Modern medicine focuses on cures, not on lifestyle interventions that can prevent many diseases depending on a healthy immune system. Let’s actively boost our immune system to overcome deadly pathogens, carcinogens and self-inflicted wounds driven by anxiety and stress. Let’s realize that our immune system is at the core of our wellbeing, regulating our organism’s response to infections, cancer and autoimmunity.
Basics of the Immune System
The immune system is a sophisticated set of proteins, cells, tissues and organs working together to protect any organism. Even trees have rudimentary immune systems! Although its main goal is to repel infections, it also plays a role patrolling and controlling cancer while potentially able to trigger autoimmune diseases.
The immune system consists of a number of important players, described as members of a detective task force in chapter 2 of the free kindle book Mindful Framing:
T Cells: These are the major orchestrators of all the components in the immune system. Some types of T cells are able to recognize infected and cancerous cells and directly kill or destroy them. Other T cells assist or regulate the activities of other immune cells.
B Cells: These cells play a major role in producing billions of antibodies, tiny molecules that are always on the look out for pathogens and unwanted cells. B cells play a crucial role in controlling infections by tagging pathogens and cancer cells to be recognized by macrophages, but can also generate antibodies causing autoimmune diseases.
Macrophages: These cells recognize pathogens or unwanted cells that need to be removed while interacting with T cells, informing them which cells are allies or enemies.
Natural Killer Cells: These are rapid-response cells able to kill infected and cancerous cells, like the T cells, but just relying on certain markers not requiring the intervention of other immune cells.
Age and the Immune System
The elderly are more susceptible to infectious diseases, and unfortunately, more likely to die from them. This is because as we age, our immune system is less effective at combating infections, and less responsive to vaccines.
Why is this? As we age, the total number of T cells remain the same; however, the number of naïve T cells decrease. Naïve T cells are T cells that learn to recognize specific pathogens. They then develop into cells that are specialists in future encounters with those specific pathogens.
Additionally, senescent T cells, which are T cells that have deteriorated with age, are easily exhausted after becoming active and start producing inflammation-causing substances potentially leading to chronic systemic inflammation, such as rheumatoid arthritis, thyroiditis or lupus.
There also seems to be an association between nutrition and immunity in older individuals. The elderly can display micronutrient malnutrition, a form of malnutrition which occurs when one is deficient in various essential vitamins and minerals. This is because they tend to eat less and have a less diverse diet.
You can optimize your immune system by using these 4 infallible lifestyle interventions to boost its function:
Eat a healthy diet
There are many definitions of what a “healthy diet” is, but the general consensus is that it is one that is rich in fruits and vegetables and poor in processed foods. Research has shown that fruits and vegetables contain nutrients such as beta-carotene, and vitamins C and E, which can boost your immune function. In addition, fruits and vegetables are excellent sources of antioxidants which fight inflammation.
In particular, beta-carotene is a potent antioxidant that not only reduces disease-causing inflammation, but also boosts the immune system by increasing the number of immune cells in the body. Foods that are rich in beta-carotene include carrots, sweet potatoes, and green leafy vegetables.
Likewise, vitamin C is a potent antioxidant that aids in the destruction of free radicals. It also boosts the immune system in a number of ways. For instance, it promotes the production and coordinated function of T cells and B cells, and protects them from free radical damage. Lastly, vitamin C strengthens the skin barrier, preventing pathogens from entering the body in the first place. Good sources of vitamin C include oranges, strawberries, lemons, red peppers and other fruits and vegetables.
Vitamin E is another powerful antioxidant. Studies have shown that it increases the T cells ability to form an effective immune synapse. An effective immune synapse means having a close contact between immune system cells, essential for the proper functioning of the immune system. You can get Vitamin E from nuts, seeds, broccoli and spinach.
Having a balanced diet leads to a healthy gut, essential for a healthy immune system. That’s because the majority of your immune system resides in the gut, in fact, up to 80%.
