‘Invent Stories’: Neurosurgeon Henry Marsh’s Guide To Keeping Your Brain Healthy As You Get O...

Henry Marsh is a neurosurgeon dedicated to helping people utilize their brains to the fullest capacity while maintaining optimal brain health. He recently spoke about the lifestyle decisions everyone could make in order to keep your brain healthy as you get older. Some of the activities include frequent exercise, a healthy diet, and inventing stories about fairies. 

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73-year-old retired neurosurgeon Henry Marsh recently got his own brain scanned to check that everything was functioning properly. While Marsh himself maintains multiple healthy lifestyle habits, he was surprised to find that his brain “looked rather elderly.” 

This motivated him to speak about the things everyone can do in their day-to-day lives to decrease the possibility of brain problems as one gets older. 

“First of all, you want to avoid banging your head. There’s convincing evidence that even minor head injuries cumulatively cause damage. You know, rugby players and football players heading the ball. So I think you should avoid sports which involve repetitive head trauma,” he said to The Guardian.

“It’s the idea of the cerebral reserve: that the more active a brain you have, the longer it takes for the batteries to run down.”

This concept can also be applied to education and keeping your brain actively engaged on a daily basis. 

“It’s multifactorial, of course, but the theory is that the more connections in your brain, which presumably being educated involves, the longer it takes for the brain to wear out.” 

One of the more creative ways Marsh likes to keep his brain engaged is by playing with his grandchildren and actively making up fairy stories to tell them. He even is hoping to publish some of these stories as a means of further working his brain and creative skills. 

“It should be my last book, as with most people I’m horrified by the prospects that my grandchildren face in 30 or 40 years’ time. God knows where the world will be.”

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“We know that the older you are when you finish higher education, the lower the risk of dementia.”

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Marsh also explained how sometimes stress and working through hard situations is also good for your brain’s health, as it’s another means of keeping it active and engaged. However, like most bad things in life, too much stress can be damaging to your brain’s health. 

“On the other hand, there is some evidence that high blood pressure does cause white matter damage. When I was operating, I would have had episodes of extremely high blood pressure due to the stress, but whether that was responsible for the changes on my scan or not, I don’t know.” 

Marsh also related the conversation surrounding stress to his years working in Ukraine, something he’s been doing since the 90’s, and even was in Kyiv when Russia initially invaded last year. 

“I wasn’t exactly frightened, but I was living very intensely. To say it was enjoyable would be a bit naff as people were being killed. But I can see why certain journalists and even some doctors become war junkies.”

Additionally, when it comes to our health overall, “the people who exercise regularly have lower rates of dementia and depression. Although you can’t prove causation. Every so often you’d see a brain scan of somebody in their 80s that shows relatively little shrinkage or atrophy. We still don’t know why that’s the case. It could be genetic.”

“The point I would like to emphasize is that it’s about trying to live well, and a better life is really about helping other people or helping the natural world.”