By: Steve Gainey, MA, LLP, ADS, CAADC, EAC Clinical Specialist – Your brain is an organ – just like your heart, kidney, and liver. Just like there are things you can do to help those organs function better, there are things you can do to help brain function. This is not just for those who are “65” and older; making changes at any age is important and beneficial!
In Sanjay Gupta, MD’s new book, Keep Sharp, he states, “What’s good for the heart, is good for the brain.”
Gupta makes 5 points for improved brain function:
1. Move more. It reduces inflammation while stimulating growth and function of neural cells.
2. Get enough sleep. Sleep seems to clear the brain of debris that might otherwise build up and create problems.
3. Learn, discover, find a purpose. Learning creates new neurological pathways.
4. Eat well. What’s good for the heart is good for the brain. Eat a heart healthy diet.
5. Connect with others. Research suggest loneliness seems to be a factor in developing Alzheimer’s. He states, “The brain can be continuously and consistently enriched throughout our life, no matter your age.”
In the book, Buddha’s Brain, by Rick Hanon Ph.D., a neuropsychologist and Richard Mendius MD, a neurologist, it is stated that contemplative practice in the Buddhist traditions, along with modern discoveries from the field of neuroscience, can help awaken the mind.
How we focus our attention and how we intentionally direct the flow of energy and information through our neural circuits can alter the brain’s activity and its structure. Mindfulness meditation increases gray matter in the insula, hippocampus and prefrontal cortex which improves psychological functions including attention, compassion, and empathy. Additionally, the practice of meditation decreases the stress-related chemical, cortisol.
Our brains get used to a certain way of doing things. Making changes in the everyday patterns in our lives can help the brain change and help us deal with changes in our lives. For example, I remember going to a workshop where they suggested that we move our watch to the other wrist or put a ring on the other hand. While it was quite annoying, the purpose was beneficial.
Here are some other things to try to help change your way of thinking:
• Drive a different way to work or turn down a different street.
• If you are used to having a cup of coffee first thing in the morning and sitting down with it, change your routine. First, go outside and sit for a few minutes in your backyard. Look around and be aware. Then, have your coffee. You could even try sitting in a different spot when you have your coffee.
• Read a book that is outside your normal comfort level.
• Think of other small things you can change from time to time to awaken your brain’s pattern of thinking.