Worried about the health of your brain?
Take heart! Neuroscientists have known for at least 40 years that the brain has a surprising and previously unsuspected degree of plasticity.
Plasticity means that the brain has the capacity to re-wire itself in response to stimuli.
Neuroplasticity allows our brains to change and improve throughout our lives – for example, to adapt in response to physical injury and other forms of damage.
Our brains can adapt in response to a wide range of stimuli, including our own life experiences, our thoughts, actions, and emotions, and stimuli from our outer environment.
What’s relevant for us is that, to a far greater extent than scientists once believed, we hold the future of our brains in our hands. We have an integral role to play in keeping your brains healthy and vital as we age.
We can change our brains for the better by changing our habits, developing new skills, including artistic or musical talents, and even by traveling.
Just as you can put on a pair of running shoes and train your physical body, you can train your brain. Websites like brainhq.com, developed by an international team of neuroscientists, offer a rich variety of cognitive training exercises.
Exercise improves your brain. Some of the ways physical activity boosts brain health:
- It helps us think more clearly and learn more quickly.
- The brain and heart are the two most oxygen-hungry organs in the body. Exercise improves oxygen flow to the brain.
- Exercise decreases anxiety and depression, both of which have negative effects on brain health.
- Exercise decreases inflammation and stimulates the growth of new connections between brain cells.
- Exercise improves memory by increasing brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF).
- Exercise reduces insulin resistance (note that Alzheimer’s is sometimes described as “diabetes of the brain”).
- Exercise lifts our mood as it promotes the release of dopamine and endorphins and clears toxic chemicals.
Meditation improves your brain. Most meditation practices involve observing the breath and/or practicing breathing exercises (pranayama). Even the simplest breathing exercises help rebalance the autonomic nervous system and improve sleep disruption, MS, Parkinson’s, migraines, and other neurodegenerative changes.
A balanced autonomic nervous system reduces anxiety, helps normalize blood pressure, builds resilience to stress, improves cognitive performance, and improves Heart Rate Variability. (HRV reflects heart-brain interactions and the dynamics of the Autonomic Nervous System.)
In the most effective meditation and hatha yoga practices, the gaze is directed upward toward the prefrontal lobe of the brain. Among the other functions of the prefrontal cortex, it serves as the physical medium for deep spiritual experiences, for example when a five-pointed star – the “third eye” – is seen in deep meditation.
The prefrontal lobes are where happiness, concentration and creativity are localized in the brain, as well as concentration, and the ability to form long-range plans and carry them to fruition. Focusing on this area of the brain (about half-inch behind the point between the eyebrows) improves stress management, emotional control, and compassion.
Deeply focusing at the spiritual eye center brings energy to that area while simultaneously decreasing energy in the amygdala, the “reptilian” area of the brain where raw emotions are localized, thus reducing impulsivity and anger.
After meditating for as little as little as 10-20 minutes a day, MRI and PET scans reveal increased activity, connectivity, and size of the frontal lobe, with corresponding decreases in the amygdala.
We’re now seeing studies on the positive effects of meditation and physical activity on the health impacts of Covid-related stress. As we reduce our overall stress, we enhance our brain and body function.
A growing array of tools and trainings for stress relief and balancing nervous function have appeared in recent years:
- The OURA ring tracks heart rate variability and sleep variables.
- Products developed by the HeartMath Institute promote health-enhancing feelings associated with harmonious, regularized heart rate variability.
- The Apollo watch strengthens and rebalances the autonomic nervous system. It builds resistance to stress, promotes relaxation, and improves cognitive performance.
- Neurofeedback, often used in conjunction with Photobiomodulation (see our last article), is a type of biofeedback that presents real-time feedback from brain activity in order to reinforce healthy brain conditioning.
Readers should understand that these are just a few of the well-documented tools now available for promoting brain health while improving physical health and well-being.
You can change your brain for the better!
For information about the services we offer at Pacific Naturopathic, please give us a call at 650-961-1660, use the convenient Contact Form to get in touch, or follow the link to: Consultations – Pacific Naturopathic. Thank you!