Brain health is a lifelong endeavour, honorary doctorate recipient Lynn Posluns tells graduands

Lynn Posluns

Students graduating from the Faculty of Health, Faculty of Environmental Studies and Lassonde School of Engineering were recognized during York University’s third spring convocation ceremony on June 14.

The cohort of newest graduates was given the opportunity to hear from Lynn Posluns, founder and president of Women’s Brain Health Initiative. Posluns was on the convocation stage to receive an honorary doctor of laws degree from York University.

Chancellor Greg Sorbara, Lynn Posluns, and President and Vice-Chancellor Rhonda L. Lenton

Posluns has used her entrepreneurial and leadership skills to galvanize research into women’s brain health. In 2012, she established the Women’s Brain Health Initiative to fuel research into gender differences in the brain. With Posluns’ leadership, the initiative has evolved into a global foundation that funds research with a focus on prevention, and provides the public with information, tools and activities for people of all ages to remain cognitively healthy throughout their lives.

After devoting so much time, effort and financial resources to filling their minds with knowledge, Posluns reminded graduands that it’s important to protect those minds, and that knowledge.

“I spend a lot of my time thinking and talking about the best ways to protect those minds,” she said. “That memory bank is a priceless gift … one that is both fragile and irreplaceable, yet far too often taken for granted.”

She asked graduands to consider how old one is when the brain is fully developed, and then shared that the age is 25. Only two weeks later, the brain starts to decline, she said.

Keeping the brain healthy in your 20s and 30s can have lasting effects into your 70s and 80s, she told the graduating class.

“For example, the decade when exercise has the greatest benefit for your brain is in your 20s. But, that doesn’t mean if you are in your 30s that it’s too late. Just that the younger you are, the greater protective effect will be,” she said. “We need to stop thinking of dementia as a disease of the elderly.”

While there’s no cure, Posluns said there are actions that can be taken to help protect the brain and preserve memories. Diet and exercise are good for brain health, and so are many positive lifestyle choices that, collectively, can dramatically diminish the chances of developing dementia.

Lynn Posluns

“The best part about it is that many of them are things that make life more enjoyable anyway; for instance, a glass of red wine a day,” she said.

It is important to keep stress in check, she said, perhaps through mindfulness, to avoid prematurely aging your brain. Red wine, dark chocolate, coffee and sleep all help, as do socializing, new learning and even having sex.

“Ongoing education is crucial for stimulating your mind; you must exercise your brain like it’s a muscle,” she said. “I encourage you to not only take care of your brain, but to leave it open to new experiences, new paths and new insights.”

Keeping an open mind will also lead to new passions and callings. Posluns shared that she worked in business for decades, and loved it, but found an unexpected calling about seven years ago while volunteering for a brain health facility.

Her education in brain health came from caregivers, clinicians and researchers who told her that almost 70 per cent of Alzheimer’s sufferers were women, even correcting for age, yet most of the research focused on men.

“This knowledge gap did not sit well with me, and the thought of not knowing my kids one day terrified me,” she said. “But I was in business, not a researcher, a doctor or a caregiver.”

Now, Canada has become a world leader in research into sex differences in brain-aging diseases. Women’s Brain Health created the first Research Chair in Women’s Brain Health and Aging, awarded to Gillian Einstein at the University of Toronto, who will investigate why women develop dementia more than men.

The world of business was exciting, she said, but then a new path presented itself in philanthropy, a path she finds both rewarding and stimulating. There is always room for new discoveries, new insights and new inspiration, and she urged graduands: “Take care of your brain, starting now.

“As you set out on the next chapter of your life’s journey, eat well and sleep well, stay physically and socially active, manage your stress and whether you’re two weeks or long past 25, never stop learning – not just to advance your life, add to the vast knowledge of mankind or to make progress in industry, but to protect your greatest asset, your brain, from depreciating.”