For nearly 15 years I have had the pleasure of working on a brain health lifestyle ® that includes five domains: (1) physical activity, (2) nutrition, (3) socialization, (4) spirituality, and (5) mental stimulation. This lifestyle is underscored by a fundamental understanding that the human brain can be shaped for health and that what we do is very important to our overall emotional and cognitive wellbeing.
Over the 15 years, I have thought about what my brain health lifestyle ® really is tapping into. I believe the most basic and critically important aspect of initiating a brain health lifestyle is the power of paying attention to oneself, taking the time to understand that you have the power to shape your life for quality and balance.
Lifestyle is an established pathway to health and wellbeing. The paradox is that even though most people know and believe a healthy lifestyle is important, there is very low compliance to following such a healthy lifestyle. The question is why do we not do what we know is good for us? After speaking to nearly 60,000 people over the past decade, I believe compliance with a healthy lifestyle will increase if first, people are educated on why they should follow such a lifestyle and second, the change in behavior must be seen as personal!
I believe in educating everyone on the connection between lifestyle and the impact on the brain. Once somebody understands how the brain reacts to your own behavior there is a type of “light bulb” that goes off and things start to make sense. Often, we are simply told what to do and we are not provided with the why behind it. Also, the message can be powerful if it is personal and not perceived as academic or clinical.
The most critical factor in leading a consistent brain health lifestyle ® is your ability to care for yourself, to give yourself the necessary time every day to understand your emotional, cognitive, and relational balance. By checking in and knowing yourself, you will have the ability to make small changes to get back into balance and achieve real brain health and wellness.
With summer drawing near most of us will interact much more with water. Whether it be a river, lake, ocean or even a pool we will dawn our swim trunks and enjoy the fun of getting wet in the water. The water can provide recreation and also exercise depending on how we spend out time there. Both are important.
It is important to use the summer as a time to get outside more and to soak in the important Vitamin D from sunshine. Time spent swimming and recreating in the pool with family is great socialization and terrific stress reduction.
We can also begin a super exercise program by swimming daily or several times a week. The aerobic benefit of swimming is tremendous and the brain will appreciate the abundance of oxygen supplied by such exercise. Your muscles will also be stimulated and strengthened.
Some will fish, boat, tube, jet ski, and water ski as forms of play that are great fun in the summer months. If you make it to the beach enjoy the rhythms of the waves and the relaxed state that will envelope you. Enjoy the beautiful scenes of trees and sounds of birds that nature provides.
The water has always been a big part of our lives and evolution. Make sure you spend sufficient time in a safe and fun manner in and around the water this summer.
A recent study demonstrates daily surfing of the internet activates the brain of older persons. This is another example of how the environment in many forms can shape the brain and illustrates the power of neural plasticity.
24 neurologically healthy adults, aged 55 to 78, surfed the internet while their brains were being scanned by an MRI machine. Prior to the study, half the participants had used the internet daily while the other half had minimal experience. After the initial MRI scan, the participants were instructed to do internet searches for an hour a day for seven days in the next two weeks. Then they returned to the clinic for another MRI.
At baseline, those who had internet experience had much greater brain activation relative to those without internet experience. However, those who practiced on the internet during the study demonstrated significant activation in their brain to the point that they were nearly equal to the brains of the experienced internet users.
The idea of “use it or lose it” can really be taken a step further and the idea is to “use it in new ways” and novelty and complexity really is the foundation to brain health.
Many people sleep six or fewer hours a day, but they don’t come by it naturally. They rely on caffeinated drinks and alarm clocks to keep them going.
But about 5 percent of the population are considered naturally short sleepers — meaning they go to bed at a normal hour and wake up alert and energized in the wee hours of the morning, sleeping about two hours less a night than the average person. Finding out what makes short sleepers tick and why they need so much less sleep than the rest of us could unlock answers about insomnia and other sleep problems.
In a landmark study, University of California-San Francisco researchers have identified a gene mutation associated with less sleep, a finding considered to be a major breakthrough in sleep science. To learn more, read the full story, “Mutation Tied to Need for Less Sleep Is Discovered”.
