Tag Archives: brain fitness

Stress Damaging to the Brain

Following up on my previous blog on the brain and the importance of keeping peace and harmony in the brain is a new study that indicates stress can cause damage to the brain.

Living a stressful life has been found to atrophy the cortex of the brain, the critical part that processes information consciously. Stress also can cause damage in areas of the brain the regulate emotion.

A lead researcher with Yale University observed 100 healthy participants using MRI scans while they answered questions about potentially traumatic life events, including the loss of loved one, job or home. The authors found a direct relationship between the experience of stressful life events and structural changes in the brain. This supports other research on chronic stress and structural changes and functional changes, particularly memory function in the brain.

Overall, the growing body of research on the impact of stress on the body and brain demands we all take time to care for ourselves and create periods of the day that are stress free.

Harmony Between Limbic System and Frontal Lobe

We all know that feeling when things seem in sync, in harmony, and we are at peace. You may have heard the phrase “I am one with the world” that humans use to describe such inner balance. What a great feeling that is.

Unfortunately, we tend to live a fair amount of our lives out of balance as we chase the next, often small priority, task in our day. We live our lives with a sense of worry and chronic anxiety. Our bodies communicate such worry to us in the form of migraine headaches, irritable bowel syndrome, sleep disorder, irritability, ulcer and mood disorder.

The brain has two distinct, but integrated systems that facilitate such balance or imbalance. The first is known as the limbic system that provides our emotional being and serves as a type of “hot area of the brain.” This part of our brain can cause that inner sense of doom and gloom and set off the “fight or flight” reaction. It is called hot because of its emotionality that can also be impulsive and get us into some trouble in daily life.

The other brain region is the frontal lobe thought by some to be the cold analytic part of our being. This is the part of our being that helps to keep us socially graceful, rule abiding, and capable of conforming to civil order.

The goal in life is to balance these two regions, the hot limbic system with the cold analytic frontal lobe. Sometimes we are able to accomplish such a balance and integration and when this occurs we feel that inner sense of “oneness.” Crisis can integrate these regions quickly, which is why we tend to immediately prioritize those things that are most important in our lives and live in the moment during crisis. The goal needs to be to get to such integration without the crisis.

Some steps to consider include: (1) try to be in the moment and develop a consciousness about your inner balance; (2) are you approaching your day too emotional or too “hot” or are you “too cold” and overly analytic; (3) remind yourself of what is really important and what is not; (4) make an attempt to release those things that are not worthy of your energy or attention; (5) free up space and time in your life; (6) give things away; (7) be forgiving; (8) pray and meditate daily; (9) work on what your role and purpose is in life; (10) rely on love as the primary emotion and behavior.

These steps will set you on a path towards inner balance and to getting your limbic system happily integrated with your frontal lobe!

Words Sculpt the Brain

Neuroscience has underscored the importance of neural plasticity and this has unleashed an entire new way of thinking about the human brain. Indeed, we now know more about the brain than ever in our civilization, and most of the knowledge has been accrued in the past twenty years.

Plasticity enables a brain to be shaped by environmental input and it presumes a constantly reorganizing and malleable system. The brain is constantly being shaped, some for the positive and some for the negative. The good news is we have plenty of opportunity to make good decisions regarding how we want our brains to be shaped.

My brain health lifestyle ® promotes five major components to shaping the brain. These include physical activity, mental stimulation, nutrition, socialization, and spirituality. I have promoted an enriched environment filled with novel and complex stimuli as one that can shape the brain for the health.

I believe another major source of shaping or sculpting our brains is language. The spoken language and words themselves. Words are processed by the brain and interpreted for meaning. Such processing creates or leads to thought, emotion, and movement. I have written and spoken about the long-term effects words can have on a human brain and human being.

Consider for a moment some of the most important and wise statements or pieces of advice you have been given or you have read in your life. The very words made a lasting impression, perhaps emotional or cognitive, and literally sculpted your brain in a positive way. This is all neurophysiological and structural in nature, but it results in a behavioral or functional outcome. You might also recall an insult or a negative piece of feedback that affected you in a negative manner. The sculpting here is no less significant and carries with it the same potential for long-term effects.

Grandmother was correct and wise when she instructed to “not open our mouths unless we had something good to say”!

The messages we deliver in the form of words can carry a significant and long lasting effect. We can start and stop wars, start and stop relationships, help others succeed in life, and make others feel good about themselves.

Words, a pretty cool medicine indeed!

Our Future is in Good Hands!

I had the distinct pleasure of being invited to the 2012 Destination Imagination (DI) Global Finals (www.globalfinals.org) event in Knoxville Tennessee. I provided the keynote address for opening ceremonies and learned about DI during my time spent over the four days at the event.

DI is a not-for-profit that brings young students together from across the planet to engage in critical thinking and creative challenges within an environment of competition. I can tell everyone that I saw tremendously talented young people from across the globe and I am happy to pronounce that our future is in good hands!

Chuck Cadle, CEO of DI has done a terrific job of leading DI with hundreds of volunteers committed to the mission of inspiring young brains to create and innovate. In a world where we talk about the need to apply our knowledge, DI is setting the pace.

I was given the opportunity to provide a five-minute keynote address to the 17,000 gathered at opening ceremonies in the basketball arena at the University of Tennessee. While I have spoken to many audiences across North America, this was truly a unique and awesome experience. There was some concern that young children might not be interested in hearing about the human brain and the importance that learning and lifestyle can have on the brain. I had no doubt, and many quickly learned how capable and interested these young people are in the brain.

I was so impressed with watching the student groups perform their competitive challenges and with the fun that was generated by all. I was also humbled by the genuine interest of so many students, teachers, and parents from many nations who introduced themselves to me and said they enjoyed my keynote.  I met many new friends and I congratulate the families who participated in 2012 Global Finals at DI.

Great job to Chuck and the entire DI staff. Thanks for letting be a small part.

Love and the Brain

A recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found a strong relationship between maternal support and nurturing in early childhood and the size of the hippocampus by school age. This is particularly interesting since so much recent study has focused on the power of the environment in shaping the structure and the function of the brain.

Children who obtain loving and nurturing care from their parents and particularly their mother (per this study) demonstrate larger hippocampal volume years later. The hippocampus is a structure in our brains critical for new learning and for processing stressful input. Chronic stress has been shown to negatively impact the structure and function of the hippocampus. This is why persons with chronic anxiety have memory problems.

On the positive side, a larger hippocampus not only helps us cope more effectively with daily stress, it also relates to reduced risk of mental illness and even to reduced risk of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease. Once again, early life interventions, in this case understanding the importance of loving our children, can have lifelong health benefits.

We need to continue to appreciate and respect the enormous import that factors such as attitude, positive spirit, faith, and love have on our health and wellbeing. These things do not come in a pill or liquid, but they represent the best medicine we have and we should all prescribe ourselves a daily dose.