Research is proving that what we thought was impossible is really possible. We can change our brains. Neurogenesis and neuroplasticity are real. In all of my efforts to learn about how to alter thoughts, I’m discovering ways to keep our minds sharp and our brains from degenerating. Here are my top four:
- Harvard Medical School suggests we hedge our future brain cell loss through cognitive stimulation. That means challenging our noggins every single day. Adding new information. Reading. Doing math problems. Hand-Eye coordination activities are best of all because things like drawing, painting, or crafting require that we use our hands in conjunction with our brains. People who play musical instruments have a definite brain advantage when it comes to aging. Engineer something that requires full participation. I’ve never considered myself smart, but Rosetta Stone and Duolingo have given me the chance to ask, “Where’s the bathroom?” in seven different languages! Anything to challenge lazy neurons to get up and move!
- What you feed your body, you feed your brain. As the fattest organ in your body and something that is made of 75 percent water, when your body in undernourished or dehydrated your brain does not function properly. People don’t realize that brain fog has a cause. Too much sugar. Not enough water. Lack of deep, healing sleep. Over stimulation. Under stimulation. Too many or too few calories. All of these factors contribute to your brain’s health and function. So…cut back or better yet, cut out alcohol and tobacco. Increase clean foods like fruits and vegetables and healthy fats that come from nature…walnuts, salmon, etc. If your body is suffering from high blood pressure, out of whack blood sugar levels, or high levels of LDS, you’re at higher risk for dementia.
- When you move your body you move your brain. Sufficient exercise releases endorphins. Endorphins are hormones that help you “feel good” to do good things. Lab animals that exercise regularly increase the number of blood vessel that feed the brain oxygen, especially to the parts that are responsible for thought. Take a walk. Go for a hike. Run. Take an exercise class or sweat to an instructional video. The fitness level of your body correlates with the fitness of your brain. That’s plenty of motive to get up and get going! And to add to this motivation, nature itself has a decided effect on the brain. It’s easy to release stress when you’re sitting on the bank of a stream, the sun warming your back. Nature is heaven’s Great Physician.
- Your social interactions have a tremendous effect on your brain’s health. Remember that emotions are consequences of your thoughts. You think a thought. Your brain has an electro-chemical release. Emotion results. You feel what you feel depending on which chemicals your thoughts release. How you feel determines how you act. And so the cycle begins again. YOU can change your brain’s chemistry to a degree by changing your thoughts. So think the best of yourself. Give others the benefit of the doubt and have faith that things will work out no matter how bleak your current circumstances might be. That means being careful about the people you let into your inner circle, the ones who influence you the most. Make sure they bring light, truth and love and loads of laughter. Most of all, I have to remind myself that I’m supposed to bring those things to my friendships. Healthy friendships contribute to healthy brains. There are studies that prove when a person feels threatened, that threat is lessened in the hytpothalamus if someone they love holds their hand. Love and trust—no better medicine. The best kinds of people to associate with are those who stimulate your brain. Your conversations won’t be petty and redundant. Your exchange will never focus on attacking anyone else, because a part of the subconscious brain realizes that if a person is capable of tearing someone else down behind their back, they’re capable of doing that to you—so building trust is hampered and suspicion resides in your amygdala which helps process fear and emotional memories, and your parahippocampal gyrus, which helps process and store memory. Suspicion releases adrenalin-related chemicals that can do actual brain damage over extended periods, so hang out with people you can trust. A healthy friend will challenge you with new information and ideas. They’ll be concerned about nutrition…and won’t urge you to indulge in consuming what’s not healthy for you, even though you might share a decadent meal once in a while. They’ll move with you for strength and health. They go camping. Shopping. Playing sports and games and spending time together in nature. They’ll embrace you because there is no stronger force in the universe than the power of the human touch. The brain responds to sensory data, so when you get touched, it feels that connection and responds.
So there you have my top four ideas to help you think cleaner and clearer. It takes training to stop and “think” about what you’re doing to your brain. But once you make the body/brain connection—that one affects the other—then you’ll get into the habit of making better choices. And that’s all we can hope to do…improve and progress one thought, one action at a time.
Coan, J. A., Schaefer, H., & Davidson, R. (2006). Lending a hand. Psychological Science, 17(12), 1032.