On August 21, 2019 the Rev. Nathan Day Wilson joined the Lunch & Learn and presented very interesting and practical information about our brains. His talk included some of the science of the brain as well as ways to keep your brain healthy and vibrant. The key is to feed your body the right foods and to exercise your brain as you would the rest of your body.
Rev. Day Wilson has been interested in the brain since he was 14 years old when he lost a loved one to Alzheimer's disease. In college he started studying both in medical school and seminary, but soon realized this was too much. He decided to continue in seminary, but continued his passion of exploring the brain.
Popular science used to believe that the brain stopped growing when a person reached their mid-20's. But now we know that the brain keeps growing at all ages as long as it gets the right stimuli. The brain has several parts:
- The Reptilian Brain: "Fight or Flight"; what we have in common with all other animals
- The Mammalian Brain: what we share with all other mammals
- The Neocortex: the Crown Jewel of our brains. Contains the Hippocampus where all new memories are stored (adult neurogensis)
As we consider and apply the biblical passage "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength", we see that brain health is multidimensional.
Heart: Emotion is essential in organizing the brain. Relationships are the foundation, and healthy relationships help the brain grow better. Neurogensis is ignited when you feel good, and is negatively impacted when you do not.
Soul: The impact of spiritual practice has been shown to effect the body – and the brain. Mindfulness practices, such as meditation, the present moment, and paying attention on purpose can have a positive effect on the brain. For example, sit 10-20 minutes and concentrate on your breathing: breathing in and breathing out, or just concentrate on the phrase "Praise the Lord O my soul". Additionally, compassion practices can be positive for brain health — helping at a soup kitchen, Sunday School check in, Habitat for Humanity – something where you are consistently showing compassion for others.
Mind: Exercise and stimulate your mind. Studies show that the two times of greatest drop in cognitive stimulation are retirement and graduation; times when we think we are done and deserve a rest. Some good ways to exercise your mind are learning a foreign language or musical instrument, doing math, using your non-dominant hand to eat or brush teeth, organizing or cleaning, gardening — key is variety and being a life-long learner. Other excellent ways to stimulate your brain are travel, music, spending time in nature and having periods of silence each day.
Strength: Exercise increases neurogensis activity by 4-5 times. Aerobic exercise is best - getting your heart rate 50% higher than your normal resting rate. Walking, jogging, bicycling, swimming are good; also Yoga and Tai chi. In addition, touch can stimulate neurogensis.
Sleep is very important to overall health - and brain health. It can vary, but most people need 8 hours of sleep per day. During sleep, organs are repaired, memory is consolidated, the immune system is strengthened, and melatonin is produced.
Diet and nutrition is important to brain health.
The big 4 for brain health are:
2. Omega-3 Fatty Acids
3. Green Tea and Green Tea Extract
4. Curcumin (a supplement can be an effect way to get this)
The next top 6 are:
2. Ginseng Extract
3. Nuts: almonds, pistachios and peanuts (avoid salt)
4. Vitamin E (broccoli)
6. Mulberry (lotus root, grape seed extract, etc.)
Foods to avoid include simple sugar, excess carbohydrates, and bad fats. (See YouTube video "Sugar: The Bitter Truth" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dBnniua6-oM.)
Humor is very important. It can increase your immune system, reduce anxiety, stimulate creativity and thinking laterally, and protect your brain.
Three steps to take right now:
- Get your sleep
- Get Omega-3 acids (supplements, fish - especially salmon)
- Move around and learn