Healthy Habits & The Nervous System

Healthy Habits & The Nervous System

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    A Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD, Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease), answered
    Renowned neurologist Dr. Majid Fotuhi believes push-ups – yes, just good old-fashioned push-ups – are the most important step to strengthening your “brain muscles” and preventing Alzheimer’s. Proper form, however, is key.

    Start on the floor, with your hands set at about a shoulder-width distance, angling your hands in a way that feels comfortable. Extend your legs, with your feet also in a comfortable position, generally shoulder-width apart or wider for more stability. Be sure your body is in one straight line from your head to your heels; avoid having your butt or belly either sagging or sticking up. Clenching your butt cheeks and tightening your abs will ensure you’ve engaged your core. Keeping your gaze forward, slowly lower until your elbows form a 90-degree angle, keeping your arms in tight to your body. Then, push yourself back up, still keeping your elbows tight and your core engaged.

    For additional support when first starting out, keep your knees bent on the floor and do modified push-ups. Either way, seven push-ups or more a day will help stimulate blood flow to your brain and generate new brain cells, which is the most effective weapon in fighting cognitive disease.
    This content originally appeared on doctoroz.com
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    A Dr. Vonda Wright, MD, Orthopedic Surgery, answered

    Sometimes you may feel like you are losing your mind, but with age we are actually losing our brain. We can fight this loss of vital real estate with brain exercise. Look on the Internet and you will find an entire industry built around brain exercises. They focus on the five main areas of cognitive function --memory, attention, language, visual-spatial skills, and executive function. I suggest checking them out, downloading a few, and using a few minutes of your "found time" each day to sharpen your most vital organ.

    Here are other simple ways to build your brain every day:

    • Memorize the lyrics to new music. Pop in a new tune every couple of days, and keep your brain hopping.
    • Use your left hand. I was born right-handed and started using my left hand to train my neuromuscular connections for surgery about 10 years ago. Now I'm nearly completely ambidextrous. Learning a new skill forces new neural connections. Yes, you really can teach an old dog new tricks.
    • Change your routine. When we get into a rut or routine, we use the same neural pathways over and over again. Simply change your daily routine, take another route home, or put your make-up on in a different order. This forces you to think through the process and re-engages your brain.
    • Multitask. To further break up your brain's habits, do several different activities at once. Read on the treadmill, listen to an educational CD in the car on the way home, jog a new route, etc.
    • Learn a new language. I'm not just talking about learning French and Italian here. I mean pick up a magazine on a subject you know nothing about and read a few articles. You will learn new vocabulary, pick up new information, and can share interesting new facts at your next cocktail party.
    • Get in your mind's eye. Next time you walk into a new room, quickly look around and try to memorize what you see. When you leave, try to recall everything you saw, where it was located, who was there. If it is an interesting place, describe the scene in detail to your dinner partner. If you are a visual learner, this might be easy for you. Pay attention and try to remember everything about the next conversation you have.
    • Reach out and say hello. Social interactions force our brains to strategize, solve problems, and anticipate and consider options. All these activities are called the brain's "executive function."
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    A Dr. Dawn Marcus, Neurology, answered
    Keeping in our theme of “are you kidding me?” medical research studies, the International Journal of Epidemiology published a study looking at the risk of developing brain cancer with cell phone use. Frankly, in most developed countries I rarely see people without a cell phone implanted on their ears, so I’m not sure how you’d find a control group of “typical” people who don’t use cell phones! Anyway, after spending 24 million -- yes, million! -- dollars to collect data over 10 years on how much people thought they used their phone, which ear they might have held a cell phone to, and whether they developed a brain tumor, the authors decided cell phone use probably doesn’t increase brain cancer risk, but maybe using the phone a lot might cause a problem.

    Hmm … here’s my 24 cent analysis. Cell phones are part of our society and that’s not likely to change until new technology replaces them. Talking on the phone a little is unlikely to be a problem. Even your Mom told you most things in moderation were okay! If you spend an excessive amount of time on the phone, that’s likely to be bad for your health. Why -- because of cell phone waves driving into your skull? No -- because talking on the cell phone prevents you from being connected with the actual world in front of you! Get off the phone and take Fido for a walk. Can you walk and talk on the phone? Well, you could, but you’d miss healthy opportunities to meet and engage with others you pass on the street or quiet mediation time or time to enjoy the beauty of your neighborhood. So should you limit your time on your cell phone? Absolutely! Not because you’re afraid that having it stuck to your ear will cause brain cancer, but because it’s an easy crutch to prevent you from getting and staying connected in your immediate world. So hang up the phone, walk your dog, and see what’s in the world around you. It’s healthier for you than spending 30 minutes talking to your friend about the latest celebrity gossip.


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    Exercise promotes blood flow to the brain and supplies the cells with oxygen and nutrients; in addition, it seems to boost brain hormones that help keep you focused, lowers memory-damaging amino acids and prevents—or possibly reverses—the natural brain shrinkage that begins in middle age.