Sleep and Brain Health
Let me begin this blog with “I do not know” whether cell phone used causes brain cancer in the form of tumors or not. However, not knowing something means you do not know and hence caution is most likely in order, particularly when cancer is the point of discussion.
Let me try to ease the confusion and suggest some lifestyle steps to avoid unnecessary risk if it is present. A primary malignant brain tumor is one in which the cancer originates in the brain itself rather than traveling to the brain from another region of the body (metastases). There are over 20,000 new cases of primary brain malignancies each year. A specific form of brain tumor known as the glioblastoma multiforme has increased 30 to 70 percent from one decade to the next in some metropolitan areas of the United States. It is believed that ten times the number of metastatic brain tumors will also occur in the same time period.
Risks for cancer include pesticides, air pollution, chemicals found in meats, power lines, and plastics. Xrays are also on the list of risk factors including the microwave type radiation emitted from cell phones. This is why cell phone companies suggest we hold the phones away from out ear when using it. Further, there have been several studies indicating a relationship (not cause and effect) between cell phone use and risk of brain cancer, increased risk of acoustic neuroma, and glioblastomas. It is important to note that other studies that have not found any relationship between cell phone use and increased risk for brain cancer. We will most likely learn more about this relationship as we have more time to study the use and effects of cell phone use on a larger number of people over a greater period of time.
As cell phone use is a lifestyle issue, what can be done at this point? There certainly has been an increase in the number of users and the amount of time each user spends on their cell phone. Some homes do not even have land lines anymore. Children are using cell phones at unprecedented rates as well. Dr. Black, renowned neurosurgeon suggests that parents try to curtail cell phone usage in their children. Even adults are encouraged to use an earpiece (not a blue tooth) to avoid direct contact between the phone and the ear.
I have started to use an earpiece myself.
Are there different regions of the brain that create a liberal, moderate, or conservative way of thinking? Are these particular and other types of political ideologies learned from our parents? The answer is probably both.
Like any other belief system we are most likely the product of genetics and environmental shaping. That shaping can take many years and it is okay to have a different political leaning at one age versus another. The critical thing is to understand your own belief system and values and act consistently with them. You may find that your values change over time based on experience and that is also okay.
Far too often people will get into strong verbal disputes about politics and it tends to be about one’s belief about how terrible this guy is or how great that lady is. In fact, most of us do not know our political leaders and it is also probably true that most leaders are decent people. What we really need to discuss in civil ways are our beliefs and why we think such beliefs can advance something good. It is okay to disagree. When it gets personal the conversation has moved from the beliefs.
As neural plasticity involves a type of shaping of the brain for thought, emotion, and behavior we can be fairly sure that our political philosophy has a place within the cortex that is dynamic and probably attached to emotional centers. When we connect the philosophy with reason and communication skill we have developed a real talent. When we remain at the emotional level and try to articulate our beliefs we might get a bit personal.
Stick to your own values and what you believe regardless of any leader. These are your beliefs and that is a good thing
In addition to a good night sleep and plenty of rest to enable the brain to consolidate information learned during the day, the brain also benefits from quiet moments during the day.
A quiet moment does not involve any goal, task completion, or endpoint. It is about process and about being in the here and now. A quiet moment can occur anywhere at any time so long as you permit your brain to shut down and to turn inward.
Removing structure and demand from your existence enables your brain to freely roam and to explore ideas and feelings that get shut out with structure and task driven behavior. Your most creative moments will come from such experiences.
It is not easy to create quiet moments. You need to establish parts of your day when you remove all chores, all responsibilities, and all task demands. It is simply time to be, for you to exist. It might mean a walk, sitting on a bench or under a tree, or playing an instrument. There is no conscious deliberation, it is meditative and introspective.
Sounds easy, but it is not. Give it a try and perhaps you will get in touch with your creative side!
Benefits of a Brain Healthy Lifestyle