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Lifebrain Newsletter April 2022

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Lifestyle and mental health linked to brain health

In the largest survey ever done to investigate public perceptions of brain health globally, researchers from the Lifebrain consortium, including the Norwegian Institute of Public Health (NIPH) found that most people are aware that their lifestyle and mental health can affect their brain health, women and more educated people being most aware.

More than 27 500 people across the world answered the Global Brain Health Survey, developed by researchers at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health and the University of Oslo, as part of the Lifebrain project.
The respondents answered questions about what they think influence brain health, which life periods they consider important to look after the brain, and which diseases and disorders they associate with the brain.
Brain health is a relatively new concept encompassing mental and cognitive health. It is about mental well-being as well as ability to remember, learn, plan and concentrate.

Lifestyle influence on brain health

We observed that 9 in 10 are aware that substance use such as alcohol, smoking and drug abuse have strong influence on brain health, and 8 in 10 are aware that physical health, sleeping habits, social environment, and genetics affect brain health.
"It is very positive that people are aware that lifestyle factors can influence their brain health," says Dr. Isabelle Budin-Ljøsne from NIPH, lead author of the Global Brain Health Survey.

Figure 1: To what extent do the following have an influence on brain health? 
Source: Budin-Ljøsne et al. (2022)

This also supports current research on brain health, observing that certain lifestyle factors are associated with lower risk of developing brain disease, such as being physically active, having a healthy diet, getting sufficient sleep, reducing and/or limiting negative stress, and refraining from substance use such as alcohol, smoking or illicit drugs.
However, whereas most respondents recognized the impact of lifestyle factors on brain health, women, and highly educated respondents, more often rated lifestyle factors as important for brain health than men and less educated participants.
Fewer respondents (below 60%) recognized the influence of socioeconomic factors on brain health.
"We still do not know much about how factors such as education and profession influence brain health, although poverty may increase the risk of mental health issues, and, in that sense, also impact brain health," says Dr. Budin-Ljøsne.

All stages of life are important

The majority of respondents (more than 95%) rated most life periods, from childhood to old age, as important for looking after the brain, although fewer (84%) ranked the prenatal period as important. Here again, women and highly educated respondents rated all life periods as more important then men did on average.
"Taking care of the fetal brain during pregnancy is particularly important as the brain quickly develops during this period and needs to grow healthy," says Budin-Ljøsne.

Figure 2: What stages in life is it important to look after one’s brain. 
Source: Budin-Ljøsne et al. (2022)

Mental health linked to brain health

99% of respondents associated Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) and dementia with the brain, and more than 95% associated mental disorders such as schizophrenia and depression. Approximately 80% associated neurological disorders like stroke and migraine with the brain - women were more likely than men to associate these diseases with the brain, particularly for bipolar disorder, stroke, and schizophrenia. Budin-Ljøsne explains:
"It is very interesting that our respondents so clearly made the connection between brain health and mental health, which also supports current scientific knowledge. This may indicate that more attention should be given by policymakers to address preventable mental health risk factors in populations."  
Fewer respondents (less than 30%) associated cancer, hypertension, diabetes, and arthritis with the brain.

About the Global Brain Health Survey

These results were based on answers from 27 590 subjects from 81 countries (mostly Europeans) who responded on questions via Internet in the Global Brain Health Survey. Most respondents were women and highly educated, and interested in brain health and were therefore not representative of the general population. We expect that other groups of people might be less knowledgeable and might need targeted information about brain health.
The online survey was available in 14 languages, including French, Spanish, Dutch, Hungarian, German, Italian, and Scandinavian languages, between June 2019 and August 2020.
The Global Brain Health Survey is part of the Lifebrain project led by the University of Oslo, including the NIPH.


Budin-Ljøsne I, Mowinckel AM, Friedman BB, et al. Public perceptions of brain health: an international, online cross-sectional survey. BMJ Open 2022;12:e057999.

What motivates people to look after their brain health? Insights from the Global Brain Health Survey. Oslo: Lifebrain; 2022. ISBN: 978-82-8406-267-9 

How to promote citizens’ brain health? Insights from the Global Brain Health Survey on citizen’s perceptions of brain health interventions. 2021, Lifebrain. ISBN: 978-82-8406-223-5

Source of newsletter

This newsletter was written by Rebecca Bruu Carver, senior communication adviser and Isabelle Budin Ljøsne, senior researcher at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health. 

Your comments are always valuable to us, so do not hesitate to contact us.

Center for Lifespan Changes in Brain and Cognition at the University of Oslo
Kristine B. Walhovd project coordinator
Barbara B. Friedman administrative coordinator
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This project has received funding from the European Union ’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 732592.
Copyright © 2022 Lifebrain Horizon2020 project, All rights reserved.

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