Brain Training & Other Ways to Improve Brain Function by Stacy Alexander

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Human health depends largely on the brain’s ability to function properly. The brain is the most important organ in the body, as it controls all functions, including the ability to heal. However, when it comes to health, the brain is largely ignored. There are certain things one can do to help improve brain function, including nutritional intake, brain training, meditation and other brain exercises.

Nutrition

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According to an article published by Harvard Medical School, what one eats directly affects the function and structure of the brain and, ultimately, one’s mood.

Like a precision-built luxury car, the human brain functions optimally when it gets only the best, high-powered fuel. Consuming high-quality foods that contain a lot of minerals, vitamins, and antioxidants, serves to nourish the brain and protect it from oxidative stress.

Just as that precision-built luxury car will not run well on inferior fuel, the brain can actually be damaged if one ingests anything other than premium fuel. Eating refined sugars and highly processed foods can harm the brain. In addition to harming the body’s ability to regulate insulin, they promote oxidative stress and inflammation.

Multiple scientific studies have found a relationship between a diet high in refined sugar and negatively impaired brain function. Additionally, there has been a worsening of the symptoms of certain mood disorders, such as depression.

Exercise

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Exercise prompts the human brain to work at optimum capacity by prompting nerve cells to multiply, which strengthens their interconnections and protects them from damage. When one exercises, his or her nerve cells release neurotrophic factors, which are types of proteins. One of these proteins in particular, triggers numerous other chemicals that promote brain health and that positively benefit cognitive functions, including one’s ability to learn.

Exercise also results in:

  • The production compounds that protect the brain’s nerves
  • Increased blood flow to the brain
  • Improved development and survival of neurons
  • Decreased risk of cardiovascular diseases such as stroke

Sleep

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Sleep is essential for creativity and problem solving. Another study conducted by Harvard Medical School suggests that people are as much as 33% more likely to infer connections between distantly related ideas after sleep, but that most people do not realize their performance has improved. Sleep can enhance memory and help improve brain function with regard to challenging skills. The study found that one night’s sleep lasting from 4 to 6 hours can positively impact one’s ability to think clearly the following day.

Brain Training

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One of the easiest ways to boost brain function is to continually strive to learn new things. The structure and size of neurons, as well as the connections between them change as one learns.

Learning is not limited to things one necessarily learns from books. It can also include such activities as traveling to new places, learning how to play, write or sing music, learning to speak a language other than one’s own or becoming a part of community and other social activities.

Challenging the brain with various mind training activities and exercises can keep the brain fit as one ages. These exercises do not have to be elaborate. They can be as simple as trying to recall the names of all of the states, or attempting to recall as many names as possible that begin with a certain letter of the alphabet. Crossword puzzles are great ways to exercise the brain, as are playing the types of board games, such as chess, that require contemplation.

Research suggests that even surfing the Internet activates specific regions in the brain that are related to complex reasoning and decision-making. Unlike passively viewing television, surfing the web is more engaging and can actually help improve one’s brainpower.

Stacy Alexander

MS Psychology

D- Cisisions

 

 

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If you make an appointment with your doctor to  complain about  a backache or joint pain, chances are, you will end up with a prescription for a potentially-dangerous painkilling drug.  Oftentimes,  your doctor may recommend surgery.

If you have risk factors for heart disease, as my husband has, you will probably be told to take a statin drug for the rest of your life.  The side effects of taking the drug will most likely  be downplayed.   And what about depression?  Has your doctor prescribed some massively dangerous antidepressant for that?

Do you have weak, brittle  bones?  Oh, there’s  pharmaceutical “solution”  for that as well.  Trouble with retaining memories?   Your friendly  Pharma has a pill for that too.

Screen Shot 2016-02-21 at 12.47.05 PM Granted these are real issues that go along with many other common “age-related” health issues.  However, the possibility exists that they are also just symptoms of a common vitamin deficiency, so if you see a doctor, make sure that it is one who has had thorough nutritional training, because the majority of doctors do not.  Most medical schools only require 3 hours of nutritional training, and some don’t even require that.

Vitamin D  deficiency can lead to all of the above-mentioned symptoms.  They can all  be corrected very  easily, quickly  and inexpensively.  Before you stop reading because you’re under the impression that you are getting sufficient D, please consider this.  According to my own doctor,  an amazing 75% of adults in the United States have insufficient vitamin D levels.

