Good news for those of us who want a brain improvement. There are upgrades created in the form of new neurons everyday, if you take care of the pillars of brain fitness. That newly discovered capacity of the human brain is called neurogenesis.
No one new that we had this capacity to grow new neurons until perhaps a decade ago, so it is very new information, and I for one, since I have a 62 year old brain, am delighted to know about it.
I have been operating from the old neuroscientific paradigm that said we had all our neurons and neuronal circuits by age 5 or something like that, and then we just lost neurons and circuits until we ended up babbling at the fish in the fish tank at the old persons home, which is a depressing future to contemplate.
However, I am no longer condemned to that inevitable conclusion, because I can grow new neurons, and those neurons can be engaged in already operating circuits in my brain for ongoing adult functioning well out towards our inevitable end.
But there is a brain improvement caveat. While I do grow new neurons daily, that doesn't stop the normal death of neurons, and if I am reading the research accurately, I may not even keep the new neurons if I bring them into a brain that is stressed or flooded with toxins, like alcohol, or environmental toxins.
So how do I optimize neurogenesis, and the other very important capacity of the human brain called neuroplasticity, which is what my neurons do within minutes of learning something new?
The experts in this field are saying that we need to do take care of the pillars of brain fitness to grow new neurons and maximize the opportunity for neurogenesis.
The pillars are physical exercise, nutrition, including lots of omega 3 fatty acid and antioxidants, sleep, stress management, and novel learning experiences, which could mean anything from learning a new language or instrument to computerized brain fitness programs.
For an excellent overview of what taking care of the pillars of brain improvement means, I would suggest that you read Brainfit for Life by Simon Evans,Ph.D. and Paul Burghardt,Ph.D. who are neuroscientists at the University of Michigan.
They write for us, so the jargon is left in the laboratory. In fact their purpose is for all of us to have lots of information about how to take care of our brain so that we age gracefully, with a full complement of memory.
I like that idea.
Evans and Burghardt also indicate that I can start where I am in regards to physical exercise for example, and make daily incremental progress, doing more of what I am already doing.
In other words, my neurogenetic brain improvement does require physical activity/exercise, but it does not require that I train to olympic standards.
If I am walking around the block for example to get some aerobic deep breathing going on, then I can simply walk around the block twice, or walk a little faster, so that my breathing is deep enough that talking and breathing are difficult.
Of course, if you want to join an exercise program that requires a club membership for your brain improvement, that is quite ok.
But here is a model that 89 year old Bill and 82 year old Pat do at home to prepare for overseas travel. You can see that the tools can be as simple as some light dumbells and an exercise ball, and you will say to your brain, OK, now, lets have new neurons!
Nutrition for brain improvement means lots of antioxidants and omega 3 fatty acid because your brain uses up about 20% of the fuel you use daily, freeing up some potentially damaging free radicals, which need to be sopped up by antioxidants. The membrane around neurons is mostly omega 3 fatty acid, which needs to be replenished through your diet, since we do not make omega 3 fatty acids very efficiently.
If that membrane gets brittle, then messages between neurons get garbled, and I begin to do things like lose word recall, which is a signal that my brain is 62.
Yes, you need the appropriate amount of beauty sleep for certain hormonal events to occur and memory consolidation to happen, and for neurogenesis to be maximized.
However, you probably cannot say to your boss that your nap at work was for brain improvement or you had to oversleep for brain improvement.
You might be able to convince your employer that doing heart rate variability biofeedback on the job is good for brain improvement, because an excess of stress hormones is a very inhospitable environment for new neurons to land in, and doing heart rate variability biofeedback can change stress hormones to the anti-aging hormone DHEA in a heart beat. New neurons appreciate DHEA, as does every other organ in your body.
And so we come to the novel learning experience, which means a kind of challenge to the brain like the challenge I get when I learn a new language or new instrument.
There has to be a challenge which involves increasing complexity and the opportunity for an appropriate amount of positive feedback, in other words I get about 80% of the notes I need to play or vocabulary words I need to learn correct.
There you have it, the pillars of brain improvement across the life span. So get your walking shoes on, have an omega 3 fishy meal including blue berries, and listen to an online lecture by an authority while you walk. Get new neurons and new connections all day long.
If you do not have the time to learn a new language or a new instrument, there are some very interesting computerized brain fitness programs which might just fit the neurogenesis and neuroplasticity bill.
I have tried three, and have enjoyed all of them. Two of the programs have very interesting research done on them, which makes a very strong case for the reliability and validity of the tools.
I use them because I am not interested actually in learning a new language. I do want to learn how to play some piano to finish up a chore from my childhood, but Ma, it will be honky tonk piano, not classical. Hope that is ok.
The program which takes the most time and is the most expensive and has the best reseach, like the IMPACT study, is the Posit Science Brain Fitness Program, based on the research of Michael Merzenich,Ph.D., perhaps the world's leading authority on neuroplasticity. Using it made a big difference in my word recall problem.
Mind Sparke Brain Fitness Pro is the next program, and the research says that it will increase your IQ. What I know is that it has made a huge difference in my ability to pay attention. Mind Sparke is addictive, and if you are going to set it up for your kids, get a head start on them, as they will quickly catch on.
A wonderful tool for fluid intelligence, and the PNAS study speaks to how the results were derived and evaluates.
Lumosity is a great program for neuronal refreshing and neuroplastic recharging several times a day. Keep this program booted up on your computer and practice it in brief bursts as needed.
Maybe have some dark chocolate with your practice too, just for a little extra dopamine.
Very early in my personal growth experience, a wise person taught me to use the phrase "gratitude is the attitude" when I was resentful or afraid and that phrase has helped me feel better tens of thousands of times.
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