You can outsmart your brain – Neuroplasticity

Scientists used to think that the brain didn’t change after childhood. While it is true that our ability to learn new things is greater in our early years, it turns out our brains reorganize, physically change, and alter the function of different parts through our lives.

Each time we learn a new skill, make a new memory, rethink, respond, react, interact our brains change. Your brain is changing right now reading this post.

Why is this important?

Exercising and strengthening our brains is as important as keeping our bodies strong and limber.  The way you keep your brain in good shape spends on what you pay attention to, what you think, what you feel, and how you react to your environment.  You can change your brain with purpose by understanding how neuroplasticity works.

Two Main Ways You Can Drive Neuroplasticity

“Neurons that fire together, wire together.”*

Donald Hebb developed the idea that when two neurons fire at the same time repeatedly, chemical changes occur in both, so that they connect more strongly.  Because neuroplasticity follows this rule, it’s fundamentally reversible. Neurons that fire together wire together, but when neurons “fire apart” their connection becomes weaker. That means your brain works on a “use it or lose it” principle. Information and behaviors that you do not use weaken and may be completely lost. This is called called “synaptic pruning.

“It is almost just as easy to drive changes that can impair one’s memory or slow down one’s mental or physical control as it is to improve one’s memory or speed up the brain’s actions.”**

Brain change comes from external experiences

What we practice or are exposed to becomes part of our brain wiring.

Everything that happens in our life wires our brains.  What we repeatedly do becomes wired – everything from muscle patterns (remember when you first learned to walk, ride a bike?), to skills (learning a native language – when’s the last time you thought about how to form a sentence?) to smiling or frowning (do you have to concentrate on each of your facial muscles to express a feeling?).

To keep our brains growing, functioning well and avoiding decline, we need to give it challenges such as learning new skills, exploring new places, changing routines and interacting with people.

Brain change comes from internal experiences

Mental & emotional exercise changes our brains too. What we think and imagine can change our brains for the better or worse. Where we focus our attention directs the synaptic connections, the brains wiring, and develops and strengthens connections.

We can purposefully and actively create the connections we want. Thoughts and images we replay in our minds create stronger connections.  Make neuro-connections by thinking of things in sequence, create positive mental images, do crossword puzzles. (You already do this whenever you study for a test, read a book, rehearse what to say, worry about your future, ruminate on the past.)

Here are some proven ways to positively impact our brains:

 Mindfulness:

Practicing mindfulness is learning to control your thoughts and develop ability to focus where we choose.

Meditation:

By decreasing stress, anxiety and depression meditation helps encourage neurogenesis (development new brain cells). This can happen in just a few weeks.

Visualization: 

Neurons fire whether something is real or imagined. Imagining doing something is not very different from doing it in terms of  brain wiring. Athletes use this to “practice” by imagining a perfect performance over and over. It helps them actually perform better.  Research has validated that the practice influences physical changes from muscle strength to brain pathways.

Now that you’ve finished reading, give yourself a pat on the brain for all the new neuro-connections it has just made for you.

*neuro-scientist Carla Shatz

**Dr. Michael Merzenich,  author of  Soft-Wired: How the New Science of Brain Plasticity Can Change Your Life 

Reference: https://www.thebestbrainpossible.com/

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

Food is Medicine

I’m an emotional eater –  it doesn’t matter if I’m feeling bad or good.  But when I’m depressed I crave sugar & carbs.   I’ve always conveniently blamed my father.   I’m not sure whether he was the one who needed a pick-me-up or he thought I did but he would go out of his way to bring a bit of pleasure into my life in the form of something delectibly sweet.

Dad would drive across town to a special shop that dispensed root beer from a soda fountain and then back at home he’d pile in vanilla ice cream to make floats.  We would sneak out to eat cinnamon rolls and M’M’s peanut chocolate candy. 

Dad lived by specific culinary principles:

  • Cake’s main purpose was to hold up the frosting. 
  • Pepsi was the beverage of choice because water was for bathing, not drinking.
  • The only edible food was brown and white (unless it contained copious amounts of sugar), green food should be reserved for insects or chimpanzees
  • Fruit was only safe to eat if it was in a pie. 

