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

screen-shot-2016-09-18-at-8-22-12-am

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

Screen Shot 2016-09-04 at 12.09.09 PM

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

screen-shot-2016-09-18-at-8-24-39-am

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

screen-shot-2016-09-18-at-8-25-25-am

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

screen-shot-2016-09-18-at-8-26-21-am

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

The Writing Life

Screen Shot 2016-01-02 at 8.36.11 AM

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.

Screen Shot 2016-01-02 at 8.42.39 AM

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.

Screen Shot 2016-01-02 at 8.51.16 AM

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.

Screen Shot 2016-01-02 at 9.04.19 AM

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.

 

 

 

Lavender for Migranes

Lavender has been studied recently for several purposes including treatment of mood and anxiety disorders, as well as a number of other things. Its analgesic effect, however, its painkiller effect, is one of the widely studied properties. Surprising, then, that there hasn’t apparently been a single documented clinical trial to study lavender for the treatment of migraine headaches that affects tens of millions of Americans every year. Until now: “Lavender Essential Oil in the Treatment of Migraine Headache: A Placebo-Controlled Clinical Trial.”

Migraine sufferers were asked to—at the early signs of headache—rub 2–3 drops of the lavender essential oil onto their upper lip and inhale its vapor for a 15-min period of time and score the severity of their headache for the next two hours. In the control group they did the same thing except they used drops of basically unscented liquid wax. Neither group was allowed to use any painkillers. In the lavender group 74% of patients had an improvement in their symptoms, significantly better than placebo. Though in the study lavender wasn’t directly compared to more conventional treatments, lavender appears to stack up pretty well compared to typical drugs. Lavender helped about three quarters of the time, high dose Tylenol only works about half the time, and Ibuprofen 57% of the time. The #1 prescription drug, generic imitrex, is effective 59% of the time, and then the hardcore treatment they use in emergency rooms where they inject you under the skin, 70%. All of these work better than the original migraine therapy, known as trepanning, where doctors drilled a hole in your head to let the evil spirits escape.

Conclusion: The present study suggests that inhalation of lavender essential oil may be an effective and safe treatment modality in acute management of migraine headaches.

You can buy pharmaceutical grade lavender for $21 HERE.