Monday, May 14, 2012

The A-List: Ways to Build a Better Brain

The more I read about the human brain, the more amazed I am.  I know that people often compare brains to computers, and there are some similarities.  But the brain is so much more complex than that!  We have been studying it for centuries, and we still don't know all of the secrets that it has to offer.  One thing that we DO know, however, is that the brain that goes unused tends to deteriorate.  I saw this with my father-in-law; once he stopped working, he went downhill very fast into Alzheimers.  I also have seen this in children brought in for special education testing.  If a child has been stuck at home(as in never leaves the house) without  anyone to talk to them or read to them, we certainly can't expect them to talk or read as well as those kids who have had that in their homes, but those kids are at a disadvantage from the beginning of their school careers.

I am not a neurologist, and I do not have a PhD.  I do not spend hours in a lab with electrode-embedded rats.  So this is not, nor should it be considered to be, medical advice.  These are MY ways of keeping my own electrodes firing on most cylinders.  I am just sharing, because that is what I do. This is what works for me.

Nutrition  Good nutrition makes for good brain, we all know this.  Unfortunately, it is the rare child or adult who will bypass a deep fat fried chicken nugget for a hunk of broccoli.   We are all programmed to go for the tasty stuff, but that isn't always the healthiest.   I've seen those books out there who advocate 'sneaking' veggies into the food via purees and such, but I am way too ridiculously lazy to do that, and I think it is a bit unethical to lie to your children about food.  But the nutrition has to come in there somewhere.  So taking a multivitamin is a good idea, preferably one that has DHA or Omegas in it for extra brain support.  The pediatricians in most places can recommend a few to try.   

Outside   People need to be outside at least an hour a day.  They need to be playing or working, but they need to be outdoors, and so do you.  We all need Vitamin D and we can get that via sunlight. Staying indoors all the time isn't good for anyone. Exercise of any kind gets the blood circulating everywhere, and that includes the brain.  The more blood circulating, the better the brain works.  Being outdoors means breathing fresh air instead of air conditioned air, which is a good thing.  Being outdoors means flowers and sunshine and earth.  It means walking in the cool grass with bare feet or hunting for lightning bugs.  It means kicking a soccer ball, or flying a kite, or just sitting, if you can't do anything else.  If you are allergic to something, take your epipen along or your inhaler.  The benefits of being outdoors outweigh the possibility of a bee landing on you. 

Language  The very best way for a child to learn language is to hear it, yet there are a lot of parents who never speak to their babies because they think it is silly.  It is not silly.  The more words a child is exposed to early, the better they speak.  The better they speak, the better they read. They've done studies...lots and lots of studies.  It's all connected, in the brain as well as out in the world. Where I live, I am as gringa as they come, but I still keep trying to pick up Spanish.  Because when you're an adult and worried about the brain deteriorating, what is the best way to help yourself?  Learning a new language.  Even if you feel that you are hopeless with learning a new language, a word-a-day calendar can work wonders.  When you look at a new word, think about how that word connects with words that you already know; that will help with remembering it. 

Adventures   My parents used to haul my brother and I all over the place on trips to different countries, different museums, different parks.  I might not have liked these trips at the time, but when I found out that some people have never even left the town they live in, I thanked my parents for their foresight.  Having adventures builds up the brain by building new connections to prior learning.  Actually going to the Capitol is not the same as studying it at school.  Seeing an elephant is not the same as reading about it or watching one on television. We all could do with a little more adventuring in our lives!  Go exploring a local park that you've never been to.  Take a drive to a part of your state that you've never seen before.  Being in new places, having new experiences, meeting new people...these are all good for the brain, even if it doesn't seem that way at the time.   Just ask my friend Red, who is on a quest to explore Australia, one town at a time.   She is quite the adventuress!

Problem-solving   Some of my favorite games when I was growing up were puzzle games like Memory or Clue.  I was not big on Monopoly, and not just because my brother usually won.  I also enjoyed mystery novels as a kid.  I had no idea that I was building a better brain by indulging in my natural tendency to 'puzzle' things out, but that is what I was doing.  The thrill for me was figuring these things out on my own, without any help. Puzzle or Mystery games offered that.  Puzzles of all kinds are the key.  Rubik's Cube works on problem-solving AND visual spatial skills.  Soduku puzzles work on math skills as well as problem-solving.  Mystery games(except for that Mystery Date game--lame!)  or mystery stories work on deduction skills.  Look and find books are also a great idea--finding Waldo requires attention to details to solve the problem, which is also another vital brain skill.  I loved it when I knew that Miss Scarlet had beaned Professor Green in the head with that lead pipe; I felt incredibly smart for at least an hour!

Did I miss any?

1 comment:

I welcome comments, but reserve the right to correct your spelling because I am OCD about it!