TOP 5 LIST TO IMPROVE BRAIN FUNCTION
Before we talk about how the brain works here is a simplified lecture on how the brain works. We humans have trillions of neurons in our brains. Off of each neuron are dendrites, like electrical wires coming off each. Learning happens when two dendrites come close together and create a synapse - an electrical current going from one neuron to another. If this synapse never fires again, the two dendrites break apart. In other words, use it or lose it.
If the synapse fires again and again over several weeks, a strong connection is made - basically like a habit - and it becomes permanent. Think of two electrical wires coming together and being twisted together then wrapped with electrical tape; this is called myelination, and a coating of fat covers the connection. At this point, the person has added new long term learning to their brain.
THE TOP 5
5. Aerobic exercise increases the volume of the brain, specifically the hippocampus, and increases memory in older adults, according to a study released in 2011. In this study, older adults from their late 50s up to 70 were randomly broken into two groups: one walked for 40 minutes three times a week and the other did yoga and stretching for the same period. After one year it was found that the walkers' brains increase by 2% and their memory improved. The stretchers showed no growth. Ordinarily, older adult brains decrease in volume by over 1% a year.
My take on this - if older adults lose hippocampus volume along with memory, perhaps the synapses are getting broken, the brain sheds the unused myelin sheath, and volume decreases? Next question - if aerobic exercise increases volume, do we also need oxygen to create these connections?
So no matter what your age, get out and exercise - if you can remember to!
For more information on exercise and the brain visit: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3041121/
There are many foods that help our brain functioning, and certain combination of foods that help keep our brain clear and out of the fog.
Brain foods include:
- Vegetables: red onions, red cabbage, garlic, artichoke, spinach, kale, broccoli, parsley, sweet potato and yams
- Fruits: blueberry, cranberry, blackberry, dark grape, raspberry, avocado, pomegranate, prunes, dark plums, cherries, and dark-skinned apples
- Legumes, nuts and seeds: beans (small red, black and red kidney), walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, sesame seeds, flax, sunflower and pumpkin seeds
- Herbal seasonings and spices: turmeric, curry, ginger, cinnamon, sage, rosemary, oregano, arugula, basil and cilantro
When eating any meal or snack, avoid spikes in blood sugar that cause our brains to spike in activity. Our brains run on glucose; the best sugars are natural sugars found in fruits and vegetables. After a spike, we see a dramatic fall in blood sugar, causing us to feel brain fog. Avoid this by adding a source of protein to every meal or snack.
#3 Avoid These Things
Everyone knows (don't they?) that illegal drug use is bad for your brain - remember the ad "This is your brain on drugs"! But there are some other factors to consider avoiding when trying to optimize your brain:
Avoid smoking, over consumption of alcohol, and sugar. What? Sugar? Yes, I put that with the other two. Our brain runs on glucose - that's the fuel, but too much refined sugar can cause spikes in blood sugar. I wrote a bit on that on Monday.
Avoid like the plague trans-fats! These are the ingredients from cookies, pies and microwavable popcorn - Partially hydrogenated (fill in the blank) oils. These particular fats are man-made and elongated molecules that slow down processing in the brain. Our brains need fat - good fat, like omega 3s - to solidify learning through myelination of synapses in neurons.
If you have had a diet that includes shortening, stop immediately and start taking fish oil supplements for your brain's sake! If you hate the taste of fish, at least use flax seed oil whenever you can.
So avoid those things, add in the foods mentioned and you will be processing better already!
#2 Brain Training
Use it or lose it. And do daily workouts. I'm not talking about your biceps, I'm talking about the muscle between your ears - your brain! We have known for years that the brain is plastic and can change and improve. We have learned that you can increase your IQ, learn new languages and improve your memory, even at older ages. The question is, what does it take?
Just like building your bicep, it takes time and intensity.
Time: If you try to improve your processing speed, for example, by doing a simple task as fast as you can for one or two days, you obviously would not see a significant lasting change. However, if you practice this task for at least 3 weeks, you create new pathways in the brain that become myelinated and solidified. Practice makes perfect.
Intensity: The task cannot be too easy. Let's say you are trying to improve memory. If the task you choose to practice repeatedly is simple, like remembering 2 or 3 items, you are not pushing the brain to do something new. No new pathways are formed. But if the task is too hard, like trying to remember 10 items when your previous record was 5, you end up frustrated, angry and ready to quit. The task must meet your brain at its current capacity, and push ever so slightly farther.
Some games to try to train your brain:
Processing Speed: As fast as you can sort a deck of cards by suit. Time yourself, complete this 3 times a day for 4 straight weeks. Track your times and I know that at the end of the month you will be faster, not only at sorting cards, but also at many other tasks!
Auditory Memory: write out a list of 10 colors. Have another person say these colors to you in random order, 1 second apart. Start with 3, then try 4, etc. At some point you reach your capacity. Each day start with 1 less than your capacity and practice that many, then 1 more and 1 more until you can't do it. Take a break and start over so that you do 3 repetitions of this game each day. Track how many you achieve for a month, and you should be able to remember several more by the end of the month.
Visual Attention: This is perfect for the person who gets frustrated when looking in the junk drawer or who finds very visually crowded places too stimulating. Do word searches, mazes, hidden pictures, I Spy, and Where's Waldo daily for a month. As the month goes on, do more challenging puzzles. It gets easier!
These are just a few examples, but you can improve in any area that you aren't strong by practicing at a challenging level for at least 4 weeks. Have fun with it!
#1 ACT LIKE A BABY!?!
The most important thing that a person can do to increase brain functioning is to open up the pathways in the brain to allow for growth. This usually happens in infancy, but when it has not, it can be done at any point in your life - including NOW!
Have you ever wondered why certain people have no ability to remember math facts, no matter how often they practice? Or they have terrible handwriting even thought they learned right along with the person with beautiful handwriting? Certainly we are all different, but what contributes to the differences?
In many cases it is brain development that happens during the first year of life. The ability to have good memory comes while a baby is on the floor on her back playing with Mom and Dad or reaching to grab toys. The ability to write well develops while doing the combat crawl in that phase before learning to crawl up on hands and knees.
In order to improve your brain functioning, then, you have to go back to being a kid! It can be fun, getting down on the floor and moving around like a young child. All it takes is a few minutes a day, every day for about a month for each stage or reflex. And the benefits? Well, after doing one month of the exercises on the Pyramid of Potential Snow Angel DVD/Workbook, I was able to remember people's names for the first time in my life - and it was effortless!
Some resources for more information:
Reflexes, Learning and Behavior by Sally Goddard
The Roadmap From Learning Disabilities to Success by Kathy Johnson
The Pyramid of Potential Series - ALL MODULES by Kathy Johnson