The annual holiday known as Thanksgiving is upon us here in the United States. This is a day of great food, family, friends, cheer, football, and being together with those we love. It is also a day of thanks and it is important to reflect on all that we have and the many blessings in our lives.
Thanksgiving is a time to praise the great men and women in our current and past military. Their sacrifice is beyond what we can imagine. The families of those who serve in the military also are deserving of our gratitude. We should take time to thank our parents, grandparents, and great grandparents. They most likely have sacrificed much to help the next generation in the family.
While many of us may be experiencing personal financial distress because of a chronic economic downturn, we can still use Thanksgiving to recognize the areas of our lives that may be positive. Health is always one of the most important blessings we need to recognize. Being thankful for our own health and for the health of our family is important. Having the ability to be together with those that you love is another blessing worthy of our attention.
Prayers for those less fortunate, for those in the military, and for those in need can be beneficial to all of us. Simply taking some time on Thanksgiving to enjoy the moment and to enjoy those who have gathered while leaving any anxiety behind can help to make your Holiday a positive one.
Meditation is best known as part of the Buddhist and Indian Yoga traditions. It has now migrated and become more integrated into western civilization including the United States. Research has supported a relationship between meditation practice and positive health outcomes.
A recent study suggests that mindfulness meditation can promote health and cognitive function. The study, published in the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science indicates benefits for improved immune function, reduced blood pressure, and enhanced cognitive function. The authors also explain the way mindfulness helps with our health.
Four key factors of mindfulness are proposed as important to our health: (1) attention regulation; (2) body awareness; (3) emotion regulation; (4) and sense of self. When integrated, these four factors may help with alleviation of stress.
Socialization and mental stimulation are two of the five major components of my brain health lifestyle ® (see www.paulnussbaum.com). One practical tip I have advocated is having one meal a day with the family, friends, or even with new people. I believe this activity is not only social, it promotes story telling, communication, listening to music, use of utensils to consume healthy foods, and slowing down. One activity provides socialization, mental stimulation, nutrition, and even spirituality. Four of the five major components of my brain health lifestyle ® are accomplished with one 45 to 60 minute activity!
It was with great enthusiasm that I read an article in my local newspaper yesterday that outlined a new study detailing the benefits of eating a daily meal with the family. The benefits were particularly important to the emotional and cognitive health of children. The study was published in the American Journal of Pediatrics and supports the health benefits of a non-medical behavioral ritual of our society. The critical point is that we need to work to create and to respect the daily meal and to not let our “busy lives” interfere with this important and necessary daily tradition.
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.
Spring is a great time of the year as the winter season ends and new life emerges all around. For those of us who live in the winter belt it is quite refreshing to see the blue sky, the sunshine and absorb our vitamin D!
Spring is also a time for introspection and for beginning new behaviors to promote our own health. Brain health is such an important area and one that everyone can begin to focus with the new season. Perhaps with the advent of spring you can try the following to get started on your brain health lifestyle:
1. Walk daily at least 30 minutes or 10,000 steps (purchase a pedometer to help keep count).
2. Increase your intake of fish, fruits and vegetables.
3. Tell someone you are sorry or forgive another where there may be some conflict.
4. Engage in two tasks that are novel and complex.
5. Reduce your stress by giving yourself free time this spring season.
6. Try to do one group activity a week.
These are not too difficult and they will help to promote your general health and brain health for the 2009 year.
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!
With regard to the human brain we can provide general advice about how to promote brain health across the lifespan. When we were cavemen and cavewomen we ate one good fat for every bad fat. Today, we eat about 15 bad fats for every good fat. This is important because our brains are composed of about 60% fat and the lipid substance helps to facilitate information processing.
Thinking live a cave person might be a good exercise when thinking about what to eat. We should try and eat plants/vegetables, nuts, beans, fruit, fish, and lean game such as chicken. We should try to reduce processed foods, red meat, trans fatty acids, soda and foods high in sugar. We should strive to eat less than more and use utensils more often as it might help to less consumption of food and a healthier consumption of foods.
It is also important to realize that foods are supposed to be pleasurable and that an occasional piece of cake, pie, ice cream, etc will not cause major damage to the system. This is particularly true when one follows some of the general advice above.
I personally have begun a study of my own diet with increased intake of fruits and vegetables, reduction in processed fats, removal of soda from the diet, and increased fish and lean chicken. It is not uncommon for me to now have fruit in the am and day with a salad (olive oil and vinegar are good for the brain), and a piece of fish or chicken at night. I have been relatively consistent though I fail now and then. I am observing change in body mass and in psychology including energy and mental alertness.
Stay tuned and I will provide you an update in the near future!