Brain Care 101 | Stress Management Solutions

Brain Care 101 | Stress Management Solutions
Brain Care 101 | Stress Management SolutionsLast week, the US Car Care CounВ­cil released a list of tips on how to take care of your car and save big money at the pump inВ 2008. вYou may not have paid much attenВ­tion to this announceВ­ment. Yes, it’s imporВ­tant to save gas these days; but, it’s not big news that good mainВ­teВ­nance habits will improve the perВ­forВ­mance of a car, and extend itsВ life. If we can all agree on the imporВ­tance of mainВ­tainВ­ing our cars that get us around town, what about mainВ­tainВ­ing our brains sitВ­ting behind theВ wheel? A spate of recent news covВ­erВ­age onВ brain fitВ­nessВ and brain trainВ­ingв has missed an imporВ­tant conВ­stituency: younger peoВ­ple. Recent advanceВ­ments in brain sciВ­ence have as tremenВ­dous impliВ­caВ­tions for teenagers and adults of all ages as they do for seniors. In a recentВ conВ­verВ­saВ­tion with neuВ­roВ­sciВ­enВ­tist Yaakov Stern of ColumВ­bia UniВ­verВ­sity, he related how surВ­prised he was when, years ago, a reporter from SevВ­enВ­teen magВ­aВ­zine requested an interВ­view. The reporter told Dr. Stern that he wanted to write an artiВ­cle to motiВ­vate kids to stay in school and not to drop out, in order to start buildВ­ing their CogВ­niВ­tive Reserve early and age more gracefully. What is the CogВ­niВ­tive Reserve? EmergВ­ing research since the 90s from the past decade shows that indiВ­vidВ­uВ­als who lead menВ­tally stimВ­uВ­latВ­ing lives, through their eduВ­caВ­tion, their jobs, and also their hobВ­bies, build a CogВ­niВ­tive Reserveв in their brains. Only a few weeks ago another study reinВ­forced the value ofВ intelВ­lecВ­tuВ­aly demandВ­ingВ jobs. StimВ­uВ­latВ­ing the brain can litВ­erВ­ally genВ­erВ­ate new neuВ­rons and strengthen their conВ­necВ­tions which results in betВ­ter brain perВ­forВ­mance and in havВ­ing a lower risk of develВ­opВ­ing Alzheimer’s sympВ­toms. StudВ­ies sugВ­gest that peoВ­ple who exerВ­cise their menВ­tal musВ­cles throughВ­out their lives have a 3540% less risk of manВ­iВ­festВ­ing Alzheimer’s. As astoundВ­ing as these insights may be, most AmerВ­iВ­cans still devote more time to changВ­ing the oil, takВ­ing a car to a mechanic, or washВ­ing it, than thinkВ­ing about how to mainВ­tain, if not improve, their brain performance. FurВ­ther, betВ­ter brain scanВ­ning techВ­niques like fMRI (glosВ­sary) are allowВ­ing sciВ­enВ­tists to invesВ­tiВ­gate healthy live brains for the first time in hisВ­tory. Two of the most imporВ­tant findВ­ings from this research are that our brains are plasВ­tic (meanВ­ing they not only creВ­ate new neuВ­rons but also can change their strucВ­ture) throughВ­out a lifeВ­time and that frontal lobes are the most plasВ­tic area. Frontal lobes, the part of our brains right behind the foreВ­head, conВ­trols execВ­uВ­tive funcВ­tionsв which deterВ­mine our abilВ­ity to pay attenВ­tion, plan for the future and direct behavВ­ior toward achievВ­ing goals. They are critВ­iВ­cal for adaptВ­ing to new sitВ­uВ­aВ­tions. We exerВ­cise them best by learnВ­ing and masВ­terВ­ing new skills. This part of the brain is delВ­iВ­cate: our frontal lobes wait until our mid to late 20s to fully mature. They are also the first part of our brain to start to decline, usuВ­ally by midВ­dleВ age. In my view, not enough young and middle-aged peoВ­ple are benВ­eВ­fitВ­ing from this emergВ­ing research, since it has been perВ­ceived as someВ­thing for seniors. в Granted, there are still many unknowns in the world of brain fitВ­ness and cogВ­niВ­tive trainВ­ing, we need more research, betВ­ter assessВ­ments and tools. But, this does not mean we canВ­not start carВ­ing for our brains today. Recent studВ­ies have shown a tremenВ­dous variВ­abilВ­ity in how well peoВ­ple age and how, to a large extent, our actions influВ­ence our rate of brain improveВ­ment and/or decline. The earВ­lier we begin the betВ­ter. And it is never tooВ late. What can we do to mainВ­tain our brain, espeВ­cially the frontal lobes? Focus on four pilВ­lars of brain health:В physВ­iВ­cal exerВ­cise, aВ balВ­anced diet,В stress manВ­ageВ­ment, andВ brain exerВ­cise. Stress manВ­ageВ­ment is imporВ­tant since stress has been shown to actuВ­ally kill neuВ­rons and reduce the rate of creВ­ation of new ones. Brain exerВ­cises range from low-tech (i. e. В medВ­iВ­taВ­tion, masВ­terВ­ing new comВ­plex skills,В lifeВ­long learnВ­ing and engageВ­ment) to high-tech (i. e. using the growВ­ing numВ­ber ofВ brain fitВ­ness softВ­ware proВ­grams). I know, this is startВ­ing to sound like those lists we all know are good for us but we actuВ­ally don’t do. Let me make it easВ­ier by proposВ­ing a new New Year ResВ­oВ­luВ­tion for 2008: every time you wash your car or have it washed in 2008, ask yourВ­self,В What have I done lately to mainВ­tain myВ brain? вneuroplasticityNeuroplasticity is a non-specific neuroscience term referring to the ability of the brain and nervous system in all species to change structurally and functionally