Tag Archives: brain

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

Uncommon Scents – The Nose Knows…..

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Screen Shot 2015-10-24 at 9.49.38 AMThe sense of smell  is an ancient sense. All living things, from single-celled bacteria to the most accomplished hound dog, can detect chemicals in their environment. Odors are molecules, after all, and olfaction is just the vertebrate version of chemical sensing.  I have a particularly sensitive olfactory system.  It isn’t that I can detect scents that other people can’t detect.  It’s that scents tend to have a greater affect on me.

Our sense of smell is distinct from our other senses.  We are able to  create rich descriptions for our favorite objects by expressing their colors or shapes or sizes or  textures. Sounds, we can describe, by talking about their volume, pitch and tone. Yet it’s almost impossible to describe a scent without comparing it to another familiar aroma. Our sight, taste and hearing come from  “sensory memos”  that are delivered straight to the part of the brain called the thalamus,  and from there out to the primary sensory cortices. But sents winds its way through other brain regions, including the centers for memory and emotion, before reaching the thalamus.

When I was studying neuroscience, we learned that none of our senses reaches our consciousness without first passing through the thalamus.  Where scents are concerned,  you have all this basic brain processing before you have conscious awareness of what they smell like. An assortment of internal and external factors influences how we perceive a particular scent.  For instance, sweet smells can reduce pain by activating the brain’s opoid systems.   So…if the next time you have a nagging headache caused by tension or other minor causes, you make a point of going out for coffee at your favorite bakery, you might quickly discover the headache going away as the fragrances of freshly baked cookies waft through your nostrils and up to your brain.

I have diffusers in every room of our home, and I have my specific mixtures of essential oils that are always burning. My favorite fragrance of all times is lavender.   For energy, I typically diffuse blood orange and peppermint with a drop or two of lemongrass.  However, since I usually have a high level of energy with or without essential oils doing their magic, I usually diffuse oils that help with concentration and creativity.  This is typically a mixture of frankinscense, myrrh and sandalwood, with  a drop….a single drop…of patchouly. (I go through about five of the large Doterra bottles of frankinscense a month.)   It is with the help of this particular mixture that I recently completed two songs that are in a publisher’s office in Nashville going through their third round of consideration for publication.  It is with this mixture of scents that I recently completed a lucrative art commission and it is with this mixture, that I have done my best creative writing and my most delicious and creative cooking.  It works, folks.

When our little granddaughter went through a strong bout of anxiety prior to beginning her kindergarten year of school, I diffused vetiver for her and guided her through some meditations that were designed to eliminate anxiety in children.  Poof!  Gone.  And without the anti-anxiety drugs that are pumped into so many children these days.

Yesterday, John gifted me with a bottle of a new fragrance by Fiele Fragrances called, “Pogostemon.”  It smells very much like the oils that I diffuse in our home.   The Fiele frangrance line is my new passion.  I am wild about each and every scent, but the Pogostemon is my very favorite.  I’m wearing it this morning, as I type this.

The essential oil that is used in making this particular perfume is extracted from the leaves of the Pogostemon plant and is well known for its deep and earthy aroma, most commonly referred to as patchouly….but not.

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Patchouly is a scent that  is commonly used  to reduce tension, insomnia and anxiety, while being a mood lifter.  The scent is  rich and intoxicating, and  has been used throughout history as an aphrodisiac, however, it has a bad rap becasue of the poor quality versions people often associate wit the 60’s….that strong, overwhelming, powerful, knock-your-socks off fragrance.   The specific type of patchouli used in Pogostemon perfume  is used in many of the finer fragrances today.  This type of patchouly is a dark variety that is cultivated in Indonesia.  The aroma is  a distiinctive, rich, warm and delicious one that has a powdery note, thanks to the addition of vanilla absolute, tonka bean absolute and cocao absolute.  It is truly divine.

I want to procure all of the Fiele line of fragrances.  Each one is special and beautiful.  The Pogostemon is a start, and I am grateful to my sweet husband for gifting me with this fragrance.  I wish you could take a whiff right now.  It is divine.   It really is.

The Perils of Songwriting…

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You know, I’ve always been a pretty good songwriter.  I could sit down at a keyboard and hammer something out relatively quickly, and it would be decent….not great, but decent.  However, now that I am taking this songwriting course from the Berklee College of Music, I am finding myself drift over to left brained thinking more, leaving my creative right lobes hungry for more substance.  Things are no longer flowing as easily and naturally as before.  Songwriting that was once easy for me is now more difficult as I struggle with all of these terms and the methodology behind them.  I know it will all come together as I keep going, but right now, it is challenging.  Fortunately, I welcome a good challenge.

Last week, we learned about assonance rhyme and additive rhymes.    This week, we are working with plosives and family rhymes.  Rhyme schemes and consonate rhymes.  We are learning when to use single syllable words and we are learning what makes a rhyme or thought stable or unstable.   The course is fascinating….but sometimes, I wish I could go back to my carefree way of writing that didn’t involve so much thinking about things!

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My country and western song, “Call Me When the Coast is Clear”  is starting to shape up, though.  If I can learn to apply all of this theory, I might actually have something!