5 min|Dr. Jam Caleda
Downward Dog the BrainMind Health
According to reputable science fiction enthusiasts, Mr. Fantastic (otherwise known as Reed Richards), can stretch approximately 1500 feet before he begins to experience pain (1). Safe to say this may be the limitation of his stretching power. But the intrinsic nature of questions answered reveals questions evolved. Does Mr. Fantastic’s intestines possess the same malleable resilience? At which point does his bladder stretch until he begins to feel the urge to urinate? How does his heart work when the chambers have to pump blood to extremities that are 1500 feet long? If he is ever diagnosed with a neurocognitive disorder can he change his neural structure back to normal?
The questions that perfuse my medical fiction bathed brain can be insomnia inducing, luckily there is lavender and chamomile for that. There doesn’t seem to be any evidence in comic book literature suggesting that Reed Richards can mold his brain, but studies done on neuroplasticity has revealed some interesting insight that melds sci-fi to sci-non-fi.
Neuroplasticity is a term, which describes the brain’s ability to change throughout the course of an animal’s life. As neurobiology advanced in the 20th century, research showed that the brain remained changeable even as the person aged into adulthood (2). The gray matter in our brains can actually shrink or enlarge, this is a response to how our neural connections behave. These neural pathways can be forged, weakened, or even severed. These brain changes show as changes in our abilities. For example when we learn how to skateboard it reflects a change in our physical brain.
As we continue to balance more efficiently on the board, new neural pathways are forged and strengthened. The less we practice these same pathways become weakened, until we ‘lose’ the skill to balance on a board which reflect a degraded or even severed neural connection. A famous study done 14 years ago showed that London taxi drivers have enlarged hippocampi, the areas of the brain that store a mental map of one’s surroundings.
Taxi drivers, it is assumed, have a better capacity for spatial memory because of the constant practice in distinguishing landmarks and spatial referencing (3). This is an exciting idea because it suggests that humans have an amazing capacity to mold their brains by practice. The clinical implications of this process can be profound. We can hack the property of neuroplasticity to help treat chronic pain, depression, anxiety, and reduce risk for neurocognitive disorders. But first, where to start?
I have compiled 10 simple activities and lifestyle choices that I like which effectively exercise the brain, and help build a positive mindset in the long run. Think of it as brain yoga.
Having the mindful presence of noticing your breath counts as meditation. Take a moment and you’re already there.
Omega 3 essential fatty acids have many properties, one of them is improving brain function. Research suggests that it is effective in inducing and sustaining neuroplasticity by increasing brain-derived neurotrophic factic that regulates the survival, growth and differentiation of brain cells (4).
Eat ½ of each plate in green leafy vegetables, and include a handful of nuts in your diet each day. These add essential vitamins and nutrients that enhance anti-oxidants and enhance cognitive skills
Researchers have shown that spatial memory and cognitive function improve with resistance exercise and aerobics through increased BDNF (5).
Navigate through the city without GPS
At least one drive or walk a week, try to get to a destination only using directions, a map, or memory. Or use an alternative route that you don’t normally take to a regular destination.
The Awesome Jar
I heard about this idea from a author named Tim Ferris. The idea is to have a jar in plain view that whenever you do something successful you write it down and put it in the jar. It can be as small as remembering where you left your keys to as big as saving someone’s life. The idea is to recall the positive things in your life and relive the celebratory moments that should be had. This will forge and strengthen those neural pathways of positive thinking.
Studies have shown that practicing yoga can elevate brain neurotransmitters which support an improvement in cognitive abilities and mood stabilizing. Other studies have shown yoga helping with mood regulation and concentration.
Learn a new skill
This process will actively help build that neural scaffolding of changing the physical matter in your brain.
This isn’t just for lazy slackers any longer. Sleep is one of the first things that are compromised when people begin to get more busy. Either stress levels reduce our ability to sleep, or other events become prioritized at the expense of sleep. Whatever the case may be, working to improve the quantity but more importantly the quality of sleep will make a world of difference in how your cognition functions throughout the day.
Play games for 10 min. a day
As previously discussed in "The Art of Play and How It Effects Your Body", games are very helpful in reducing the risk for neurocognitive disorders in the future, however they are also beneficial in improving brain performance as shown in this research paper by Eberhard Fuchs (6).
If you have any questions or comments please feel free to reply in our reply section below. Leave any future ideas on what questions or topics you may have. My attitude is gratitude for the time you’ve taken in reading this and I hope it adds some well needed brain stretching to your day.