In order to maintain a healthy gut, you need to maintain a good balance between the good bacteria, and the bad bacteria in your gut. One way you can do this is by consuming probiotics, either in supplement form or in food. Good food sources of probiotics include yogurt, kefir, and fermented vegetables.
Another way in which you can improve your gut health is to avoid or limit your consumption of highly processed foods. This is because highly processed foods can cause inflammation of the gut.
Get enough sleep
We all know the importance of sleep for rejuvenating our mind and organism, but did you know that it can also boost our immune system?
Not getting enough sleep has been linked to a reduction in immune function. For example, research has shown that people who sleep less than 5 hours a night are more likely to have suffered a recent cold.
Why is this so? Well, in order for your T cells to destroy pathogens, they need to come in close contact with them. Sticky substances called integrins facilitate this contact; think of them as the glue that your T cells need to stick to pathogens.
Stress hormones make these integrins less sticky. When you get enough sleep, your stress hormones drop, causing the integrins to stick better. And when they’re stickier, your T cells are better able to adhere to pathogens, boosting your immunity.
In order to get enough sleep, it is critical to optimize your sleep environment. For instance, you’ll want to reduce your exposure to blue light from blue-light emitting devices such as TVs, laptops, tablets, and cell phones. This is because blue light reduces the production of melatonin, a hormone that is responsible for good sleep.
You’ll also want to make sure your sleep environment is quiet, so you can fall asleep and stay asleep. If you live in a noisy neighbourhood, you may want to wear earplugs, or turn on a white-out machine to drown out noise.
You’ll also want to make sure that you’re not too hot or too cold, as either factor can result in poor sleep. You can do this by wearing night wear that keeps you at a comfortable temperature, adjusting your thermostat accordingly, and using appropriate bedding.
Practice anxiety management
Anxiety and chronic stress affect not only your mind, but your immune system too. Chronic stress decreases the number of T cells and B cells. This in turn increases your risk for viral infections, such as colds and cold sores. Chronic stress also activates latent viruses, viruses which have been dormant in your body. The activation of latent viruses due to chronic stress causes wear and tear on your immune system, making it exhausted and “burnt out”, unable to deal with everyday assaults to your body. Lastly, chronic stress results in chronic inflammation, causing autoimmune diseases.
Due to the effect of chronic stress on the immune system, it is important to practice anxiety management. You can do this in a number of ways. One way is to practice mindfulness-based meditation. This lowers your cortisol levels, which in turn reduces inflammation. Mindful framing also achieves this effect by transforming your anxiety into vital energy while developing a mental framework focusing on connecting to nature, emotional intelligence and invigorating your organism. Practicing yoga also lowers your cortisol levels and relaxes your nervous system, thus reducing inflammation.
Besides practicing these mind-body activities, simply spending time in nature can boost your immune system. When you’re out in nature, the sounds, smells, and sights can also induce feelings of calm. Additionally, some research shows that phytoncide, an antibacterial substance released by trees, increases Natural Killer Cell activity. So, the next time you’re under stress, go for a walk and while you’re at it, practice some mindful framing.
Engage in regular exercise
You know the saying, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away?’’. Well, that saying can also apply to exercise. In a study examining the effects of exercise on the immune system, participants who walked at least 20 minutes a day, a minimum of 5 days a week, had almost 50% less sick days than those who walked once a week or less. What’s more, when they did get sick, they were sick for a shorter period, and their symptoms were milder.
Engaging in regular exercise becomes even more important as you get older. That’s because research shows that exercise can increase the number of T cells, and even improve the response to vaccines in the elderly.
However, exercise intensity matters. You want to aim for moderate intensity exercise, not high intensity exercise. This is because engaging in prolonged high intensity exercise, without enough recovery time, may increase the risk of illness. So, go ahead and get some exercise, but try not to overdo it.