    Taiwanese researchers found that middle-aged mice trained to work out on a treadmill every day for five weeks grew 2.5 times more new brain cells than mice that didn’t work out. Not only was the quantity of brain cells superior in the mice that worked out, but the quality of these cells was as well. Also, mice that began exercising in early middle age fared even better than mice that took to the treadmill in later middle age.

    Researchers at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland studied physical fitness and cognitive function in 460 human subjects, all surviving participants of the 1932 Scottish Mental Health Survey. They reviewed IQ data from the earlier study and administered the same cognitive test that participants had taken at age 11 to the 79-year-olds, looking at verbal reasoning, numerical and spatial skills. Then they tested their physical prowess, including grip strength, 6-meter walk time and lung function. What the researchers found was that higher fitness levels at age 79 were a significant predictor of higher cognitive test scores, indicating that physical fitness has a direct correlation to successful cognitive aging.

    Keep Your Wits by Walking

    A University of Illinois study used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI ) to measure brain volume in nearly 60 seniors. Half of the group was then put on a brisk walking regimen—one hour per day, three times a week—while the rest were assigned stretch-and-tone exercises. “After only three months, the people who [walked] had the brain volumes of people three years younger,” observed study coauthor Arthur Kramer, PhD. MRI s revealed no such improvements for the stretch-and-tone group, leading researchers to believe that walking pumps more blood to the brain, which in turn fuels the growth of new neurons.

    Exercise to the Beat for an Extra Boost

    A study in the New England Journal of Medicine found that among 450 seniors, all age 75, those who danced several times per week had the best defenses against mental deterioration. “The combination of music and exercise may stimulate and increase cognitive arousal while helping to organize cognitive output,” said study author Charles Emery, PhD.

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    AAARP answered
    You should take an afternoon catnap. Most of the concentration and memory benefits we get from sleep happen in the first stage, so even a snooze as short at 30 minutes can benefit your brain.
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    AAARP answered

    Research shows that when you're chronically sleep-deprived, your body doesn't have the time to build proteins and other brain-boosting components. So instead of waking yourself early, sleep until you wake naturally.

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    A Dr. Michael T. Murray, ND, Naturopathic Medicine, answered

    You may not need drugs to boost your serotonin levels; here are some good natural approaches:

    Psychological therapy has been shown to be as effective as antidepressant drugs in treating moderate depression. It is important to rule out the simple organic factors that are known to contribute to low serotonin levels, i.e., nutrient deficiency or excess, drugs (prescription, illicit, alcohol, caffeine, nicotine, etc.), hypoglycemia, hormonal derangement, allergy, and environmental factors. Depression is often a first or early manifestation of low thyroid function. Thyroid hormone appears to be necessary in the conversion of tryptophan to serotonin. Elimination of sugar and caffeine has been shown to produce significant benefits in clinical trials in patients with depression. This effect is due to improving the conversion of tryptophan to serotonin as well as other mechanisms. Increased participation in exercise, sports, and physical activities is strongly associated with decreased symptoms of anxiety, depression, and malaise, indicating an association with higher serotonin levels. 5-Hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) is the direct precursor to serotonin that is able to cross the blood-brain barrier and raise brain serotonin levels. As a result, supplementing the diet with 5-HTP has been shown to produce significant benefits in conditions linked to low serotonin, including depression, weight loss, headaches, and fibromyalgia. The starting dosage should be 50 milligrams (mg) three times per day. If the response is inadequate after two weeks, the dosage can be increased to 100 mg three times per day. Be sure to use 5-HTP in enteric-coated capsules or tablets (pills prepared so that they will not dissolve in the stomach); they significantly reduce the likelihood of nausea.
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    A Dr. Michael Roizen, MD, Internal Medicine, answered
    Sure, vacations are great for both your stress level and your sex life. But they can also help improve your cognitive skills.

    How? Well, for one thing, you'll probably use a map or at least a complex set of instructions at least once. When you're driving, walking, or studying the subway system of a new city, you're using so many different parts of your brain at once. You're using visual-spatial skills to read a map, and then you need to translate it into verbal code to whoever's driving (Honey, turn left! Now!).

    When you're driving, you need to make quick decisions about where to go, which involves processing information quickly. And then you store things in your long-term memory to remember where you just visited. Get lost? Even better. Figuring out how to get back actually contributes to the brain-building process.

    Of course, that kind of all-brain training can even serve important purposes. For the vacationer, taking a wrong turn may lead you to a quaint antique shop you'd never have known about. For a soldier in war, however, taking a wrong turn can have serious consequences.
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    A Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD, Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease), answered
    You're on a beach with a cold drink in one hand and a sizzling paperback in the other. The beach breeze kisses your face while the ocean tickles your toes. You hear gulls talking, waves crashing, and the steel-drum band jamming. You smell salt water and coconut sunscreen. Sound like paradise? Well, it's more than that.

    That quick mental picture just improved your brain function. See, daydreaming keeps your mind flexible. By stirring up the part of your brain that handles imagination, you keep your brain running outside of its normal thought process, which helps your cognitive function at the highest levels.

    Consider daydreaming an important part of your mental action plan. I just want your mind to stay active, so it's up to you what you daydream about, whether it involves Hawaii, Mt. Everest, or a throng of sweaty Chippendales.

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