. Ratey. (2008). Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain. New York: Little, Brown and Company.

Stacey Feintuch, “18 Sneaky Sources of Added Sugar You Don’t Realize You’re Eating”


Intellectual contributor: David Higle, director of Clergy Care, Education & Clergy Development

Executive editor: Russ Gunsalus

Curator of content: Dave Higle