Too few doctors monitor their patients’  vitamin D levels.  As previously mentioned, learning about nutrition in med school and, therefore, gaining the ability to accurately diagnose nutritional deficiencies is an almost a non-existent part of their medical  training.

Vitamin D deficiency has reached epidemic proportions for one simple reason:people don’t get enough sun exposure.   Our bodies can only produces vitamin D in response to ultraviolet rays.  The human body is designed to spend most of the time outdoors, yet most people spend the largest percentage of  our days inside.   Additionally, public health officials declared war on the sun decades ago, urging people not to go outdoors without first slathering themselves in sunscreen.   The truth is, moderate sun exposure is actually good for you.  While sunscreens do protect the skin, they also block 100% of vitamin D production.  Also, most brands contain toxic chemicals that do more harm than they do good.   A solution?

I only use Pangea Organics cosmetic  products that contain an excellent all-natural sunscreen.  Additionally, I take 10,000 IUs of Michael’s brand of Vitamin D3 with Vitamin K2.

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Now I’m not recommending a dosage for anyone because I am not qualified to do so.  What I do recommend, however, is that you do seek out a nutritionally cognizant physician or Naturopath and discuss this matter and ask for a recommendation about how much you should take for your specific body type and weight.

My own life has changed exponentially since I increased my dosage….for the better.

The Writing Life

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The Mills Brothers  released their hit  “Too Many Irons in the Fire” in 1946.  70 years later, this song could be designated my theme song. Yet, how many irons are too many?  I suppose that much is subjective.

I live a multi-faceted existence and always seem to have a lot of irons in the fire.  With the onset of the new year, however, I find myself busier than ever, but I am also happier than ever, and with great hope for the future.

I am working on opening a new business and have been developing workshops and programs for that, gathering partners and finances, and creating a dynamic endeavor that may take a couple of years to get off the ground, so  I continue to work on other things as I focus on getting this done.

A friend, who is a former celebrity client from a decades-ago stint I did with an entertainment law firm, contacted me over the holidays to ask if I would be part of a $25 million capital raising campaign with a view toward producing 5 new independent films.  I will be working in the capacity of a consultant, designing social media promotions and campaigns, but won’t know many details until some time next week. This will be my first MOIP-related, salaried work I have done since I received my masters degree, and while I’m excited about the work, this is not what I’ll be doing professionally, in the long run, but that is another story for another time.

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In addition to my art work, a large part of my vocational time is spent writing.  I have my various creative writing projects going on….my cookbook, my novel, my poetry and short stories, all of which take the back burner too often in favor of the writing work that I get paid for.

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Over the last 48 hours, I have written essays on the world-renowned Monte Pascoal cigars, Missouri fly fishing, eyeliner, the Bakken oil fields, Maternity photo shoots and the merits of portable ballet barres.  I have written essays for a graphic design company, two criminal law firms, a judge, an artist and a physician whose specialty is the treatment of diabetes.  I have a long list of articles to complete today, and another list of articles that I will have to complete from our retreat at Lake Tahoe.

I have honed article writing down to a fine art and can knock out what my editors designate as “high quality” writing in a very short period of time.  My research skills were honed to perfection while I was in graduate school, and I am able to produce many articles in a short period of time.  All this, is in addition to writing the Chinese fashion catalog that provides an endless stream of work.

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Admittedly, I do not feel a lot of passion about the paid writing that I do.  My heart lies with my creative work, but the paid work provides a good income, and I rather enjoy it.  It isn’t what I intend to do over the long run, but for now, it is fine.

I work through a number of different agencies.  Over the years, my ranking has risen to the top with many of these agencies, and I have received a more noteworthy status than I once had as a hack writer.  Today, I am frequently notified by editors and former clients, so that the majority of the work I do is for private clients or special projects.

My work involves long hours and intense concentration, and, therefore, results in my having to make a special efforts to exercise and stay healthy.  This work can be all-consuming, and it is as easy to forget to eat and exercise as it is to breathe.  There have been days when I have started work before the sun came up, and ended it well after midnight.

In this new year, I shall endeavor to moderate my writing into a more manageable enterprise.  I vow to place my health first, and to exercise twice a day, beginning each morning with  yoga and a long walk, and doing a concentrated aerobic effort each afternoon. I have been doing this three times a week, but I am going to up the ante.

This freedom to arrange my schedule as I want it is the primary reason I continue to pursue the writing life.  This freedom to travel.  This freedom to begin and end work when I want.  The freedom to take off a half hour when my best friend calls, or the freedom to stop what I’m doing to pick Ingrid up from school.  These are the reasons that I write.

