There’s a great deal of mystery, still, about how everything we know about ourselves, from how we find peace, to who we love, to what we like for breakfast, lives within the circuitry of the brain. Somewhere in there are our flashes of inspiration and our sense of humor, and we barely know how to talk about them. We do know a good bit about maintaining the brain, though, and treating it well. You already have a bicycle helmet. Here are some fresh, serious possibilities.
Becoming still and quiet inside, allows for wisdom to percolate; by releasing our myriad distracting thoughts, meditation allows us to notice the sacred in the midst of everyday. Meditation also changes the brain. A recent study at the U of Oregon, reported at PsychCentral on Aug 19, shows that meditation creates activity in a part of the brain called the anterior cingulate, which influences empathy and rational thought. Another study conducted in Boston (Huffington Post, Oct 7) shows that meditation also activates the prefrontal cortex, a part of the brain associated with attention. Meditation creates new connections in the brain circuitry of these parts, and makes the gray matter grow.
2) Connect with your friends.
The media are abuzz with a study about friendship and its effects on the brain, appearing this week in the Journal of Neuroscience and reported on CNN.com. It looks as if, when we reflect on people we care about personally, we stimulate the medial prefrontal cortex, a part of the brain that influences how we recognize ourselves. This part of the brain reacts significantly more when we think about our close friends, as compared with strangers who share all our values and interests. Social closeness apparently makes the brain take notice, and its plasticity allows the activated circuits to grow.
3) Kalamata olives.
If you eat like you live on a Greek island, your brain receives significant protection from aging, says the American Academy of Neurology. Think about a diet rich in olive oil, legumes, fish, whole grains, avocados, wine, and occasionally, meat roasted on a spit. This has been called the Mediterranean diet, and it’s full of antioxidants. Your brain likes it.
4) Learn Chinese.
By becoming multilingual, we support the brain’s cognitive reserve, which allows it to function well even when we experience physical or emotional stress. Cultivating the ability to switch between languages gives the brain agility, and may delay the effects of decline, as reported in the Wall Street Journal on October 12. Yes, crossword puzzles are good, too.
5) Love your coffee.
Some really good news: drinking 5 cups of coffee per day appears to reduce inflammation in the brain. This inhibits by 50% the formation of beta amyloid proteins, which have long been a suspect in the development of Alzheimer’s. The protective benefit comes from the caffeine: decaf doesn’t count. Cappuccino may protect your short term memory.
Whatever may await you on your unfolding journey, insert note to self:
Be good to your brain.