The Facts About Head Injuries

10 surprising facts about brain health.

1. Fitness level affects chances of head injury. Studies from the University of Tsukuba (Japan), in 2011 show that 24 hours after moderate aerobic exercise, energy levels and antioxidant levels increased by up to 60 percent. Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) which repairs the brain, is also produced and the number of blood vessels is increased. All these factors help the brain to reduce damage from a blow to the head.

2. More people tend to become concussed in the afternoon and evening than in the morning. This is because riders are likely to be more dehydrated in the afternoon than in the morning, so it is important to consider your fluid intake. This was studied by the University of Windsor (Canada) in 2013.

3. Continuing to exercise during pregnancy can have a positive effect on your baby’s brain. A study by the University of Montreal in 2013 showed that moms who exercised 20 minutes a day, three times a week with moderate aerobic activity during their pregnancy gave birth to babies who were more mature than those of mothers in the control group who did not exercise. BDNF produced in the mother’s blood was probably responsible for the difference.

4. Previous alcohol abuse increases chances of brain injury. Alcohol is one of the most effective substances for shrinking the brain, according to a Columbia University 1985 study. A 45-year-old alcoholic was found to have lost 30 percent of his or her brain. A brain that has more fluid can shear more easily, creating injury to the brain tissue. Old age and previous head injuries can also shrink the brain.

5. Alcohol consumption immediately before a fall can affect head injury. If alcohol is present in the blood during a fall, the body can actually use it to reduce brain inflammation, a 2004 University of Texas study determined. This offers one reason why people who are intoxicated at the time of injury can sometimes suffer less damage.

6. A rider is less likely to be concussed at altitude than at sea level. University of Cincinnati College of Medicine in 2014 found that at altitude the brain vessels expand and squeeze fluid from the brain and reduce injuries from shear forces upon impact. Similarly, a woodpecker’s body uses a mechanism to reduce its brain fluid to prevent brain injuring when hammering into a tree.

7. Eating cruciferous vegetables (like broccoli, kale and brussel sprouts) can help prevent and heal concussions. To produce BDNF, we need sulphur in our diet, and greens are a great way to get it. However, note that too much saturated fat in the diet can stop BDNF production, according to a study by the University of Bologna in 2015.

8. The hormone progesterone often reduces brain inflammation. While neck muscles of women tend to be weaker than those of men, leading to more concussions, the body can use the high levels of progesterone between puberty and menopause to reduce brain inflammation, according to a 2004 Emory University study. This puts older women more at risk of head injury due to lower levels of progesterone and more fluid content in the brain.

9. Vitamin D deficiency increases likelihood of concussion. Vitamin D helps the antioxidant glutathione in our neurons to regenerate and helps the brain to repair itself, according to the French Institute of Health and Medical Research in 2002.

10.A significant number of head injuries occur while working with horses on the ground, not just while riding. While many brain injuries happen when falling from your horse, wearing a helmet while handling your horse is just as important, according to the University of Kentucky in 2013. 

Dressage Today thanks the experts at Charles Owen for providing the safety information included in this column. For more information, visit


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