Tomorrow, as my friends go to their offices and get snagged in rush hour traffic, I will be departing for Reno/Tahoe.  THIS is why I engage in the writing life.  This freedom to leave when I want or to sleep as late as I want …..although I am an early riser….this freedom is why I write.

 

 

 

Sick All the Time…..

Have you ever known someone who was sick virtually all the time?  Not REALLY sick…such as an illness caused by a life threatening disease such as cancer or kidney failure …but someone who spends most of his or her life in bed complaining of unspecific symptoms?  It could be a headache…or a backache….or a sore thumb….or heart palpitations.  It could manifest as allergies or cold symptoms or low energy or even a mild fever.  This is what is known as Somatic Symptom Disorder or Hypochondria.   These people are often anxiety ridden, fearful, angry or all three, and they do not know how to remedy their situations, so they take to their beds with virtually every symptom under the sun. The illnesses and symptoms frequently shift from one thing to another, all in the name of avoiding something in their lives that is unpleasant…whether past, present or fear of something in the future.

While the symptoms of Hypochondria are not, in and of themselves, dangerous, convincing oneself of an illness that doesn’t exist can actually lead to that or other diseases occurring.  A study conducted by the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, suggests that the anxiety associated with Somatic Symptom Disorder can actually lead to the physical manifestation of the malady being imagined.

What causes Somatic Symptom Disorder?  Well….There are many causes, and many of them go hand-in-hand.  For example the person in a bad relationship where there is physical violence, verbal abuse, threats, public humiliation, embarrassment can fit into several different categories and can manifest the symptoms of Hypochondria in various ways.

Here are some of the causes:

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  • A History of Physical and/or Sexual Abuse Observing or experiencing physical and sexual abuse, particularly as a child, but also as an adult, can result in a heightened sense of physical vulnerability and lead a person to suspect serious health issues when they are not present. A history of abuse can also lead a person to feel a sense of insecurity in their interpersonal attachments, which causes them to engage in compensatory care-seeking behavior.
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  • A Bad Relationship  Hypochondria can occur when someone is part of an abusive relationship, especially if one is does not have strong coping skills.  People who have difficulty expressing their true emotions, whether it is due to the way they were raised to behave or to traumatic past experiences or fear of their current abusive  situations may develop symptoms of feigned illnesses as a coping mechanism.  The illnesses they manifest take them out and keep them under cover (literally) until they can feel safe again
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  • Unhappiness   Chronically unhappy individuals can also manifest symptoms of Hypochondria to take their minds off of their problems.  For instance, a person who is unhappy in her job, or the man who is hooked up with a woman he doesn’t want to be with can convince herself or himself that a true illness exists as a means of coping with his or her unhappiness.
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  • Serious Illnesses or Deaths of Family Members or Friends Seriously ill family members or friends can create an environment, for a child especially, where love and attention are directly linked to illness. Observing this, the child may assume that they must be ill to deserve love and attention, and continue to hold this belief subconsciously even into adulthood. When a close family member or friend dies, at any point in a person’s life, the shock and grief related to the death can easily trigger fear and obsessive concerns about personal health.
  • Difficulty in Expressing Emotions People who have difficulty in expressing their emotions, whether it is due to the way they were raised to behave or to traumatic past experiences that caused them to feel “safer” at an emotional distance from other people, may find that the only way to connect emotionally with others is to provoke concern in them regarding potential health problems. A person who does this may not even realize they are doing it, apart from being aware on some level, perhaps even subconsciously, that being sick and having people worry about them makes them feel better.
  • A Hypochondriacal or Overly Protective Parental Figure or Spouse   Learned behavior from a hypochondriacal caregiver is a prominent cause of hypochondria. Behaviors taught to a person during childhood are likely to persist into adulthood by helping to form their beliefs about the world around them.  A child with a hypochondriac as a caregiver is likely to believe that it is healthy to constantly question one’s health, and that a primary feature of the world around them is that it is a highly dangerous and unhealthy place. An overly protective caregiver instills many of the same lessons into a person during childhood, while also teaching them the notion that people who care about them ought to worry constantly about their health and be highly receptive to their health complaints, even when they are minor.

Learning the specifics of the cause behind a person’s hypochondria is the first step towards addressing their core beliefs about why illness “needs” to be a part of their life and cultivating healthier beliefs to replace them, so that eventually they can be healthy, happy, and even happy to be healthy.  If that doesn’t work, antidepressants might.