Don’t Worry, Be Happy

Stress is a normal response to a danger or threat. Everyone feels stress – it is what drives us to succeed. A problem arises, however, when we have too little stress (a problem many of us cannot relate to) or too much stress, especially if the stress becomes overwhelming or prolonged.

When the brain perceives a stressful situation, it releases a stress signal – either cortisol or adrenaline. In small amounts, these chemicals can have a positive effect on the brain, for example, the adrenaline rush before a deadline helps you get that extra focus that you need to get your project done. Continue reading “Don’t Worry, Be Happy”

Sleep On It

Hemmingway said: “I love sleep. My life has a tendency to fall apart when I’m awake, you know”. Well sleep isn’t just important for escaping life’s worries. It’s actually critical for healthy living. Although it isn’t well understood exactly why we need to sleep, it is clear that we cannot function without it. In the short-term, sleep deprivation causes memory problems, impaired immune system function, attention deficit, and even hallucinations. Chronic sleep deprivation is associated with an increased risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and obesity. Research shows that we need to get regular, consistent sleep (ideally about 8 hours). Continue reading “Sleep On It”

Take Your Brain for a Walk

We know that exercise is good for your heart, your waistline, and your muscles. But did you also know that exercise is really good for your brain?

Exercise has been shown to increase levels of proteins in the brain called “neurotrophins” (for example, BDNF, or brain-derived neurotrophic factor). Neurotrophins help protect our brain cells (neurons) against damage and death. Neurotrophins have also been associated with helping the brain grow new neurons, a process called “neurogenesis”.  Until recently, we thought that the human brain was unable to make new neurons – that we were stuck with the cells we were born with. We now know, however, that we can grow new neurons. There are several triggers – one is exercise. These new cells are known to develop in a very specific area of the brain, which is important for learning and memory.

So, exercise (and its effects on the brain) helps protect our brain cells and helps grow new ones too. Continue reading “Take Your Brain for a Walk”

You Really Are What You Eat

Our diet is what gives us many of the nutrients that we need to live, including carbohydrates, fat, protein, vitamins and minerals. These first three are used to make energy for our cells. And our brain is an energy sponge. It consumes 20 percent of your body’s energy, despite only making up 2 percent of your total body weight.

Like the rest of our body, the brain is mostly water. The remainder is mostly fat. Fat plays a particularly critical role in brain health. Not the saturated or “trans” fats that you hear about in the media, but healthy fat. The fats found in your brain are primarily polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs). These PUFAs play an important role in the function of your brain cells. Most notably, they are involved in communication within and between brain cells.

We truly “are what we eat”. Continue reading “You Really Are What You Eat”

Brain Games Help You Gain

What if we said that you could boost your brain power? What if we said that you could do it in 20 days, working only 90 minutes each day? Sound like a bad infomercial? It’s not. Our brain is incredibly complex and dynamic organ. Connections between neurons are constantly being strengthened and weakened. This allows us to quickly learn new information but also forget or ignore less relevant information. Scientists refer to this as “neuroplasticity”. Using what scientists know about neuroplasticity, you can strengthen your brain by doing regular mental exercises. Continue reading “Brain Games Help You Gain”