We live in an increasingly hostile environment to our bodies and minds, and despite many miracle therapies in today’s medicine, prevention is still better than cure. So, take the time to boost your immune system in a holistic manner. Your very life could depend on it.
Have you ever felt like a candle burning at both ends? Work and everyday life are increasingly demanding and with today’s 24/7 technology, the boundary between work and our personal lives is getting blurrier and blurrier. Compound that with a myriad of obligations and little or no time to relax and chill out, and it’s no wonder we feel overwhelmed.
What is burnout?
Burnout is a state in which you are emotionally, mentally, and often physically exhausted as a result of prolonged or repetitive stress. Though it’s often a result of work, it can also occur as a result of parenthood or caregiving.
Besides hectic work or taking on many responsibilities, other factors may lead to burnout. These include how you ‘live’ life, and how you ‘view’ life.
Classic signs of burnout include:
- Feeling exhausted most of the time
- Feeling like a failure
- Getting sick a lot
- Turning to unhealthy living, junk food, drugs, or alcohol to deal with life
Unfortunately, burnout doesn’t disappear by itself and if left untreated can result in chronic ailments like depression, diabetes and heart disease.
High functioning anxiety and burnout
About one in five people suffer from some form of anxiety condition. So, chances are that you know one of them; perhaps that person is you. Many people with anxiety suffer from what is termed “high functioning anxiety.”
Someone with high functioning anxiety can handle career and relationship obligations. However, their anxiety causes them a lot of emotional pain. So, they likely don’t require hospitalization for their anxiety, but it is distressing enough for them to be able to benefit from some sort of ongoing outpatient therapy.
People with high functioning anxiety have a myriad of symptoms that can lead to burnout. These include a need to constantly be busy, perfectionist tendencies, and not being able to say no to others. So, by treating the anxiety through modalities such as individual/group therapy, and medication, this not only helps manage the anxiety, but may also prevent burnout.
So, now that you know what burnout is and how detrimental it can be, how can you prevent it? Here are my 5 easy-to-implement ways to prevent burnout:
Deal with your emotions
Life is packed with emotional challenges. These include trying to keep up with the neighbours, the pressure to be successful in life and work, and the innate desire to have good personal relationships and a satisfying work life. It’s no wonder that we’re a ball of emotions.
However, from a young age, we’re taught to stuff and avoid our emotions rather than work with our emotions. This leads to the all too common “coping” mechanisms such as alcohol, prescription/recreational drug use, and being glued to our screens all in an effort to repress our emotions.
But, repressing our emotions isn’t good for us; in fact, symptoms such an anxiety and depression may be the result of repressing of our emotions. This is because when we try to repress our emotions, it causes emotional and physical stress. This leads to not only emotional problems but physical problems such as cardiovascular disease, intestinal disorders, headaches, and autoimmune disease.
We can learn to deal with our emotions by practicing mindfulness-based meditation. The practice of mindful framing teaches how create a mental framework to acknowledge and sit with our emotions, to feel them deeply, and to let them pass on their own, as all emotions do eventually do.
Embrace life-long learning
When we’re in a job that feels monotonous, we have little control over, or doesn’t align with our life purpose or in which we don’t receive recognition, it can lead to burnout. But you can take control of your career by finding opportunities to learn and prepare for a brighter future.
By embracing life-long learning you’re more in control of your career. This is because as you learn new skills, you can progress in your career or even switch careers if need be. Learning also helps you become more adaptable to change, which is a source of stress for many people.
It will help you be resilient when a project doesn’t go away, when your organization shifts gears, or if your job changes. Having a learning mindset will help you weather the storms of change, which is a constant in today’s work environment.
Pursue a hobby
One of the best ways to prevent burnout is to pursue a hobby. This allows you to discover your creative side. When you focus on a hobby you are truly passionate about, you give your mind a break from your day-to-day stressors.
