Your nervous system comprises a complex network of nerves and specialized cells that serve as the body’s “electrical wiring,” carrying messages all throughout its different systems. It has two key components: the central nervous system, which includes the brain, spinal column, and nerves, as well as the peripheral nervous system, made up of neurons and nerves.
In such a complex system, there are unfortunately several things that can go wrong. In addition to injury, the nervous system can become compromised by neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), among others. These conditions can affect functions all across the body, including movement, speaking, memory retention, senses, and breathing.
Neurological disorders can’t always be prevented. Many result from a combination of genetic and environmental factors that can’t be controlled. Lifestyle factors may also play a role, however, which are within our power to change. To promote a healthy nervous system to our best ability, here are some things we can do:
Maintain a Nutritious Diet
Proper nutrition is essential to promoting optimal function throughout the whole body, and the nervous system is no exception. Ideally, you should be taking in lean protein, vegetables and fruits, whole grains, and healthy fats every day to provide your body with the macro- and micronutrients it needs to perform its best.
In particular, the lutein in leafy greens has been shown to help prevent cognitive decline, while essential fatty acids in certain nuts can help protect the nerves and cell membranes. Ensuring adequate levels of B12 and potassium is also helpful for promoting nervous system health, as is reducing inflammation by reducing your intake of heavily processed foods.
Get Ample Sleep
Sleep keeps the nervous system functioning properly. On a short-term basis, sleep deprivation can lead to issues like memory problems, mood changes, and fatigue. Over time, however, insomnia can interfere with the nervous system’s ability to send information. Aim for seven hours of sleep each night.
Establish Healthy Stress Outlets
Stress can overwhelm our nervous system, and on a long-term basis, it can create excessive wear and tear throughout the body. In fact, it’s not what stress does to the nervous system itself, but the chronic activation of the nervous system triggered by stress, which is a problem. This ongoing activation affects other bodily systems, including the immune system, and can cause issues like body-wide inflammation.
While it can be challenging, finding healthy outlets for managing stress is an important and effective way to manage optimal nervous system function. Regular exercise, yoga, meditation, and counseling are a few options to try if you find yourself facing excessive stress.
Speaking of regular exercise, this is another important way to maintain nervous system health. While experts recommend getting at least 150 minutes of moderate cardiovascular exercise or 75 minutes of more intense exercise each week for overall wellness, there are also some specific activities that may promote neurological health. In particular, weight-bearing exercises that employ the leg muscles have been shown to send signals to the brain that are essential to healthy neural cell production.
Keep the Brain Active
The brain, like other systems of the body, needs to be worked routinely to maintain its health. Mental stimulation has been shown to boost brain function and minimize the risk of cognitive decline. Activities like card games, jigsaw puzzles, listening to and playing music, and learning new skills can benefit the nervous system by supporting brain health.