Today there is a an incredible amount of scientific evidence that food is medicine, not just muscle fuel, and the right kind of diet may give the brain more of what it needs to avoid depression, or even to treat it once it’s begun

You’re feeling depressed. What have you been eating?

Psychiatrists and therapists don’t often ask this question. But a growing body of research over the past decade shows that a healthy diet—high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish and unprocessed lean red meat—can prevent depression. And an unhealthy diet—high in processed and refined foods—increases the risk for the disease in everyone, including children and teens.

The findings are spurring the rise of a new field: nutritional psychiatry.

“Now recent studies show that a healthy diet may not only prevent depression, but could effectively treat it once it’s started.
“Researchers, led by epidemiologist Felice Jacka of Australia’s Deakin University, looked at whether improving the diets of people with major depression would help improve their mood. They chose 67 people with depression for the study, some of whom were already being treated with antidepressants, some with psychotherapy, and some with both. Half of these people were given nutritional counseling from a dietitian, who helped them eat healthier. Half were given one-on-one social support—they were paired with someone to chat or play cards with—which is known to help people with depression.”

“After 12 weeks, the people who improved their diets showed significantly happier moods than those who received social support. And the people who improved their diets the most improved the most. (The study was published in January 2017 in BMC Medicine).”

“A second, larger study drew similar conclusions and showed that the boost in mood lasted six months. It was led by researchers at the University of South Australia and published in December 2017 in Nutritional Neuroscience.”

“And later this month in Los Angeles at the American Academy of Neurology’s annual meeting, researchers from Rush University Medical Center in Chicago will present results from their research that shows that elderly adults who eat vegetables, fruits and whole grains are less likely to develop depression over time.”

Scientific evidence aside . . .

My dad lived to 93 . . .  it might be prudent to follow his dietary regime.

Source: The Wall Street Journal, The Food That Helps Battle Depression bElizabeth Bernstein

 

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

How to trick your brain into thinking you are happy

Yes, you can “fake out” your own brain.

Smiling fools your brain into thinking you are happy, then this creates actual happiness.  A smile spurs a chemical reaction in the brain, releasing certain hormones including dopamine and serotonin*.

Now here’s the fake-out:  Our brain isn’t good at telling the difference between a smile because you are happy and a fake smile.

Smiles by Peggy

But wait . . . there’s more

A study performed by a group at the University of Cardiff in Wales found that people who could not frown due to botox injections were happier on average than those who could frown.”

“And there are plenty more studies out there:  Researchers at the University of Kansas published findings that smiling helps reduce the body’s response to stress and lower heart rate in tense situations; another study linked smiling to lower blood pressure, while yet another suggests that smiling leads to longevity.”

Smiling enhances our Immune system

“More than happiness is at stake.  Dr. Murray Grossan, an ENT-otolaryngologist looks at the study of how the brain is connected to the immune system. He asserts that it has been found “over and over again” that depression weakens your immune system, while happiness boosts your immune system.”

“What’s crazy is that just the physical act of smiling can make a difference in building your immunity,” says Dr. Grossan. “When you smile, the brain sees the muscle [activity] and assumes that humor is happening.”

Smiles are contagious

“This is because we have mirror neurons that fire when we see action,” says Dr. Eva Ritzo, As its name suggests, mirror neurons enable us to copy or reflect the behavior we observe in others and have been linked to the capacity for empathy.”

“Try smiling into the mirror. Dr. Ritzo recommends smiling at yourself in the mirror, an act she says not only triggers our mirror neurons, but can also help us calm down and re-center if we’re feeling low or anxious.”

So SMILE and pass on a dose of neurochemical happy

*Dopamine increases our feelings of happiness. Serotonin release is associated with reduced stress. Low levels of serotonin are associated with depression and aggression.  Low levels of dopamine are also associated with depression.

SaveSave

Frankly Freddie – Spending money (on me) will make you happy

Dear Human-beings and critters with discretionary money.

Reading dry research is . . . dry.  If you don’t want to read this article, watch the video and . . .  buy me doggie treats so you feel JOYFUL.

