The Good News about the Brain
The 15th Annual Brain Awareness Week is March 15-21, 2010. This global event is designed to educate and excite people of all ages about the brain and brain research. For more info: http://www.dana.org/brainweek
So what's the big deal—why get excited about your brain?
Recent findings in neuroscientific research have uncovered some unexpected good news: your brain is designed to improve with age like a bottle of fine wine.
Your 3-lb. brain has 100 billion neurons 2with trillions of synaptic connections that are custom-blended in a unique way just for you. As with fingerprints and DNA, every human brain is unique, yet all brains contain the same basic structures.
During midlife, the brain deliberately trades off efficiency and speed of output to favor increasing integration of all the various parts tends to generate wisdom, befitting to the role of tribal elder. Recall of names and other facts may slow down, but that is a small price to pay for wisdom, at least as far as your brain is concerned.
So if the brain is supposed to get better with age, why do Alzheimer's and other cognitive diseases plague so many Americans?
No one knows what causes Alzheimer's. The peculiar plaques and tangles associated with the disease may well be a symptom rather than a cause.
However, two major findings from Alzheimer's research provide some helpful insights:
- As with many other major diseases, Alzheimer's is associated with inflammation.
- Alzheimer's is classified as a psychosocial disease (connected to emotional conflicts arising from individual impulses and the social environment).
Additionally, there is no reason to live in fear of Alzheimer’s. Here’s some more good news—a healthy brain can tolerate Alzheimer’s with little or no functional or behavioral symptoms!
So what does it take to have a healthy brain as you get older?
Everything the brain does is through electrochemical conversations between neurons that occur at synaptic connections. Growing new synaptic connections is the name of the game in brain health.
More good news: your brain is ready, willing and able to keep growing new synaptic connections as you get older!
Your job is to be a good partner by giving your brain what it needs to keep growing new synaptic connections:
- Nutrition: omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants from a well-balanced diet that is low in omega-6 fat. Be careful in substituting supplements for foods.
- Exercise: anxiety kills neurons. Physical exercise is the only known defense that protects neurons from anxiety at the cellular level—plus it provides the oxygen your brain needs to grow.
- Sleep: many important brain housekeeping tasks (including memory consolidation and building new connections) occur at night. It’s your job to make sure you get a good night’s sleep. If your brain wakes you up at night, chances are the culprit is anxiety or a stimulating substance such as caffeine, chocolate, alcohol, or protein.
- Novelty: the brain needs NEW experiences, ideas, activities, skills, tasks, and people to keep growing new connections. Crossword puzzles and sudoku are not nearly enough work for 100 billion neurons. Lifestyle ruts that get too deep encourage your brain to be lazy. Your neurons will do the work you give them to do—use them or lose them!
- Social interaction: too much or too little social interaction jeopardizes brain health. Human relationships are perhaps the most potent force in brain health, literally sculpting the brain’s tissue for better or for worse.
- Transcendence: maintaining perspective and rising above the emotional ups and downs of daily life requires a connection to something bigger than you. Stay focused on the sources of meaning and purpose in your life and the larger story of your life.
Here’s even more good news: several traditional spiritual practices have been scientifically validated as beneficial to wellness and brain health. The greatest benefits accrue from studying scripture, prayer (including meditation), journaling, and keeping the Sabbath. Music and singing have also proven to be highly beneficial to brain chemistry and function. And all these brain-boosting activities are FREE!
Hopefully all this good news has inspired you to celebrate Brain Awareness Week and give thanks to God for your amazing brain!
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. (Psalm 139:14 NIV)
Phyllis Strupp, MBA, Brain Wealth Coach, motivational speaker and author brings a results-oriented approach to the business of growing the brain and improving memory. She graduated from the Brain Research in Education Certificate Program of the University of Washington-Seattle. She is a member of the CREDO Wellness Program finance faculty, and is the author of the award-winning book "The Richest of Fare: Seeking Spiritual Security in the Sonoran Desert." Her educational background includes an MBA in Finance from Columbia University. Visit her website at: www.brainwealth.org