Monthly Archives: January 2009

Obesity and a Happy Brain

Brain HealthAs most of us get into middle age we might take special notice of our body’s ability to keep a few extra pounds around the waist. Most of us understand the importance of eating healthy and the disease risk associated with extra weight around the belly.

Recent research suggests the brain’s ability to sense gratification may be critical to overeating behavior. We may have a gene that assists us with knowing when we are filled after eating. Research now indicates that a brain that does not express satiation will lead to continued eating and increased risk of obesity.

We know that a healthy diet and regular exercise are very important for maintaining a healthy weight and avoiding obesity. However, genetics also plays a role in which an important neurochemical, Dopamine, may play a critical role. Dopamine is the primary neurochemical that regulates our pleasure sensation.

Eating temporarily boosts dopamine levels, but obesity may be associated with fewer Dopamine receptors which lead to less sensation of pleasure with eating. Research now suggests that the brain regions important to Dopamine expression when eating treats such as a milkshake does not get activated in those who are obese.

Interestingly, Dopamine has been studied as a primary mechanism for addiction and impulsive behavior including eating. Attempts are underway to try and understand how Dopamine might be triggered even in obesity to reduce impulsive eating so as to reduce gaining more weight. To read more about Dopamine, click here

Practical Application of Brain Health to Your Life

Brain health begins with your learning the basics of your brain and how environment influences the structure and function of your brain. It is important to understand that you have the ability to promote healthy development of your brain that can not only influence the health of your brain, but also affect aspects of your life in a positive way.

Consider the following examples of how a proactive brain health lifestyle that includes (1) physical activity, (2) mental stimulation, (3) nutrition, (4) socialization, and (5) spirituality can make a positive difference:

1. Increased communication skills with your partner and peers at work. We incur divorce and financial loss at work because of communication problems.

2. Control over the inner voice that sabotages nearly every diet plan. This is an issue of inhibition, discipline, and reward that results from thoughts and action.

3. Leadership through enhancement of empathy and accurate perception of the emotions of others. Presidents get elected with such skills and our best leaders likely have this skill.

4. Relationship building and limiting unnecessary tensions. This is a big one for family dynamics.

5. Achieving success in life by setting concrete goals and developing the mental path to meet these goals. Thoughts are electrical, chemical, and perhaps magnetic with influence over behavior and outcome.

6. Creation of a better sense of self.

7. Gaining control over inner tension, stress, and our psychophysiology that can alter our longevity and quality of life.

8. Slowing time and developing an appreciation for the here and now.

9. Understanding the enormous power and consequences of our words and messages to others, particularly children.

10. Promoting neuronal development through learning and exposure of our brains to the novel and complex such as Fit Brains www.fitbrains.com

Practical Tips for Your Executive System

No worry, this is not a list of leadership skills or how to become the best CEO in the world! Rather, you may not even realize you have your own “Executive System” that sits in the region of your brain known as the frontal lobe. The largest and youngest member of your cortex, the frontal lobe is a very interesting part of you. It facilitates many important and distinct skills that are used everyday. Examples of such skills include planning, organization, analytic, sequencing, multi-tasking, inhibition, creativity, attention and discrimination, fluency, emotional expression and perception, ethics and social grace, and judgment. Even your personality is the product of frontal lobe function!

We refer to the frontal lobe as the “executive system” because it serves the role of executing the multiple intentions that arrive from other parts of the brain. It is the CEO of the brain or the grand Maestro of the behavioral and cognitive symphony of the brain. Clearly, the frontal lobe—executive system is critical to your neuronal health.

Some practical tips to stimulate and exercise your executive system include the following:

1. Organize your day, organize your room (good one for the teenagers in the house!), and help to organize an event or even your child’s schedule.

2. Participate in planning a vacation, trip, or some future event.

3. Practice expressing different emotions and then perceiving emotions on the faces of others.

4. Practice stating aloud the alphabet, but alternate between letters and numbers in a logical order. Any time you can alternate between two distinct categories is a workout for your executive system.

5. Give yourself some free time to imagine and create.

6. Pay attention to ethics and decision making that involves good or poor judgment.

7. Watch how typical personality traits can change with stress, mood, and alcohol. These chemical triggers alter the frontal lobe and can also alter one’s personality for a temporary period of time.

8. Express as many words as you can in 60 seconds that begin with different letters.

9. Draw 30 small circles on the page and write words of different colors under each circle. Then color the circles with a color that is different than the word you wrote under the particular circle. Now, state aloud the color of the circle, not the written word for each of the 30 circles as fast as you can. See how many you can correctly state in 30 seconds.
10. Go to www.Fitbrains.com and play the following games to exercise your executive system:

Good luck with your workout!

Kindness, Forgiveness, and the Brain in 2009

Most people, including specialists, tend to focus on the human brain as a cognitive system. Discussion is typically about memory, attention, spatial skills, etc. which is interesting and important. However, the human is much more than a cognitive tool. It is our emotional, relational, motor, and creative system as well.

As we enter a brand new and exciting year (2009) we are offered an opportunity to introspect (always a good thing to do) and do two things: first we should recognize our strengths and keep expressing them. Second, we should recognize our weaknesses and try to correct them. With regard to the relational and emotional parts of our brain, 2009 can be a great year to work on these brain functions.

Kindness and forgiveness with a large dose of positivity is a great place to start. We can actually exercise these functions and brain regions by being nice, forgiving others and apologizing, and attending to the positive in all situations. While this sounds great and probably reflects the “right thing to do” it is not easy. Human nature, perhaps our DNA massaged over many years, has become resistant to such behaviors.

Maybe you can join me in 2009 by trying to do one nice thing for another and yourself every day, forgive when the situation arises and do not ever be afraid to apologize, and declare aloud a positive aspect for every situation. Your brain will be exercised in relational and emotional functions and will feel better about itself which means you will feel better about yourself!

Happy New Year!

Dr. Nussbaum