- Posted: 11/26/2019
By Emily Steiner, 500 RYT
Have you ever considered how your daily activities affect your brain health? Here are some ideas for how you can support your brain’s health in your daily routine.
In 1949 neuroscientist Donald Hebb discovered neuroplasticity, the brain’s ability to re-wire itself. We can re-wire our brains! Unlearn and learn new things! The more you run a neural circuit together in the brain, the stronger that circuit becomes. Self-directed neuroplasticity is choices we can make about what we eat, how we carry ourselves, our daily activities and even how we think. The brain changes shape, capacity and wiring based on all these choices. It takes 40 days to create a new habit. During that time, you are creating new neural pathways in the brain that become your healthy lifestyle. But don’t worry about 40 days, just make the next right choice today.
Research continues to prove that exercise and movement is THE best way to a healthy brain. Increasing the heart rate through exercise pumps more blood and oxygen to the brain. Exercise stimulates hormones that provide the appropriate environment for new cell growth. When the environment of the brain is nourished, it can more easily make new neural connections between brain cells and increase brain plasticity. Neurons that fire together, wire together. Also, the hormones released during exercise act as an anti-depressant to lift your mood.
A rich social network or sangha, as we say in yoga, is another way to a healthy brain. Connecting with pets and/or people stimulates the nervous system and relaxes the body which leads to higher cognitive function and a mood boost. Social connection provides emotional support, combats depression, and enhances intellectual stimulation. Connecting with others stimulates a sense of meaning and purpose in life, so reach out to old friends, make a date for a walk, and don’t forget the power of connecting with nature and animals.
Speaking of relaxation, research shows that high levels of cortisol or “the stress hormone” damage the brain. Too much stress can shrink the hippocampus which is the part of the brain that regulates memory, emotion, and information processing. Activities like yoga and meditation can protect the brain from stress and regulate the hippocampus which is related to our overall mood and experience of the world. The Alzeheimer’s Prevention Foundation has statistical evidence that Kirtan Kriya enhances memory and reduces the risks of dementia by improving sleep, decreasing depression, increasing well-being, down regulating inflammatory genes, upregulating immune system genes, and increasing telomeras (the enzymes at the end of chromosomes which affect how our cells age) by 43%. Here is a link to Kirtan Kriya: http://alzheimersprevention.org/research/kirtan-kriya-yoga-exercise/
Embrace new ways of cognitive thinking. Activities like learning a new dance step or learning a foreign language keep the brain cognitively challenged. Incorporate these activities into your daily routine. Download a brain-based app like Luminosity or BrainFit and play it when you might have some down time in your day. Turn your watch upside down on your wrist to challenge your brain to think in new ways, use your non-dominant hand for tasks, close your eyes during your morning routine, take a different route to work.
And last but not least, nourish your brain with healthy foods high in Omega-3 fatty acids which support cognitive function. Diets high in saturated fats increase the risk of neurological dysfunction, including depression. Stay away from refined carbohydrates that inflame the tissues of the body, including the hippocampus. Inflammation is a risk factor for degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and dementia. Make healthy choices by reaching for foods that are anti-inflammatory like avocados, blueberries, bone broth, coconut oil, broccoli, egg yolks, green leafy vegetables, salmon, dark chocolate, and turmeric. Walnuts have been linked to studies that show dietary manipulation affects brain plasticity. To learn more about your gut microbiome, what goes on in your gut, and how it affects the molecular systems of the body associated with learning and synaptic plasticity, check out our previous blog: https://www.belovedyoga.com/blog/the-vast-microscopic-world-of-the-microbiome
Have fun incorporating some of these daily choices to support your brain health. I hope to you see you for practice in class on Tuesdays at 1 p.m. Yoga for a Healthy Brain.