Your brain is amazing and impacts everything you do — every thought, word, action, behavior, and feeling – literally every single thing. However, most of us know less about the complex command center in our heads, with abilities surpassing even the most sophisticated computer, than we do our smartphones.
You can’t see your brain (or anyone else’s for that matter). So, it’s easy to forget about it and not worry about what kind of shape it’s in because it doesn’t have to fit into jeans or follow the latest style trend.
I know I was guilty of this.
I used to never give my brain any thought — until I had a brain injury — and my brain no longer worked the way it had all of my life previously. When your brain doesn’t function correctly anymore, you realize just how much it impacts every aspect of your life very quickly! After my injury, I learned everything I could about my brain and about how to help it heal and return to optimal function — or maybe it was more like getting it to optimal function for the first time in my life.
What I learned was that our brains are fascinating, morphing superpowers in our heads and that we all have much more power to influence our brains’ health, form, and function than was previously believed. I had not even begun to appreciate or maximize my brain’s abilities to my benefit. That began a love affair and an obsession with all things brain that continues to this day for me.
Here are some cool bits of info you might be interested to know about your brain.
A fifth of your blood supply is devoted to your brain.
This is why heart health and brain health are integrally connected. By keeping your heart healthy, you also lower your risk for brain problems such as stroke and dementia. What is good for your heart is good for your brain and vice versa.
- According to the American Heart Association, in a meta-analysis of four longitudinal studies, the risk for dementia associated with heart failure was found to be nearly two-fold.
- A type of dementia called vascular dementia can happen as a result of changes in the blood supply to the brain. Cognition and brain function can be significantly affected by the size, location, and number of vascular changes. Vascular dementia is most often managed with medications to prevent strokes and reduce the risk of additional brain damage. Living a healthy lifestyle is important to reduce the risk factors of vascular dementia.
- Of all the types of physical exercise, cardiovascular exercise that gets the heart beating – from walking to skiing, tennis, and basketball – has been shown to have the greatest positive benefits for the brain. Research shows that physical exercise improves memory and thinking skills, mood and creativity, and learning while reducing depression, age-related decline, and the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s.
Memories are more likely to last if they contain emotion.
Learning (or the opposite, forgetting) occurs in your brain through what’s known as the information processing system. All incoming stimuli, everything you see, hear, or smell, goes first into short-term memory, which is similar to your email inbox. Information is held here for a few seconds before it’s either attended to by working memory or discarded. Unless you make a specific effort to notice and record some particular incoming information, a large portion of what’s taken in by your brain is never processed and learned.
However, you remember emotional memories better without even trying. Researchers have identified a mechanism in the brain that tags information associated with emotion for enhanced memory storage. High-frequency brain waves in the brain’s amygdala, the emotional center, and hippocampus, a key memory center, are critical for tagging emotional memories and making them longer lasting.
Your brain constantly rewires itself to become an organ that is physically different from what it was yesterday.
In every moment of your life, every single thing of which you are aware – sounds, sights, thoughts, feelings – and even things you are not aware of – unconscious mental and physical processes – are based in and can be directly mapped to neural activity in your brain. What you do, experience, think, hope, and imagine is always expressed as electrical activity in your brain which physically changes your brain through what is called experience-dependent neuroplasticity.
The neurological explanation of how neuroplasticity happens can get complicated, but the basic concept is simple: every minute of every day you are shaping your brain. Neuroplasticity is an umbrella term for a sequence of processes taking place in your brain over time in response to incoming stimuli. Your experiences, behaviors, thoughts, and emotions physically change the form and function of your brain. In other words, your life shapes your brain.
It used to be believed that neuroplasticity only occurred during critical periods in childhood. While it’s true that plastic change happens much easier in childhood, your brain is making changes until the day you die. As an adult, you can even learn to encourage and guide neuroplastic change to help you. Learning how to do this, helped me recover from a brain injury.
Sleep-deprived drivers have brains similar to drunk drivers.
Insufficient sleep is a huge problem — so much so that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) declared it a public health epidemic similar to the warnings issued about smoking cigarettes decades ago. The statistics are shocking and have been sounding the danger alarm for years about this issue. In 2009, a CDC analysis reported: “Among 74,571 adult respondents in 12 states… 4.7 percent reported nodding off or falling asleep while driving at least once in the preceding month.”
A Sleep Foundation article stated:
After approximately 18 hours of being awake, the effects on reaction time, vigilance, multi-tasking, and hand-eye coordination are comparable to having a blood alcohol content of 0.05%. After 20 hours of being awake, drowsy drivers are impaired on a level equatable to 0.08 percent blood alcohol content, which is the current legal limit in most states. After 24 hours awake, impairment is equivalent to a blood alcohol content of 0.1%.”
I don’t know about you, but I find that scary considering the level of sleep deprivation that is prevalent!
Playing with a pet increases happy hormone levels.
I probably don’t have to tell you this… Just stroking your dog, cat, bird, guinea pig, iguana, or any other animal friend (or even someone else’s) can increase the happy neurochemicals in your brain. Several studies show that having a pet can reduce depression, encourage healthier habits, and increase feelings of connectedness because pets have a profound positive impact on our brains. (I have a purring cat snuggled in my lap as I write this.)
Cuddling and interacting with a pet causes our brains to release oxytocin, a neurotransmitter linked to bonding, love, and affection. Oxytocin slows down heart rate, lowers blood pressure, and reduces the production of the stress hormone, cortisol. Oxytocin is associated with building trust and feeling safe. Basically, our pets help our brains calm down and feel happier.