There is scientific evidence that when you buy me treats you will feel good:  You probably think spending money on yourself makes you happy but this is NOT true.  

  1. In a series of experiments by Elizabeth Dunn and colleagues,employees were asked about their general happiness levels before and after receiving their annual bonus(2008). Regardless of the size of the actual bonus, employees who spent more of their bonus money on others or on charity reported greater general of happiness than those who spent more of it on themselves.

2. In another experiment, participants who were directed to spend a small amount of money on others (either $5 or $20) reported greater feelings of happiness than those who were directed to spend the same amounts on themselves. The dollar amount didn’t matter.  (Doggie treats cost $5 or $20)

Even human beings around the world get emotional benefits from using their financial resources to help others.  Data from 136 countries found that prosocial spending was consistently associated with greater happiness. (Lara Aknin and colleagues, 2010). 

Your Giving (to me) Brain

“Humans are social creatures, who depend on the ability to foster teamwork with others to survive. To this end, the human brain has a built-in reward system that manages how we interact with others: the neurotransmitter oxytocin.”

“With respect to the happiness that prosocial spending produces, oxytocin might have something to do with the intensity of the feeling. When we spend money on others, it’s usually on friends and family (I consider all you as FAMILY) who we consistently work to maintain good relationships with. When we spend money to help our friends and make our family smile, our brain rewards us for strengthening our social ties.”

In appreciation for your generosity,

Freddie Parker Westerfield, DCD

Deserving Canine Dog

and then send me treats.

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

What on earth is a “Nappuccino”?

I always have more than one book in progress:  One for when I’m tired and need mindless entertainment; one for when I’m alert, is informative and grows my neuro-connections.  

I found a book* that addresses both and surprised me with a tip on napping. When I was younger naps were a waste of time.  Now, I appreciate the “restorative power” of catching a mid-day snooze.  Here is a good recipe for a…

 “Nappuccino”

Want to maximize your Nappuccinos? Here is what you do:

  • Find the best time for your nap. When is your energy low point? Your mood low point? For most of us, it is about 7 hours after we wake up. 
  • Create your nap environment – someplace comfortable: the floor, bed, couch, bathtub (EMPTY) –  definitely low lights and NO cell phone.
  • Set a timer, nap 10 to 20 minutes, you will feel more alert and function better, without waking with that groggy feeling.

Here’s the kicker that surprised me:

The  Nappucino

Drink a cup of coffee! That’s right, drink coffee before you nap. It takes the caffeine about 25 minutes to kick in, so you’ll get the perfect amount of napping time and then you’ll wake up with the caffeine boost.  Who woulda thunk it?

There’s also evidence that habitual nappers get more from their naps than infrequent nappers. Practice makes perfect – I’m taking a Nappucino every day until I am an expert.

(PA)

*”WHEN: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing” by Daniel Pink 

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

Google On! My brain grows younger while my body grows old

The bad news: I fractured my foot weeks ago and little did I know it might be causing my brain to shrink (read about it here).  

The good news:  I’ve done little but sit with my foot up, doing internet searches (and blog posts)

It was good to read (on the internet of course) that all my “googling is helping brain (even though it may now be the size of a pea) grow younger as my body grows older.

judy & Peggy dualalties: Internet vs Books

A study at UCLA showed that simply using search engines such as Google triggered key centers in the brains of middle-aged and older adults, areas that control complex reasoning and decision-making, according to a press release. Researchers involved said the results suggest that searching might help stimulate and possibly improve the function of the brain.

“Internet searching engages complicated brain activity, which may help exercise and improve brain function”*

Study volunteers were between the ages of 55 and 76; half of them had search experience and half of them did not. Gender, age and education level were kept similar between the two groups, which performed web searches and book-reading tasks.

While all the participants showed significant brain activity during the book-reading task, internet searches were another matter. All the participants showed the same brain activity as in the book-reading task, but those familiar with online searches also showed activity “in the frontal, temporal and cingulate areas of the brain, which control decision-making and complex reasoning,” the study revealed.

“Our most striking finding was that Internet searching appears to engage a greater extent of neural circuitry that is not activated during reading — but only in those with prior internet experience.”*

“What does this mean? In addition to helping seniors keep up with ever-developing technology, being actively engaged with the internet can help stimulate brain activity as we age.”

