Healthy Living

Global Summit Takes Aim At The Ultimate Mystery: The Brain

04/27/2017 06:16pm ET | Updated April 28, 2017
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Recent decades have seen previously unimaginable health gains become a reality. But while diseases that were once considered death sentences, like AIDS, have now become manageable conditions, breakthroughs in treating the most most destructive neurological ailments, like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, have proven elusive. At the Ohio State University’s Global Brain Health and Performance Summit in Columbus, a group of leading health experts took a big-picture approach to looking at what could lie ahead for neurological health—and explored what makes brain health so different from other areas of care.

As the panelists explained, brain health has an outsized impact on overall wellbeing. “It’s really about control over your own life,” said Sarah Lenz Lock, a public health policy expert for the American Association of Retired Persons. Richard Friedman, a New York Times columnist and psychiatrist at Cornell University, said that brain health determines “vitality and fitness at living”—It’s the one area of individual health that seems to govern virtually everything else.

At the same time, the brain is the most complex and least understood organ in the body. It works in mysterious and counterintuitive ways: Friedman noted that research suggests that physical exercise is better for brain health than certain types of consistent mental exercise, like puzzle-solving. And as Harvard neuroscientist Moshe Bar explained, researchers can only hope to understand how the brain works by taking a notably granular approach. “They are hoping and believing that if you fix the way, say depressed people think, then you can go all the way down to the molecular level” to see the therapy’s impact on how the brain actually functions.

The panelists agreed that widespread improvements in neurological health won’t come as a result of a moonshot-type cure to Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s. As far as the brain goes, it will be public education, and changes in certain attitudes and behaviors, that will lead to big improvements public well being. “If we target stress and nutrition, it can go a long way,” Bar said, addressing the established links between physical indicators of health, like body-mass index, and mental fitness.

Still, It’s not enough for people simply to know what’s good for them, Bar stressed. ”If somebody published a paper tomorrow saying that if you ran 5k a day you would live forever, how many people do you think would do it,” he wondered. “It’s hard to imagine people would adopt this.”

In brain health, as in other fields, there’s the need to link scientific discovery to public awareness, especially in the absence of a galvanizing, big-ticket breakthrough. “Information by itself is sterile,” said Friedman. “It doesn’t change people’s behavior on its own.”

Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, have proven elusive. At the Ohio State University’s Global Brain Health and Performance Summit in Columbus, a group of leading health experts took a big-picture approach to looking at what could lie ahead for neurological health—and explored what makes brain health so different from other areas of care.

As the panelists explained, brain health has an outsized impact on overall wellbeing. “It’s really about control over your own life,” said Sarah Lenz Lock, a public health policy expert for the American Association of Retired Persons. Richard Friedman, a New York Times columnist and psychiatrist at Cornell University, said that brain health determines “vitality and fitness at living”—It’s the one area of individual health that seems to govern virtually everything else.

At the same time, the brain is the most complex and least understood organ in the body. It works in mysterious and counterintuitive ways: Friedman noted that research suggests that physical exercise is better for brain health than certain types of consistent mental exercise, like puzzle-solving. And as Harvard neuroscientist Moshe Bar explained, researchers can only hope to understand how the brain works by taking a notably granular approach. “They are hoping and believing that if you fix the way, say depressed people think, then you can go all the way down to the molecular level” to see the therapy’s impact on how the brain actually functions.

The panelists agreed that widespread improvements in neurological health won’t come as a result of a moonshot-type cure to Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s. As far as the brain goes, it will be public education, and changes in certain attitudes and behaviors, that will lead to big improvements public well being. “If we target stress and nutrition, it can go a long way,” Bar said, addressing the established links between physical indicators of health, like body-mass index, and mental fitness.

Still, It’s not enough for people simply to know what’s good for them, Bar stressed. ”If somebody published a paper tomorrow saying that if you ran 5k a day you would live forever, how many people do you think would do it,” he wondered. “It’s hard to imagine people would adopt this.”

In brain health, as in other fields, there’s the need to link scientific discovery to public awareness, especially in the absence of a galvanizing, big-ticket breakthrough. “Information by itself is sterile,” said Friedman. “It doesn’t change people’s behavior on its own.”

This piece is part of a special brain health initiative curated by Dr. Ali Rezai, Director of Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center’s Stanley D. and Joan H. Ross Center for Brain Health and Performance. For more, visit The Huffington Post’s Brain Health page.