Interactions with our furry friends also boost levels of beta-endorphins and dopamine. Beta endorphins are one of three endorphins released in the human brain. They bind to the opioid receptors, lowering bodily stress and increasing pain management. Beta endorphins also allow dopamine levels in our brains to increase. Dopamine can elevate motivation, boost energy, and heighten focus.
You have “mirror neurons” in your brain that allow you to feel the feelings of others.
Mirror neurons are distinctive types of neurons that fire when a person executes a motor action or simply observes another person performing an action. They were first discovered in the early 1990s when Italian researchers implanted electrodes in a monkey’s brain. Rather predictably, when the monkey ate a peanut, corresponding electrodes fired in his brain. No big deal. However, when the monkey watched a researcher eat a peanut, the same neurons fired. Big deal! Mirror neurons have since been identified in humans.
Subsequent findings show that the mirror neuron system responds only to acts of intention which means that, if I raise my hand and wave it in around the air randomly, your mirror neurons aren’t going to respond. However, if I raise my hand with a cup in it, your mirror neurons will predict, from experience, that I’m going to drink from the cup and get your mouth ready to drink as well.
Mirror neurons could help explain how and why we “read” other people’s minds and feelings and feel empathy for them. The possible implications of mirror neurons are far-reaching. Over the past decade, research has suggested that mirror neurons might help explain not only empathy but also autism.
Charitable actions increase happiness levels.
Research suggests that giving to others has health benefits and can make us happy – surprisingly even happier than giving to and doing for ourselves. Science has proven that performing acts of kindness can make you healthier and happier. Kindness and empathy help us relate to other people and have more positive relationships with friends, family, and even perfect strangers that we encounter in our daily lives. A wide range of research has linked different forms of doing good or altruism to better overall health and happiness, even among the sick, elderly, and depressed.
Volunteering helps lower mortality and depression rates and slows down the decline in physical health and cognitive function. Research has shown that volunteering offers many brain and health benefits, especially for older adults, including:
- Reduced stress and increased positive, relaxed feelings by releasing dopamine.
- Provides a sense of purpose and increases life satisfaction and self-esteem.
- Increased social interaction which studies show reduces stress, depression, memory decline, and more.
Experiences make your brain happier than possessions.
Eudaimonic happiness is the happiness that comes from meaningful pursuits, doing and being good, and creating a rich, full life through deep relationships, altruism, and purposeful self-expression. Studies link it to positive health benefits, including less reactivity to stress, less insulin resistance, higher good cholesterol levels, better sleep, and brain activity patterns linked to decreased levels of depression.
Hedonic happiness, as you might have guessed, is the happiness that comes from seeking pleasure or goal fulfillment simply for the good feelings you get in the moment and for the sake of pleasure itself. It’s just being there for the party. Simply being happy in this way — with little sense of personal meaning, may actually be bad for you, even though you’re happy.
In the study, Spending on experiences versus possessions advances more immediate happiness, researchers concluded that:
… people are happier with experiential purchases over material ones irrespective of when you measure happiness: before, during or after consumption. Experiences also provoke more satisfaction even though people typically spend more time using their material possessions. The researchers said a possible explanation is the endurance of experiences in people’s memories, while the perceived value of material goods weakens over time.”
Optimistic brains stay healthier longer than pessimistic ones.
Science finds that negative thinking may actually cause your brain to decline faster. It has been linked to an increase in the harmful proteins associated with Alzheimer’s disease. In one study, researchers found that people who had higher repetitive negative thought patterns experienced greater cognitive decline. These individuals specifically showed more memory decline, which is one of the first symptoms of dementia. The negative thinkers were also more likely to have amyloid and tau deposits in their brains.
The link between depression and dementia has been known for some time. Even anxiety has been shown to speed up brain aging. A 2020 meta-analysis reported that older adults with anxiety had a 57 percent higher risk of developing dementia. One study found that anxiety caused the brain to appear six years older.
The bottom line is that mental health IS brain health. And treating and correcting mental health issues can lower your risk of brain problems and even reverse brain decline.
This is a hoax.
According to the article, Can Our Brains Really Read Jumbled Words as Long as The First And Last Letters Are Correct?:
In fact, there never was a Cambridge researcher (the earliest form of the meme actually circulated without that particular addition), but there is some science behind why we can read that particular jumbled text….
‘Effectively, our brains construct an incredibly complex jigsaw puzzle using any pieces it can get access to,’ explained researcher Fraser Smith. ‘These are provided by the context in which we see them, our memories and our other senses.’
However, the meme is only part of the story. Matt Davis, a researcher at the University of Cambridge’s MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit, wanted to get to the bottom of the ‘Cambridge’ claim, since he believed he should have heard of the research before.
He managed to track down the original demonstration of letter randomisation to a researcher named Graham Rawlinson, who wrote his PhD thesis on the topic at Nottingham University in 1976.
He conducted 16 experiments and found that yes, people could recognise words if the middle letters were jumbled, but, as Davis points out, there are several caveats.
If you have a play around with this generator, you can see for yourself how properly randomising the middle letters of words can make text extremely difficult to read. Try this:
‘The adkmgowenlcent – whcih cmeos in a reropt of new mcie etpnremxeis taht ddin’t iotdncure scuh mantiotus – isn’t thelcclnaiy a rtoatriecn of tiher eearlir fidginns, but it geos a lnog way to shnwiog taht the aalrm blels suhold plarobby neevr hvae been sdnuoed in the fsrit plcae.'”
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