We all like to be at our best and to do that, you’ve got to take care of your brain. And now science is showing us how.We used to think that the brain was fixed at about age 5 – and that it wasdownhill from there. But recently, some pioneering work in neurobiologyhas turned that thinking right on it’s head. Scientists are now finding thatwe have the capacity to re-wire brain circuits and to grow new neurons.Its known as neuroplasticity – the brain’s ability to be flexible and to rewire in response to experience. Ever since neuroscientists discovered neuroplasticity and also neurogenesis (the brain’s ability to grow new neural networks),practitioners have sought to bring these new findings to their patients. So that’s what you have here, a snapshot of 10 things you can do to takecare of your brain. And the news gets even better: They work!
1. Aerobic exercise is one of the best things you can do for your brain. At any age! Why? Because Aerobic exercise increases BDNF, which stands for brain-derived neurotrophic factor.When BDNF is released into the system, brain growth and neural connections are enhanced. John Ratey calls it “miracle grow” for the brain .So, go out and get moving (and that doesn’t mean you have to run a marathon). If exercise is new to you, then start by walking, dancing, or even swimming, short distances at first, building up your stamina over a month’s time.And parents – get your kids to turn off the TV, the internet and the video games, and go outsideand play. And if you are a manager or work in an office, suggest that the staff take a walk duringlunch, or lead them in some jumping jacks before a meeting or a brain storming session.
2. Weight training not only builds muscles and contributes to bone health, but it also improves cognitive functioning, such as decision making, resolving conflict, and improving focus.
3. The hippocampus, a part of the brain in charge of long term memory and spatial navigation ,plays a huge role in learning – so anything we can do to support the hippocampus can be helpful, but the corollary is also true – it’s important to avoid anything that makes the hippocampus shrink. More about this later.
4. The amygdala, the area of your brain that’s involved in processing emotional events, has been trained to be on the alert for danger. Evolution has hard-wired us this way for survival, but this hyper-alert state can be very harmful – it affects our blood pressure and our interpersonal relationships and it it also affects our brains
5. Meditation, often undertaken as a calming practice, has been shown to quiet the amygdala and activate the hippocampus. Remember, anything that supports the hippocampus is good for you.
6. The cerebral cortex, which is involved in memory, perception, awareness and thought begins to thin with age. Researchers are finding that mindfulness meditation practice can thicken cell walls in the brain.
7. Too much stress can be harmful, not just to the cardiovascular system, but also to your brain. Recent studies are showing that when corticosteroids (the stress hormone) were increased ,neurogenesis (brain growth) decreased. Corticosteroids are hormones released from the adrenals in response to stress. So, when stress went up, brain growth, or what’s known as neurogenesis, went down. In fact, chronic stress can shrink the brain making it hard to learn new information or to even simply retain the information you already have.
8. You need to find the sweet spot for neuroplasticity. New learning is most likely to take place when the brain has an optimal amount of arousal. Too much arousal, and the brain shuts down; not enough and it gets distracted and lazy. For teachers, parents, and managers, this is especially useful information .
9. There is a harmful side of neuroplasticity. We normally think of the possibility of brain growth and change as a positive thing, but there can also be a dark side to neuroplasticity. When you are experiencing trauma, you are also in learning mode. But this time, your brain is laying down neural connections that include vivid memories and sensations of terrifying experiences. That’s why it’s important to deal with trauma with a trained professional as soon as possible.
10. We all have the capacity to change our brains. Neuroplasticity makes it possible. So, begin with these tips and get started today.
Copyright © 2011 by Ruth M Buczynski, PhD, Licensed The National Institute for the Clinical Application of Behavioral Medicine www.nicabm.com
Mheyah Bailey @ www.Connection Point Counselling.com