Healthy Brains

How can we help our brains become healthier?  By eating properly, sleeping sufficiently and by practising the following eight habits:

1. Smile
Smiling helps interrupt mood disorders, helps us have a positive attitude toward life and helps us feel empathy for others. Even fake smiles help our brains become healthier!

2. Think
All sorts of thinking activities help our brains. Playing chess, reading books, watching educational television shows, visiting museums, talking about philosophical issues and doing memory exercises all help strengthen connections in our frontal lobes. Stronger frontal lobes help us communicate, solve problems and make rational decisions more effectively.  Stronger frontal lobes improve our motor coordination and make us less likely to react with anger or fear. They even make it easier for us to maintain good habits like eating properly and exercising regularly.
However, math exercises and crossword puzzles don’t help strengthen our frontal lobes. Neither do video games. In fact, even nonviolent video games reduce frontal lobe activity and so increase the likelihood of ADD, aggression and addictive behaviour in children and adolescents.

3. Consciously Relax

Listening to calming music while deliberating relaxing specific muscles in our bodies helps our brains. Focused breathing, repeating a positive word or phrase, visualization of calming scenes and thinking kind and forgiving thoughts all help our brains. Even simple repetitive activities, such as knitting, help our brains by interrupting the release of stress-stimulating neurochemicals.

4. Yawn
Don’t yawn just once, either. Try yawning ten times in a row.  While yawning has often been considered rude, it is actually a very healthy activity for our brains. It regulates the temperature and metabolism of our brains. It helps us feel more empathy for others and so build stronger relationships. It helps us become more self-aware and introspective and so helps us monitor our own behaviour. It fine tunes our sense of time. It relaxes our bodies, improves our voluntary muscle control and helps us improve athletic skills. It increases our ability to focus and increases our memory recall and so can help us learn more and do better on tests.

5. Meditate

When we sit quietly and calm our own thoughts, our brains releases hormones and neurochemicals that reduce stress. There are many different meditation techniques but as long as the process we choose focuses on calming the mind and thinking positive thoughts, our brains become healthier.

6. Engage in Aerobic Exercise
When we walk, run, swim, cycle or do yoga exercises, we boost our immune system, balance our hormones, reduce pain and anxiety, and repair neurological damage caused by stress. We become more motivated to accomplish what we need to do in life. We help our brains focus and work more efficiently.  And if we smile and think positive thoughts while we exercise, we are helping our brains even more!

7. Talk with People

Having conversations with others about abstract topics such as peace, philosophy and religion helps our brains function better as long as we show respect for different points of view instead of becoming angry. Becoming angry does not help our brains, at all. Gossiping or talking about the weather doesn’t help, either.

8. Have Faith

Whether we believe in a loving God or simply have hope that the future will be positive, faith in the goodness of life is the most powerful habit we can have for maintaining a healthy brain. Optimism  boosts our immune systems, helps motivate us, promotes good mental health and decreases stress.  But our faith should not be the unrealistic kind that tells us we will win a lottery or get a dream job that doesn’t require hard work. Our faith needs to be the realistic kind that helps us see what is possible without blinding us to the accompanying risks.

For more information about how to keep your brain healthy, read  . . .
How God Changes Your Brain by Andrew Newberg and Mark Robert Waldman (Ballantine Books, 2009);
The UltraMind Solution by Mark Hyman (Scribner, 2009).

[This page may be copied for use with students if the following credit is provided: ©2010 Sophie Rosen.]

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