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Posted: July 26, 2009 12:30 a.m.

Six tips to improve brain function

Did you know that the brain can change and reconfigure itself? Contrary to popular belief, the brain is actually quite malleable. It can restructure the function of different brain regions and can even grow new brain cells, a process called neurogenesis. Not all these new brain cells survive. In fact, most new brain cells die. Survival of new neurons depends on nutrients and connections with other brain cells that are thriving. This article reports on current research that suggests things we can do that will improve neurogenesis and the survival of new cells.

1. Exercise. Exercise can increase the number of brain cells in the hippocampus, the region of the brain associated with learning and memory. It improves the brain’s executive functions (planning, problem solving and multitasking) and has mood boosting effects.

2. Diet. Saturated fats are not only harmful to your body, but your brain as well. Studies suggest that diets high in saturated fats can lead to diminished learning and memory functioning. And people with diets high in saturated fats are more prone to dementia in later life than those low in saturated fats.

3. Stimulants. Caffeine is probably the most popular stimulant for revving up the nervous system, increasing heart rate, blood pressure, energy and more. Activating the central nervous system boosts arousal and alertness, but only in moderation. High doses of caffeine can cause anxiety and insomnia.

4. Video games. Yes, that’s right, video games. Research shows they can improve mental dexterity, improve hand/eye coordination, depth perception and pattern recognition. Surgeons who spend a few hours a week playing video games make one-third fewer errors in the operating room than non-gaming doctors.

5. Music. Music can activate the brain’s reward centers and reduce fear and negative emotions. One highly publicized study suggests that listening to Mozart could boost cognitive performance, but this may be a small effect. Music can treat anxiety and insomnia, lower blood pressure, soothe patients with dementia and help premature babies gain weight and leave the hospital sooner.

6. Meditation. Contemplative reflection and relaxation helps to reduce anxiety, pain and blood pressure. It helps to treat asthma, insomnia, diabetes, depression and even skin conditions. Mediators tend to report that they feel more at ease and more creative than non-mediators do.

Dr. Weekley is a clinical psychologist and new resident of Covington. He specializes in the treatment of adults for depression, anxiety, relationship problems and medical issues. He can be reached at (770) 441-9244.

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