Ideally, you want to pursue some form of hobby that has nothing to do with work, or your stressor. You also want your hobby to be free of deadlines or rules in order to allow your mind to recharge.
What hobby you pursue depends on your interests. If you like writing, perhaps you can write a short story or even a memoir. If you like to work with your hands, gardening may be a good fit.
Pursuing a hobby is also a great way to amplify your life-learning goals. By engaging in something meaningful to you, and progressively learning, you further develop a sense of self-worth and competence, which may be lacking in other areas of your life.
Eat a balanced diet
When we’re under a lot of stress, good eating habits are often the first thing to go out the window; however, eating a balanced diet is even more important when we’re under stress. That’s because what you eat can significantly affect your mood and energy over the course of a day.
For instance, when you are under stress, you may turn to comfort foods such as French fries, pastries, or potato chips. Carbohydrates give us a sugar high, followed inevitably by a sugar crash in which our mood and energy crashes. Instead of food high in refined carbs, you want to focus on low-glycemic foods, which are foods that give you a constant stream of energy. These include foods high in fiber such as fruits, vegetables, and legumes.
You also want to increase your intake of foods that contain omega-3s. Omega-3s are fats which help boost your mind. These include foods such as fatty fish (tuna, salmon, sardines), flaxseed, and walnuts. Try and spread these foods over the course of your day. For instance, have some oatmeal sprinkled with ground flaxseed for breakfast, then for lunch, have a salad with walnuts, and for dinner have some salmon and vegetables. Or try intermittent fasting!
Get enough sleep
Not getting enough zzz’s is one of the risk factors that predicts burnout. So, it behooves you to get enough sleep. How much one needs varies from person to person, but in general you should be getting 7 to 9 hours of sleep a day. You want to get enough sleep where you feel rested when you get up, and alert for most of the day. By getting enough sleep, your mood will also improve, further reducing symptoms associated with burnout.
To get a good night’s sleep it’s important to minimize distractions that prevent you from going to, and staying asleep. These include limiting your blue light exposure from devices such as televisions, laptops, tablets, and cell phones. That’s because blue light decreases the production of melatonin, our sleep hormone.
You also want to make sure you sleep on a comfortable mattress, so you’re not tossing and turning during the night. Comfortable sleep wear is also beneficial as being either too hot or too cold at night can disrupt your sleep. By getting enough sleep you’ll be better able to handle the stresses of the day.
Life can get pretty stressful, and when that happens, you are more prone to burnout. Burnout has serious ramifications that impact your emotional and physical health. By learning how to prevent burnout from happening in the first place, you are creating a rock-solid platform to live your best life.
With so much going on in our hectic lives, is it wise to ‘waste’ time every day… sleeping? With so much anxiety, fear, loneliness and everything going on inside and around us, it can be hard to focus on a bedtime routine and improving our sleep. Let’s discover why quality is just as important as quantity for a sound and restorative sleep.
What is Sleep Quality?
- You spend a minimum of 85% of your bedtime asleep
- It takes you 30 minutes or less to fall asleep
- You don’t wake up more than once a night
- You don’t stay awake longer than 20 minutes when you do wake up in the middle of the night
- You feel rested when you wake up
Importance of Sleep Quality
Sleep can impact all areas of your life. For instance, after a poor night’s sleep, you may find yourself in a mental fog. This can lead to poor decision making, memory problems, and slower reaction times. This in turn makes you more prone to injuries and accidents, not to mention, poor performance for any task.
You’ll also find it harder to regulate negative emotions and stay calm under pressure.
Poor sleep quality also increases your risk for heart disease, depression, various cancers, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, ulcers, and obesity.
Sleep Quality and Immunity
Do you want to boost your immunity? Improving your sleep quality is the right prescription!
Good sleep quality improves how well your T cells fight off infections. T cells are immune cells that fight pathogens in your body such as virus-infected cells and tumor cells. In order for your T cells to fight these pathogens and abnormal cells, they need to be in direct contact with them. Sticky molecules called integrins promote this contact; think of them as the glue that your T cells need to stick to pathogens and cells.
