By Dr. Timothy Foo (D.C.), CEO, Flow Chiropractic Pte. Ltd.
The brain is the most complex tissue in all of the human body.
At about 1.4kg, it is one of the heaviest and most oxygen demanding organs, and uses up to 30% of the body's glucose supply to function. It allows us to sense and make sense of our environment, it lets us move with purpose, and feel and interpret emotions. It controls and coordinates all body function 24hrs a day, without us having to think about it. Finally, it lets us think and shapes who we are with all our personality traits, habits, and individual quirks. How do we care for this precious organ?
There are three simple requirements for our brain to function well:
1) Oxygen, 2) Fuel, and 3) Activation.
Is your brain getting enough oxygen?
Is it getting quality fuel?
And is it getting enough complex activation (movement)?
Use it or lose it.
From birth we are constantly losing neurons (brain cells), but why are adults so much more capable than infants at functioning? Because it is not just the number of neurons you have, but the ability of neurons to communicate with each other (neuroplasticity). In a healthy brain, neurons branch into each other to create an efficient network of communication. If we do not use these networks properly, they weaken and form negative connections not useful to us.
An important and commonly overlooked way to maintain brain health is quality movement. Good quality movement is not repetitive and uniplanar but complex and multiplanar (moving in multiple different planes and directions).
How does movement feed the brain?
As we move, muscles and ligaments stretch and relax. This stimulates small receptors embedded in those tissues. When they are stimulated, they send signals up the brain. Nobel prize winning neuroscientist Roger Sperry found that 90% of stimulation and nutrition to the brain comes from the movement of the spine. This activation, combined with the proper chemical environment, keeps the brain running efficiently so it can do it's important job.
What happens when your spine is not moving properly or, worse yet, you are not even moving? It reduces the plasticity of your brain and the existing connections you have become less optimal (negative plasticity).
What can you do?
Action Step #1: Go for a walk in nature.
Singapore is known around the world as a garden city. There are numerous parks scattered throughout the country. Singapore Botanic Gardens, Jurong Central Park, Chinese Japanese Gardens, Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, Henderson Waves, Kallang Riverside Park. Pick a park and go for a walk there. Even around your neighbourhood we are blessed to have ample greenery and interesting things to observe. If you are able to do it, walk on unstable surfaces or go off the road. And as you go for your walk, try to appreciate and notice things you never did before. Who are the people walking by you? How are the trees swaying in the wind, what are the shape of their leaves? How does the sky look today compared to yesterday? Can you see movement?
Action Step #2: Practice good breathing.
The brain is the most oxygen demanding organ in the body. Proper diaphragmatic breathing allows optimal supply of oxygen to the brain. Practice this by lying on your back with your knees bent. Place one hand on your chest, place the other on on your belly. As you inhale, try to only move your lower hand. Seek a health practitioner to ensure that your ribcage and thoracic spine (mid back) are moving well.
Action Step #3: Ensure you have proper brain nutrition.
Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs), especially DHA, are well understood nutrients that are important for brain health. 60% of the brain is made of fat. And the quality of fats you eat affect the composition of your brain. Fats have gotten a bad rep, especially when they are found in processed foods, heated vegetable oil, hydrogenated fats.
These fats make your nerve cells rigid and unresponsive, leading to poor function, brain inflammation, and degeneration. But not all fats are bad. Ignore all fats at your brain's peril. Eat fresh cold water fish such as salmon, sardines, mackerel, black cod. If you are unable to have all these in your diet regularly, it might be worth considering getting a high quality supplement.
*Consult your health practitioner about EFAs if you are on blood thinners.
Future of Brain Health
New advances in brain health research have also led to the discovery of new nutrients that promote and protect the insulation of the branches that connect neurons to one another. One cutting edge discovery is done by Senescence (Dr. Shawn Watson, PhD). If aging is the reduction of neurons in the brain and reduced quality of connections between neurons, addressing this issue is a viable way of not only preventing brain degeneration but allowing you to have the best possible life as you age gracefully with your mental faculties intact.
To maintain your brain health, you must retain as many neurons as you can during your lifetime. You will also need to create a chemical environment that is conducive for plasticity, and supply your brain with the highest quality of activation. If you can do these things, you will live into your old age with a high level of function and a zest for life!
If you have underlying issues, like blood sugar problems or hormonal imbalances, seek advice from a health practitioner to resolve them. If not, work to constantly improve the quality of the movements you have by making them more complex.
In the next article, we will talk specifically about posture and its influence on quality movement and stimulation of the brain. It is a rampant problem especially in this digital era. The 21st century poses new challenges for us but as problems arise, research has also come up with innovative solutions to combat these issues.
Dr. Timothy Foo (D.C.), CEO, Flow Chiropractic Pte. Ltd.
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