Exercise the brain can mean many things. One thing for sure, it is an accepted fact that two new discoveries about the brain are true.
The first is that we grow new brain cells every day, which is called neurogenesis.
The second is that the brain is incredibly plastic, and changes when we learn something new, which is a capacity called neuroplasticity, and means that neurons form new connections.
[Side Bar-Are you 61 years old, like me? Why would you want to undertake learning new skills, which means some effort? New neurons migrate to the hippocampus, which is a part of the brain involved in memory. Not sure about you, but I want want to increase the size of my brain, which is called Cognitive Reserve, to ward off Alzheimers].
No one knew about neurogenesis or the extent of neuroplasticity until about 10-12 years ago.
But now we do know about them, and we also know that the brain will dismantle unused connections and circuits to conserve energy, so the brain is truely a use it or lose it organ, and when we get older, I prefer use it and keep it.
If you have been following the brain fitness writing which I first came across about a year and a half ago, then you are perhaps excited about the discoveries being made about how to enhance neurogenesis and neuroplasticity.
Those are typically called the Pillars of Brain Fitness, and the first and most important for increased neurogenesis and neuroplasticity is physical exercise.
That's right, deep breathing, sweating, crunches, gyms....
Well, actually no, exercising the brain does not necessarily mean you have to join an expensive club, hire a coach, and buy workout clothes that wick sweat away from the body.
What it means first, as described in an excellent book about exercising the brain called Brainfit for Life, by Simon Evans,Ph.D. and Paul Burghardt,Ph.D., which says that the kind of exercise that the brain requires is aerobic exercise, deep breathing and increased blood flow, and we can get that to start by doing more of what you already do.
So if you walk around the block, then walk around the block twice, and go at a pace fast enough to make it difficult to talk because of your deep breathing.
You just successfully exercised your brain.
Of course, you can get more sophisticated about your exercise, and actually join an exercise club.
The important point is that you can exercise the brain at home if you want.
An interesting model is called HIIT, and don't let that name scare you, HIIT is an acronym standing for high intensity interval training.
You can create a high intensity interval training for yourself which means you do the exercises you like at the pace which is best for you, but you do them in 30 second intervals for 10 minutes once or twice per day.
Want to see how 88 year old Bill and 82 year old Pat do it? Look for Bill and Pat about 1/2 way down the page. I figure if they can do that, I can too.
So Brainfit for Life goes on to talk about nutrition for the brain. A very important component to exercise for the brain means getting enough omega 3 fatty acid.
It turns out that our neurons are housed in a membrane that is about 70% omega 3 fatty acid, and that omega 3 has to be replaced on a daily basis, or the membrane gets brittle and communications between neurons is garbled.
I want my neurons sending clear messages to each other, so that I make wise choices in my life, like who to include in the will and who to exclude.
The best source of omega3 fatty acid is fish, but that may conjure up worries about mercury poisoning, so perhaps a supplement is in order.
Yes, neurogenesis and neuroplasticity require good sleep and stress management.
So after your workout and excellent dinner you get to go to bed early.
Go ahead, tell your mate that you are sleeping so long as part of your prescribed exercise the brain regimen.
Actually, important memory consolidation and hormonal events happen during sleep, so do not cut that time short. Your brain needs its melatonin.
Stress management means for me inducing regular doses of Heartmath, or heart rate variability biofeedback.
It turns out that I have intelligence, meaning neurons, scattered all over my body, and the heart has enough of those neurons to be able to learn and make decisions independently of any other brain I have. (The heart has a brain of its own).
That heart intelligence is muted by stress hormones, which also kill those new neurons, as does booze or other environmental toxins.
So I want to dampen those stress hormones by learning Heartmath so I can practice stress management heart beat by heart beat.
To learn more about how Heartmath might fit with your exercise the brain regimen, click below for demonstration videos.
I have used Heartmath with many anger management and domestic violence clients since 2001. To a person, they have all been surprised at how fast their thoughts change their heart rate varibility coherence, in either a positive or negative direction.
Heartmath is good for your sleep too.
The exercise your brain folks say that the best enhance your neurogenesis and neuroplasticity learning is the kind of learning involved in learning a new instrument of new language.
One thing for sure, more of the same does not exercise the brain, so I cannot read another counseling book, and hope to generate new neurons, and I do not have time for a new instrument or language.
So I have tried out some of the computerized, commercial versions of brain fitness programs.
I really like the research that underlies the Posit Science Brain Fitness Program, specifically designed for the Senior brain, to keep us functioning effectively, which is really detailed in the IMPACT study published in April of 2008.
The Mind Sparke Brain Fitness Pro really helps my wandering attention, and Lumosity is a quick usually fun, occasionally frustrating tool that I can boot up during my workday for a brain exercise break.
So there you have it, how to exercise the brain in an hour per day, with extra sleep and IQ thrown in.
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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