*Dr. Gary Small, a professor at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA.

Before you get too excited and spend all day on Google, read this:

Sitting Possibly Makes My Brain (Yours Too) Thinner?

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

4 tricks to rev up your memory . . . and Elvis

I’m not sure if my memory is not as good as it used to be or I just pay more attention now to when I forget.  

There’s so much information in my brain that has been stored that it takes longer to sort,  find and retrieve what I need to remember.  Makes sense to me.  However, I still read articles like . . . 

Making the Most of your Brain’s Memory Process

 “In terms of brain function, everyone has a decline over time in all areas, with the exception of vocabulary.”  (Dr. Joel Salinas, a neurologist specializing in behavioral neurology and neuropsychiatry at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital.)

How memory works

Memory involves three processes:

  • encoding – brain receives and encodes (takes in) new information;
  • recording –  brain then records (stores) the information;
  • retrieval – brain retrieves information when you need it.

Many brain regions are involved in this process:

  • The cerebral cortex — the large outer layer of the brain — acquires new information as input from our senses. The amygdala tags information as being worthy of storage.
  • The hippocampus stores memories.
  • The frontal lobes help us consciously retrieve information.

The aging memory

“Many people notice a difference in memory starting in their 50s. That’s when age-related chemical and structural changes can begin in brain regions involved with memory processing, . . .  These changes may slow processing speed, making it hard to recall familiar names or words.”

“Other factors may be at play as well. “Working memory — a mental scratch pad that allows us to use important information throughout the day — is susceptible to depression, anxiety, and stress, . . .   a lack of sleep can affect the brain’s retention and use of information.'”

“A medication side effect may also affect memory. For example, if you use an anti-anxiety drug like clonazepam (Klonopin), its sedating side effects can make your brain less alert and more sluggish.”

Shower Song with Elvis & Meowie by Peggy

Memory tricks

Another way to boost memory is to make the most of the way it works. The following strategies may help.

1. Repeat what you hear out loud, such as someone’s name, or an address, or a new idea. Repetition increases the likelihood you’ll record the information and be able to retrieve it later. “With each repetition, your brain has another opportunity to encode the information,” explains Dr. Salinas. “The connections between brain cells are reinforced, much like blazing a trail in the woods. The more you walk the same trail, the easier it is to walk it the next time.”

2. Make a note of people you need to call, errands to run, and appointments. “We are much better at recognition than recall,” Dr. Salinas explains. “With recognition, such as reading a list, you have additional hooks or hints that help you find the information you’re looking for.”

3. Make associations between old and new information. Connect a person’s first name to something familiar. For example, if the person’s name is Sandy, imagine that person on a beach. Or create a story around a shopping list. “Our brain is good at sequences, and putting things into a story helps. The more ridiculous, the more memorable it is. For example, if your list is milk, eggs, and bread, the story could be that you are having milk with Elvis over an egg sandwich,” Dr. Salinas suggests.

The Egg and E. by Peggy

4. Divide information into chunks, such as taking a long number and remembering it more like a phone number. “It’s hard to store a long number,” says Dr. Salinas, “but easier to store little bits through working memory.” If you’re trying to memorize a speech for a wedding toast, focus on getting only one sentence or idea down at a time, not the whole speech in one take.

When tricks don’t help

Forgetting something minor from time to time is probably normal. It’s not normal when memory changes interfere with day-to-day functioning. Dr. Salinas recommends that you talk to your doctor if you’re making more mistakes than usual at work; having difficulty paying the bills; or having trouble completing tasks, cooking, emailing, or doing chores. But don’t panic. “More often than not, there’s a temporary or reversible cause behind your memory slips.” says Dr. Salinas.

Reference: 4 Tricks to Rev Up Your Memory

The next time I walk into the bathroom I’ll remember I’m going to take a shower with Elvis and hope I’ve not forgotten to invite him.

To learn how appreciation and gratitude help you memory and your creativity, click below:

I’m Afraid Being Afraid Shrinks My Fluffy Brain & Creativity

 

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

%d bloggers like this: