Nature

This Is Your Brain

March 14, 2012 at 12:45 pm , by

Remember that out-there PSA where the guy holds up an egg (your brain) and cracks it into a pan? Then, as the egg fries, he says: “This is your brain on drugs.” Well, it may be time for another “your brain on…” PSA, but this time it would be about how to make your “egg” healthier.

Experts used to think that there was no way to prevent dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. But a slew of research from the past two years is starting to chip away at that, according to renowned Baltimore neurologist Majid Fotuhi, M.D., a member of our Medical Advisory Board. This week, he published a review in the prestigious journal Nature that covers what you can do to protect your brain from aging and dementia.

“It turns out your brain is not a fixed structure like your nose or ears,” Dr. Fotuhi says. “There are lots of things people can do to expand the size of their brain, and especially the part of their brain responsible for memory, called the hippocampus.”

It almost sounds too simple, but when it comes to your brain, bigger is actually better. Brain shrinkage is one of the main symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease, and several studies show having a large hippocampus improves your memory and protects you from dementia. So what works? Here are a few things that can change your brain—in a good way.

Exercise
Just three months of aerobic exercise can increase the size of your hippocampus enough that it can be seen by the naked eye on a brain scan, according to one study. Walk a mile a day or do 45 minutes of more vigorous aerobic activity three times a week.

Meditation
Stress and depression can shrink your brain, but meditation may protect you from it. Studies show that people who practice mindful meditation techniques can grow their hippocampus in as little as eight weeks, according to the review.

Learning
“Your brain cells are like your muscle cells. Use them or lose them,” Dr. Fotuhi says. By building new connections, your brain gets stronger and stays in shape longer. Take a class in a foreign language, learn to play chess or start reading up on a complicated topic.

For more on Alzheimer’s, read Lauren Bernstein’s darkly funny essay about worrying that every little memory lapse is a sign of impending dementia. How does she keep a sunny outlook when her family history puts her at risk?

Photo copyright pressmaster—Fotolia.com


The Five Best Things You Can Do For Yourself This Weekend

April 23, 2010 at 2:03 pm , by

springtime walk1. Lay off the sweet stuff.
Give up processed or packaged foods with added sugar for one whole day. Sure, eat fruit, whole grains or other natural complex carbs—you need them for energy. But new research shows that extra sugar raises your bad cholesterol and lowers your good cholesterol. Step away from the cupcake—and you’ll feel better and lose the cravings soon.
2. Hug a tree.
Communing with nature is one of the best built-in stress-busters we’ve got. It’s glorious, blooming spring in most parts of the country now, so before you tackle your long list of chores and errands this weekend, write at the top of the list: Go for a walk in the park (or the woods, or along the stream or up the mountain). Smell the flowers, feel the bark of a tree, dip your toe in the water, listen to the sound of the wind in the pine needles. Breathe deeply and be in the moment.
3. Let it out.
Studies have shown that when women bond with their friends, it lowers their blood pressure, heart rate and cholesterol. Had a rough week? Get it out and share! Then don’t forget to ask, “How are you feeling?” You’ll both be healthier.
4. Get it on.
Studies show that in a safe, committed relationship, regular sex improves intimacy, reduces stress, burns calories, and keeps you feeling young. It also helps you sleep better.
5. Hit the hay.
Writing down what’s keeping you up at night won’t solve your problems, but it does give you permission to set them aside to deal with them tomorrow. Get into bed early with a little notebook, write down what’s bugging you, then let it go and have sweet dreams!

Photo copyright AlienCat, Fotolia.com

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