Cortisol, a key stress hormone, decreases the stickiness of these integrins. When you sleep well, your stress hormones fall, making the integrins stickier and T cells more effective, increasing your immunity.
There are 5 natural ways to improve sleep quality:
Exercise During the Day
Aerobic and cardio exercise are important for many aspects of health, including sleep quality. A study found that in patients with chronic insomnia, engaging in moderate aerobic exercise reduced the time it took to fall asleep by 55% and the total amount of nighttime wakefulness by 30%.
And you don’t need much aerobic exercise to sleep well. In fact, just 10 minutes of cardio exercise can dramatically improve your sleep quality. So, go for a walk or whatever gets your heart pumping.
Avoid Caffeine in the Evening
In order to sleep better, you want to watch your caffeinated beverage consumption. That’s because caffeine blocks the sleep-activating chemicals in your brain. This makes it harder for you to both fall and stay asleep. Furthermore, caffeine decreases your REM sleep, the part of your sleep cycle where you have the most restorative sleep.
And it takes time for caffeine to clear from your system. That’s because its half-life is 6 hours. So, it takes a full 24 hours to clear from your system completely. Ideally, you want to have your last cup of coffee or other caffeinated beverage at least 6 hours before going to bed as studies show that consuming caffeine up to 6 hours before bed decreases sleep quality.
Avoid Blue Light at Night
Blue light has a big impact on your sleep quality. That is because blue light decreases the production of melatonin, your sleep hormone, making it harder for you to fall asleep.
Unfortunately, a lot of our modern devices emit blue light. These include television, laptops, tablets, and cell phones. Using these devices 2 hours before going to bed affects your sleep quality in several ways. It makes it harder to fall asleep and reduces the rejuvenating REM sleep phase, making you feeling less rested even after sufficient hours of sleep.
How can you limit your blue light exposure in the evening? I you can’t avoid watching your favorite show, sit as far away as possible from the TV and don’t try to sleep right away after turning it off, do some chores, read a book, take a walk or meditate…as possible to avoid the blue light emissions.
Create a Comfortable Sleep Environment
Your sleep environment plays a big role in how well you sleep. Too hot or too cold a sleep environment can affect your sleep quality. Ideally, you want your room to be at a temperature between 65 to 70°F. Find the right pajamas to find the right body temperature while sleeping. If your feet get cold, wear some socks.
Make sure that you have a comfortable mattress and pillow so that you’re not tossing and turning in the middle of the night. Additionally, you want your room to be quiet. If you live in an area where you have night-time traffic or loud neighbours, this can be easier said than done. In that case, you may want to invest in a good pair of ear plugs or use a white noise machine, even a fan can do the job.
Watch out for the humidity of your bedroom, particularly if you live in an arid environment. Dryness can cause headaches and sinus congestion, which may interfere with your sleep quality.
Follow a Bedtime Routine
While participating in high-energy activities just before bedtime decreases sleep quality, the opposite is true. Having a daily relaxing bedtime routine increases your sleep quality by signalling to your body that it’s time to sleep.
One of the best things you can do as part of your bedtime routine is meditate. In a 6-week study in which insomnia participants practiced mindfulness-based meditation, such as mindful framing, participants halved the amount of time it took them to fall asleep. In addition, at the end of the study, 60% of the participants no longer had insomnia.
You can also relax by having a warm bath, deep breathing, listening to some relaxing music, or a combination thereof. I avoid stressful activities such as watching news or engaging in difficult conversations. For my body, I don’t take any food or alcohol several hours before going to bed and have an Ayurvedic self-massage mixing myself body butter and ashwagandha fluid.
Once I’m in bed, I start clearing my mind, focusing on my 5 senses: how my skin touches the cotton of the sheets and my pyjamas, the sounds of white noise, the residual smell and taste and I watch the lights and forms appearing when I close my eyelids.
