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How much do you know about your brain? Have you ever even considered this? Well, if you are like most people then the answer is NO! In order to properly care for and maintain your brain so it lasts a lifetime, it is important to understand the basics of your brain. Ready?
Your brain weighs approximately 3 pounds, reaching its full size by around age 6 in humans. Our brains use approximately 20% of our oxygen supply and utilize 20-25% of our blood supply. The 3 main parts of the brain are the: cerebellum, cerebrum, and the brain stem. We all have 4 areas or lobes in our brains. Each lobe has different functions. These lobes are the frontal, parietal, occipital, and temporal.
Let’s begin with the frontal lobe. It’s located in the front, as indicated by its name and is responsible for expressive language, higher level cognitive skills, memory, abstract reasoning, problem solving skills, executive function skills, attention, thought flexibility, planning, and judgment just to highlight some functions.
The parietal lobe is associated with the perception of stimuli by integrating sensory information from different modalities. This lobe assists in coordinating systems so we may write, perform calculations, read, and coordinate body movements.
Our occipital lobe is also quite important! The occipital lobe is associated with vision and the interpretation of visual stimuli and information. It allows us to perceive, process and discriminate our visual stimuli.
Now we can discuss the temporal lobe. Of course, the temporal lobe has many key functions as well! The temporal lobe is associated with the senses of taste, sound, and smell, as well as formation and storage of memories. The temporal lobe interprets sounds and language. Contained within the temporal lobe is the hippocampus. It is responsible for learning and short term memory. The hippocampus is believed to be the part of the brain where short term thoughts/memories are changed into long term memories for storage in other parts of our brain. Pretty amazing? Also contained within the temporal lobe is the amygdala which enables us to process and then recall strong emotions. It’s often referred to as the fight or flight response.
So now that we have completed our refresher biology lesson, what do we do with all this information? This is where the phrase, “Use it or lose it” comes into play. Just like any other organ or body part we must care for our brains! It is important to eat and drink things that contain the nutrients our brains require for optimal functioning, engage in physical exercise to provide our brains with an adequate supply of both oxygen and blood, and of course-EXERCISE our brains!
As we progress through life’s stages and phases, we must remain positive and adapt to the new demands of our bodies and brains. To maintain our ability to successfully age in place and maintain our independence, it is our individual responsibility to actually take responsibility for our actions affecting our health! We all know exercise is important, and it only takes walking 6-9 miles per week to drastically reduce the risk for developing Alzheimer’s Disease. How many of you actually follow through with this commitment to YOUR health? Physical exercise has countless benefits yet so many of us just still don’t or can’t seem to find or make the time for it! It only needs to be a 40 minute brisk walk just 3 times per week. You increase the blood flow to your brain, improve your circulation, lower your blood pressure, lower your cholesterol, keep your body moving, and actually can increase the size of your hippocampus. Yes, that means improved memory skills! Even early stage Alzheimer’s patients experienced less brain atrophy. This has just been documented in a collaborative study from the University of Pittsburgh and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champagne. That’s powerful information! If you are physically able, there is no excuse for not exercising! The evidence in favor of it is simply too overwhelming!
You’ve now made the commitment to exercise your body; don’t forget to give your body the proper fuel to keep it running effectively. Again, we have all heard from the experts eat fresh water fish as it contains the necessary omega 3 fatty acids, blueberries, walnuts (hey these have to be good for our brains as they’re shaped like little brains!), olive oil, dark chocolate, red wine, green tea, water, fresh herbs and spices, fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, legumes, eggs, and avoid white sugar. No one needs added sugar as it has no health benefits! If you still don’t know what to eat, I recommend you consult your physician as a starting point.
Another crucial piece of the puzzle to achieve healthy aging is to maintain your social connections. We are social creatures who need social interactions and relationships. We are happier when engaged in activities within our communities with people we enjoy. This leads to lower rates of depression and stress which in turn decreases your risk for developing Alzheimer’s Disease or dementia. Stay connected with your friends, after all we do choose our friends! Volunteer, start a walking group, join a book club……the sky is the limit.
Lastly, you must keep your brain active and challenged. Whether it’s learning a new language or musical instrument, the important thing is that it’s something new to you. By learning new skills and challenging yourself, you are taking advantage of neuroplasticity or brain plasticity. This enables us to engage in new learning and work on building our cognitive reserves. We are never too old for new learning or too young to begin challenging our brains! Brain exercises are another tool in our arsenal to help stave off Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia.
At BrainMasters, we provide you with the activities, tools, and exercises to challenge your brain and feed your mind! Our classes are facilitated by certified and licensed Speech-Language Pathologists. BrainMasters classes are conducted in an interactive and entertaining group setting combining the social and brain components for longevity and aging in place. After all, don’t we all want to maintain our independence?