Let me share with you a little about neurogenesis and the importance of a cultivating a healthy mind. Did you realize that natural stem cells exist within the brain that are continually replenished and can develop into brain neurons? We experience brain “stem cell therapy” every minute of our lives. We are not stuck with a specific number of brain cells. The brain is pliable and can continually make new cells and connections. This is called neuroplasticity. The brain is an amazing organ.
Lifestyle factors indeed affect the brain and its ability to make new connections. What factors? We have already discussed how there are many ways we can positively affect the brain through physical exercise, getting restful sleep, following a healthful/mindful diet, and getting enough nutrients. These techniques also help reduce the stress that our bodies and brains face daily. Stress will always be a part of our lives. The key is to keep unnecessary stress at bay to preserve and promote neural connections. When we take a moment to change how we view the world around us and act in certain ways to reduce the stress on our bodies, we are changing the physical and functional structure of the brain for the better. There are four additional ways to help support this outcome.
Flex your gratitude muscle.
Maintain strong social networks – mostly offline.
Plan personal downtime.
Get out into nature as much as possible.
The more grateful we feel, the more resilient our brain becomes, physically, emotionally and spiritually. One way to seek gratitude in adversity is to turn challenges into opportunities. In a recent study, one group of people was asked to spend twenty minutes a day writing thank you letters to people in their lives. The other group did not write anything. After three months the brains of all individuals were scanned and those who spent time writing thankfulness had higher activity in their brain associated with emotions. These people continued stating their feeling of gratefulness weeks and months after the study concluded. They were all “wired” to feel extra thankful. Gratitude works mainly because it feeds further cycles of gratitude. As you practice it, you become more attuned to it and enjoy the psychological benefits.
Strong social networks. There is great power in compassion and love. These feelings come from the social bonds we maintain that endure for a long time or are brief yet impactful. When you are loved, and you love well, every cell in your body is allowed to work at its maximum capacity. Be open to new friendships and nourish the bonds of current and long-lasting relationships. Social relationships change our physiology and sense of well-being. The big take away is that relationships we maintain matter to our health and quality trumps quantity. Cultivate healthy relationships. With this in mind, don’t allow artificial connections through social media to take away from the personal time you can be spending with special friends and people. Plan face-to-face interactions…often!
Personal downtime. Do you ever try to power through an illness, pain, anger, frustration, exhaustion, being overwhelmed…yearning for a break yet continuing the same day after day? Technology has provided opportunities to be endlessly entertained and engaged…but also distracted and spent. More than a quarter of our days are now spent immersed in information overload. Some of that information is valuable, but some is like junk food for the brain. It is essential that we plan personal downtime to let our bodies recover from stress, renew ourselves and gather more strength and energy. Downtime allows the brain to take a break and solidify experiences we’ve had and turn them into long-term memories.
It’s summertime- get outside! Our ancestors used to work and live mostly in the outdoors, but few of us do that anymore. We live and work indoors, usually tethered to electronics, chairs, couches, meetings and chores. Being outside enhances feelings of well being through biochemical reactions, including a real calming effect on your mind and nervous system. Enjoy the fresh air, sunshine and calm as often as you can.
Enjoy the gift of today and make the most of your brain building opportunities!!