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The Neuroplasticity Revolution How To Optimize Your Brain Every Single Day

Copyright (c) 2010 SharpBrains

You probably have already read about neuroplasticity - the capacity of my brain and your brain to change, for the better or the worse, based on what we think, feel and do every single day. In this article we will explore the ways you can ensure that change happens for the better.

Brain fitness is our brain's ability to readily create additional connections between neurons, and even to promote new neurons in certain parts of the brain, contributing to maintain important functions such as attention and memory.

--- What Latest Brain Research Says

The latest scientific research shows that specific lifestyles and actions can, no matter our age, improve the health and level of functioning of our brains. This is possible due to the remarkable flexibility of our brains through life -- no matter our age.

The nice thing about discovering that our lifestyle can affect brain functions is that it puts our brain health largely under our own control. However there is no magic formula. Scientists are only beginning to understand how what we do can interact with our genetic makeup. As to now, it is not possible to define which actions are the best for which individuals. It is likely that there will never be one general solution that solves all the challenges inherent in maintaining one’s brain health. Most neuroscientists point out that a multitude of approaches will be necessary.

--- Brain Fitness and Alzheimer’s Disease

Brain fitness may play a role in postponing the emergence of Alzheimer’s-related symptoms. An increasing number of scientific studies focus on healthy brain aging. A number of factors have been associated with reduced risks of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Among these factors, mental activities range quite high.

People who remain intellectually active and engaged in hobbies throughout their lives reduce their risk of developing Alzheimer's disease and other dementias. In a 2001 study conducted by Dr. Yaakov Stern, leading researcher on the cognitive reserve, individuals with the highest level of leisure activities presented thirty-eight percent less risk (controlling for other factors) of developing Alzheimer’s symptoms. For each additional type of activity, the risks were reduced by eight percent.

It is believed that intellectually stimulating hobbies or activities help building up cognitive reserve. This can help postponing the appearance of the dementia’s symptoms. Interestingly, education also seems to have a protective effect. Scientists have found that educated people are less exposed to age-related brain fitness decline. High levels of education have also been associated with lower risks levels for Alzheimer’s disease. According to Dr. Arthur Kramer, two main elements of a brain-friendly lifestyle are to exercise both your body and your brain.

--- The 4 Pillars of Brain Fitness

So what factors have an influence on brain health?

Latest guidelines prioritize a good nutrition, managing stress well, aerobic and mental exercise. Other factors may also have an influence. Dr. Elizabeth Zelinski often points out that “it is also important to maintain emotional connections. Not only with ourselves, to have self-confidence and self-esteem, but also with our family our friends.” Sleep and overall health conditions are other factors that also matter.

These are the four main pillars of brain health:

- Balanced nutrition: As a general guideline, what is good for the body is also good for the brain. Eating a variety of foods of different colors including cold-water fish which contain omega-3 fatty acids and avoiding highly processed foods with added ingredients are recommended. Vegetables, particularly green, leafy ones, are also recommended whereas few well known supplements have shown long-term benefits on memory and other cognitive functions.

- Stress management: Chronic stress reduces and can even inhibit neurogenesis. Meditation, yoga, and other calming activities are effective in countering stress. Biofeedback devices that measure heart rate variability and show stress levels in real-time offer a more high-tech option to manage stress.

- Physical exercise: Physical exercise has been shown to enhance brain physiology in animals and, more recently, in humans. Physical exercise improves learning through increased blood supply and growth hormone levels in the body. Of all the types of physical exercise, cardiovascular exercise that gets the heart beating – from walking to skiing, tennis and basketball – has been shown to have the greatest effect.

- Mental stimulation: it strengthens the synapses or connections between neurons, thus improving neuron survival and cognitive functioning. Good mental exercise requires novelty, variety and increasing levels of challenge.

Please note that these pillars are complementary, they do not substitute each other. It is important for each of us to recognize our starting point, and identify what pillar we need to focus more on. For each pillar or lifestyle factor, it is important to be creative in finding a schedule or routine that works for an individual through trial and error. According to Dr. Art Kramer, the ideal way would be to combine physical and mental stimulation along with social interaction: “Why not take a good walk with friends to discuss a book? We all lead very busy lives, so the more integrated and interesting our activities are, the more likely we will engage in them.”

Let me now ask you: What will you do to start your healthy-brain lifestyle today?

About Author Alvaro Fernandez :

Alvaro Fernandez is the Co-Author of The SharpBrains Guide to Brain Fitness: 18 Interviews with Scientists, Practical Advice, and Product Reviews, to Keep Your Brain Sharp (182 pages, $19.95). Alvaro is a Member of the Global Agenda Council on the Aging Society, and holds MA in Education and MBA from Stanford University. You can learn more at <a href="" target="_blank"></a>

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Article Added on Thursday, July 15, 2010
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