Let’s learn how to leverage our sleep as a powerful way to decompress and reduce our anxiety every night. By improving the quality of your sleep, you’ll be better equipped to handle life’s stressors with a source of unlimited energy and resilience.
Do you believe that “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger?” If not, you should. Life knocks you down again and again. We lose loved ones, lose jobs, get our hearts broken, and our hopes get dashed. How can you overcome life’s challenges? By developing resilience.
What is resilience?
Resilience is the ability to maintain your emotional balance and physical wellbeing when dealing with stressful life circumstances. In other words, it is your ability to get back up when you’ve been knocked down.
Why Being Resilient?
Being resilient may seem like a nice trait to have, but not a must-have; however, did you know that being resilient could not only improve your health, but save your life as well?
In a study looking at patients with chronic pain, those who were resilient to the impact of chronic pain were 25% less likely to die within 10 years than those who were not resilient. Resilience boosts your immunity and this increased immunity has even been shown to lead to less mortality in bone marrow transplant patients.
Besides this, resilience can help you in your day to day life. For instance, if you are more resilient, you are less likely to miss work because of illness. You are also less likely to engage in risky behaviours such as drinking too much alcohol, smoking, and using drugs.
Being resilient even helps you age better and have an increased sense of wellbeing. Now, we all have to get older, but who doesn’t want to age better and thrive in old age.? Focus on your “healthspan,” how many years your are healthy, instead of your lifespan.
The good news about resilience is that it is not a static personality or character trait. You can learn it. Learn more about the 5 infallible practices to become resilient.
How do you reframe what happens to you? Quite simply, by relabeling your present situation or changing the way you think about any challenge. Ask yourself: “Is the glass half full or half empty?” The situation or circumstance is static. However, the way you view and interpret it is dynamic. You can reframe your perspectives at any time point. And you should.
Start by reframing stressful situations or unexplained anxiety. Instead of thinking about negative effects in your life, think of it as improving the quality of your life by providing you opportunities to learn and improve. Research shows that those who do this have better physical and emotional wellbeing than those who don’t.
So, instead of seeing stress and anxiety as overwhelming, think of it as a valuable lesson in life. Here are 3 simple ways to change your mindset when confronting stress and anxiety.
First, find the “why.” For instance, if you took a job that is now causing you stress, think about why you took the job in the first place. Say, you took your job just for the money. Maybe you realize that another lower-paying job could beef up your resume and would have been a better choice. By focusing on the why, you take a high-level perspective and become resilient by resisting immediate gratification.
Second, focus on the “how.” How will this stressor help you grow? Perhaps, this lower-paying job will teach you skills that you can use to become an entrepreneur, be your own boss and live life on your own terms. By imagining a brighter future, you can build your resilience.
Lastly, move from a subjective to an objective view of the stressor to “change your perspective.” Once you know the why and how, focus on identifying the opportunities posed by the stressful situation. You are now transforming your frame of mind and will feel an improvement of your mental and emotional state.
People who are resilient realize that situations which may feel overwhelming right now, may not impact them much in the long run. One way to maintain a long-term perspective is to visualize yourself as just a tiny element in the universe, realizing how unimportant you really are.
The stoic Aurelius did this by reflecting on how vast the universe was, and thought about infinite time in his meditations. By doing this, he was able to put his life into perspective. When you don’t take yourself so seriously, your present worries pale in comparison, and you don’t feel like your mess-ups are the end of the world. This helps you power on.
Mindfulness has been shown to increase resilience. When you are under stress, the first thing you need is to calm your mind. When you are under stress, your mind can go haywire. The skeletons of the past and the ghosts of the future start to take over your thinking patterns. Circular and repetitive thoughts overwhelm your mind and interfere with clear judgement when you most need it.
