Improve brain function? How? Is that one of those meaningless phrases turned out by advertising executives?
Not any more.
We can improve brain function by encouraging two recently discovered capacities of the human brain, neurogenesis and neuroplasticity.
Neurogenesis is the word used to describe the growth of new neurons every day. That is right, replacement parts, and they migrate to the memory centers of the brain, where they are put to work keeping our identity intact.
Neuroplasticity is the capacity of neurons to connect when they learn something new, sometimes within minutes of the learning.
Those new neurons do not necessarily survive. To maximize their survival, you must keep unnecessary stress hormones out of your brain, and minimize or exclude environmental toxins like booze and VOC.
Neuroplasticity does happen within minutes but the brain is an incredibly energy efficient organ, and it does not keep unused circuits or neuronal connections running. It dismantles them.
So you will have to keep those new circuits sharp by updating them frequently.
Ever heard of the pillars of brain fitness? The experts in the neuroplasticity and neurogenesis field say that the way to make the brain its best and keep it continuing at its best is to take care of the pillars of brain fitness daily.
The pillars that most experts refer to are physical activity/exercise, nutrition including omega 3 fatty acid and antioxidants, stress management, lots of good sleep, and exposing your brain to novel learning experiences.
The last pillar, the novel learning experience pillar means the kind of learning I have when I learn a new instrument or a new language, because those experiences provide an increasing level of complexity and the most effective level of positive feedback.
The downside is that the same old same old does not improve brain function. For me that means reading another counseling book does not increase neuroplasticity because my brain knows counseling. It needs to learn how to play piano, or Spanish.
Need a guide to improving brain function? This book, Brainfit for Life, by Simon Evans,Ph.D. and Paul Burhardt,Ph.D., is an accessible book for us non-neuroscientists. Evans and Burghardt have culled the neuroscientific research and pulled out the most helpful tools and put them into their book, so that we can use the information to form an action plan.
The most important pillar of brain fitness is physical activity and exercise. The good news is that we do not have to undertake and Olympic Training Regimen to insure neurogenesis and neuroplasticity, but we do have to do something daily that makes us breath deep for at least ten minutes, like walking twice around the block, and going a little faster.
That is the minimum amount, and if you do more physical exercise, like go to your local YMCA and climb on an elliptical trainer for 1/2 hour, you are going to improve brain function.
The nutrition pillar means eating lots of fruit and vegetables, and ending the use of processed foods, which are full of brain bending appetite stimulants and have no nutritional value. A very important requirement for improved brain function is omega 3 fatty acid, which usually comes from fish, but if you are not a fish fan, then a supplement may be in order. The sleep and stress management pillars are absolutely necessary for the best neurogenesis and neuroplasticity results. During sleep, memory consolidation and hormonal events happen that result in diminished brain function if they do not occur, so get the appropriate amount of sleep for you, and do your stress management heart by heart beat using heart rate variability biofeedback from Heartmath.
Never heard of Heartmath? Another new tool, which has grown out of another new field called neurocardiology. Yeah, your heart's function impacts your brain function heart beat by heart beat, and remember the presence of stress hormones kills those replacement parts.
Evans and Burghardt discuss research about a computerized task called the dual n back task and how it improves brain function.
The dual n back and commercial versions of it have been shown to increase I.Q. which I think is important because it is an objective measure, a bench mark which can take us out of the realm of the testamonial.
Since I do not have time to learn a new language or a new instrument, even with retirement looming, I am looking to online and computerized tools to provide my novel learning experience, and I think that the research including the IMPACT and PNAS studies validate that choice.
There are links in the right sidebar to two programs I have used and liked, Mind Sparke Brain Fitness Pro, and the Posit Science program.
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.
Would you share your favorite gratitude story by clicking here? Your story may be just what another person needs to renew themselves.
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