For decades we have been led to believe that the human brain deteriorates with age. My own mother spends countless hours each week doing crosswords and puzzles through fear, she says, “of losing her marbles.”
There is good news though. Research now shows that our brain and nervous system are not rigid or unchanging like we once thought but are “neuroplastic”, or capable of adapting and re-wiring.
We have long known that childhood is the peak period for growth and development of the brain and we assumed that we were unable to learn new skills or employ mental focus as we aged. It would seem that this is not the case.
The old adage of “use it or lose it” specifically applies. Acknowledging that we need to treat the brain just like our muscles, through strengthening, training and exercise, we can (quite literally) change the structure of our minds! So to help with this I have outlined below a number of tips on keeping your brain as “sharp as a tack.”
Activities that require a high degree of sensing, imagining and perceiving are those that help our brain to change and reorganise itself. The science of neuroplasticity is revolutionising not only the treatment of stroke patients, victims of brain injury and patients with psychiatric disorders, but is offering a wide range of applications for general learning and performance. To my dismay the latest research suggests that “multi-tasking” may not be such a clever feat after all. This I can’t quite get my head around!!!
There have been many psychologists and neuroscientists over the years including Hebb, Bach-y-Rita, Taub and Merzenich who have paved the way for these latest discoveries. It is the recent work of Norman Doidge however, a Canadian psychiatrist and the author of The Brain That Changes Itself (Scribe 2010), that has brought this science to the public in an accessible way. His book that describes the leading scientists in this field whose remarkable insights transforms their patients’ lives, is a must-have for your library.
I have endeavoured to summarize the key tips recommended by these leaders for keeping our brains healthy and alert. Included is the work of Dr Haavik, PhD, a chiropractic researcher, who has looked at the chiropractic adjustment and it’s powerful effect on brain function.
Here are some suggestions to consider:1-4
- Daily sweaty exercise is important. Exercise to keep your mind and heart physically alert and healthy.
- Focus on breathing well throughout the day. If you are a shallow breather seek advice on how to breathe more effectively.
- Avoid multi-tasking. Multi-tasking trains the brain to lose focus and constantly search for information and stimulation. Finish one task before moving onto the next.
- Avoid Stress. Being chronically stressed releases brain chemicals that actually shrink parts of your brain!
- Get some downtime throughout the day to clear and refocus your mind. Rest between activities helps to cement plastic changes.
- Get adjusted. Dr Haavik’s research shows that chiropractic adjustments may over a period of time improve the quality of information travelling between our body and our brain. Potentially creating global improvements in our health, wellbeing, mood and performance.
- Learn a new language. Learning a second language improves brain function and stimulates creativity.
- Acquire new skills. Frequently doing this helps to change the physical structure of the brain and create new routes in brain mapping – consider taking up dancing for example.
- Try brain-training exercises and games. These help us process what our brain hears and sees. There are plenty online exercises available.
- Identify bad habits. Identifying poor physical and emotional habits and seeking new approaches such as talking with a professional can help us “unlearn” old habits and unwanted responses.
- Ground yourself in nature as often as you can. Feeling the earth under your feet and the breeze on your face helps connect you to the world beyond the “noise” of your mind.
- Regularly include foods that are good for your brain in your diet. Foods high in essential fatty acids, tryptophan, vitamin B6, folate and iron are excellent “food for thought”. I will outline these foods specifically in the next blog, Foods that feed your brain.
With these tips in mind it would seem that the catch phrase, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks” no longer applies. We now know that a variety of activities, including chiropractic care, stimulate the brain to form new connections and new habits. This is such good news!!!
Dr Jennifer Barham-Floreani
2. MC Diamond. Response of the Brain to Enrichment. An Acad Bras Cienc Jun;73(2)pp211-220.
3. Haavik Taylor H, Murphy B. Altered Central Integration of Dual Somatosensensory Input Following Cervical Spine Manipulation. J Manipulative Physiol Ther. 2010;33(3):178-88.
4. Our Brain is Plastic and Adaptable. Alive Australia.Francis C. Summer 2011