Practicing mindfulness meditation or mindful framing lowers this rumination process. And the good news is that the more you practice, the more your brain circuitry changes. This is called neuroplasticity, anatomically imprinting your resilience into your brain to handle future stressful events.
And you don’t have to engage in a long-winded 60-minute practice every day. Just 10 minutes dedicated regularly to your favorite practice can reap benefits. Just do it.
In today’s pursuit of happiness, we are told to ignore or minimize negative emotions. It’s easy to distract our mind with all kinds of tricks like excessive eating or drinking. However, those who are resilient have learnt that having negative emotions is okay. So, they don’t suppress them or run away from them. Instead they embrace negative emotions as teachable moments.
This is how to handle negative emotions. Start by acknowledging your emotional state. Second, attach a label to the emotion, even if it is an unflattering emotion, for instance envy. Lastly, establish a positive framework around that emotion. For instance, if you are envious about someone else, the envy may reflect a sense of inferiority about yourself. Your life is telling you that you are missing something. If this is the case, make plans to get ahead and feel confident. Be specific. Take action.
No man or woman is an island. We all need people to hold us up when we are facing stressful situations. The more deep and meaningful relationships you have at work and home, the more resilient you will be. Don’t have a good support network now? Look around you, be truly empathetic. Build or reinforce relationships with your family, at work and your social network. Volunteer, take evening classes, join community and/or faith groups. By aligning yourself with others, you will have a tribe that you can rely on to bolster your strength for those difficult times.
We all face tough situations. Whether we rise from the ashes, or burn with the embers, depends on how resilient we are. Build those muscles of resilience so that you are better able to handle what life throws your way.
Imagine no more misplacing your car keys or forgetting names, missing appointments. Imagine being able to be present, mindful of the moment while confident that anything you want to memorize is easily retrievable and safe, backed up in your synaptic cloud. Imagine having an indestructible hard drive inside your brain. Discover and develop your ‘Memory Palace’ right now!
Memory and the Hippocampus
The hippocampus, located inside the middle section of the brain, plays a crucial role in helping us learn and remember things. It is involved in two types of memory: declarative memories and spatial relationship memories.
Declarative memories are memories related to facts and events. For example, when you are trying to memorize lines in a play.
Spatial relationship memories are memories related to routes or pathways, connecting ideas. For example, when you are trying to learn a new route through the city.
The hippocampus is also where your short term memories are transformed into long-term memories, mostly when an emotional tag is attached to them, which are then stored somewhere else in the brain, the limbic system.
Recent research suggests that the hippocampus may do more than help us remember things. It may also help us see, touch and hear. It is truly a remarkable brain circuitry.
Disorders of the Hippocampus
The hippocampus is quite sensitive, susceptible to neurological and psychiatric conditions, such as Alzheimer’s, epilepsy, depression and stress. In Alzheimer’s disease, the hippocampus is one of the first regions of the brain that is affected. In the early stages of the disease, patients suffer short term memory loss, and may find it hard to follow directions. Meanwhile, upwards of 50 percent of patients with epilepsy show damage in the hippocampus.
In severe depression, the hippocampus can shrink to 80% of its original volume. For those with chronic stress, cortisol affects the level at which neurons are added or eliminated, thus reducing the size of the hippocampus. This effect can be reversed by controlling stress.
The Memory Palace
A memory palace is a visualization technique based on creating a mind map based on different spaces or rooms in an imaginary building. It may include walkways to connect memories, plans and ideas. This methodology leverages a familiar environment, such as your home or town, to connect declarative and spatial memories. To ensure memorization you visualize specific locations that you always recall in the same order. Try it out!
And to keep your memory palace in mint condition, let’s make sure your mental capacity and intellectual abilities are in top shape with these 5 building blocks:
We all know that exercise is good for the body, but did you know that it is good for the mind as well? The saying that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks doesn’t work for humans. Getting older doesn’t mean that your brain will deteriorate.
Regular aerobic exercise can lower the cognitive decline and neuro-degeneration that may occur as we age. In fact, aerobic exercise is the most effective way to improve your memory as you age. In healthy adults, aerobic exercise improves not only memory, but attention span and the speed at which information is processed as well. And in patients with early Alzheimer’s disease, exercise can definitely improve memory.
Why is this so? Animal studies show that when you exercise, the hippocampus grows new neurons, so-called neuroplasticity is taking place. Aerobic exercise also improves blood flow to the hippocampus, thereby improving memory.
Aerobic exercise is any activity that increases your heart rate and delivers more oxygen through your body, including the brain. You don’t have to go the gym and go on a treadmill or the elliptical, just pick an activity you like and move your body, such as a brisk walk.
Have you noticed that when you don’t get enough sleep you are more forgetful? You may also find that when you don’t get enough sleep, it is harder to learn new things at the office, or at school. And for good reason. We need sleep in order to consolidate memories. Therefore, getting a good 7 to 8 hours of sleep is essential to solidifying new memories, as well as storing long term memory.
You know that practice drives mastery, right? Well, resting may be just as important as practice when it comes to learning. According to research, the breaks that you take while learning is where the true memorization takes place. In fact, your brain needs a break about every 90 minutes to reach peak efficiency. So, listen to your body and let your brain reset at regular intervals. In a study with participants doing a typing test, those who took a regular 10-second rest got faster as time went on. And brain scans showed that the brain was not just relaxing, it was actually processing what had just been done, and forming memories of it, so that it could perform even better.
Research has shown that those who regularly engage in the practice of mindfulness meditation have less age-related brain degeneration, better brain function, and show improvements in memory, particularly long-term memory and working memory.
This is because mindfulness meditation appears to increase your brain’s ability to form new neural connections, which in turn improves your memory.
Want to learn a visualization-based mindfulness practice? Try mindful framing, in which you become more mindful by visualizing different types of memory palaces, controlling your anxiety triggers, leveraging your 5 senses and imagining and connecting with Natural landscapes, Emotional relationships and caring for your Organism, the NEO Chi lifestyle.
You know the saying that “You are what you eat?” Well, it applies just as well to your body as to your brain. We all know that increased sugar intake can lead to obesity. But did you know that it may increase your risk of Alzheimer’s disease as well?
The Framingham Heart Study found that consuming too many sugar laden drinks, including so-called healthy drinks like fruit juice was associated with a lower brain volume, an early indicator of Alzheimer’s disease.
So, it is imperative to reduce your consumption of sugary beverages. Eliminate sodas. Not only are they sugary, they are devoid of any nutrition. Try diluting your juice with water if you are so inclined to drinking juice, or better yet, swap the fruit juice for fresh fruit instead, or just add slices of fruit into your water.
Reducing your caloric intake is a great way to lose or maintain your weight. Reducing your calorie intake may also improve your memory. A study found that elderly female participants who reduced their caloric intake by 30%, were able to improve their verbal memory scores.
In addition, certain foods rich in antioxidants, B vitamins, or omega-3s, such as seeds, nuts, fish and green leafy vegetables, will improve your memory.
A lot of people have problems with their memory because they don’t actually make the effort to memorize. Indeed, memory is all about visualization, using your mind’s eye to imagine. If you create an image to represent an idea, a person or a task and place it somewhere in your memory palace, the greater the probability that you will recall that information.
Are you trying to remember the name of someone that you just met? Try visualization and association, if you just met a lady named Bee and she told you about her job as a chef, just imagine a bee flying around in the kitchen of your memory palace.
Are you trying to memorize a shopping list? Try linking, to remember to buy soap and sugar, imagine a cloud of soapy foam with floating sugar cubes pouring from the store entrance.
Life is full of distractions and we rely more and more on gadgets that make our life easier. However, we should devote time and attention to maintain our minds fit and ready. A healthy body needs a healthy mind.