June is Brain Awareness Month

For the month of June, there are several awareness categories (PTSD, Alzheimers, Aphasia, Migraine…), but I thought Brain Awareness covered many of them in one shot. The brain is the center of processing in the body. It absorbs information, stores memory, develops electrical impulses, tells us how to think and feel and function. If part of the brain is damaged or sick or overworked, something in the body doesn’t function well.

Each year, a special week in March is set aside to promote brain research and the month of March is Brian Injury Awareness month. In June, we focus on brain awareness. What does the brain do for you? What can you do to keep it working properly? What happens to the brain as we age, if we smoke or use other harmful substances, when it becomes diseased…? This brain of ours is so important and multi-functional that it takes years of college education for many to know much about it, and even then,. we are continually learning more and more.

You might be asking why they even have a Brain Awareness month if it is impossible to learn everything there is to know about the human brain. I would say that you have to understand what you can so you can maintain it to work at its prime capacity for a very long time. We take actions to maintain our automobiles so they last longer and function the best they can, so why wouldn’t we be as concerned or even more concerned about our brains?

Something some brain experts say about the brain is that “if you don’t use it, you will use it,” and evidence is available which shows exactly that. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to be a lifelong learner, but it sure does help with keeping the brain healthy. Many people play games, solve puzzles, build things, create art, read, and do other types of brain stimulating activities. Believe it or not, all of those activities keep the brain moving and help to maintain good brain functioning.

There are some thing that people do which can harm the brain, as well. Ingesting too much food (overeating), sugar, caffeine, or junk foods are harmful to the brain. The use of cigarettes, even electronic cigarettes, can shrink the size of the brain and cause cell damage. Speaking of things that can shrink the brain: You might be surprised (or not) that too much alcohol or caffeine fall into that category, as well. Not getting enough sleep or water can harm the brain. Finally, a bunch of new research is coming out which verifies what we all were hoping wasn’t true: Overuse of our beloved electronic devices, such as cell phones, computers, and digital TVs can harm the brain.

So what are some things we can do to keep our brain in optimal working condition? I would suggest that we take control of the things that we can control and we learn to live in balance (or even moderation). Here are a few tips:

  1. Make sure we eat breakfast, every day, so our brain gets the food and energy it needs to function properly throughout the day, drink plenty of water, and significantly reduce the amount of junk food we eat.
  2. Limit coffee to 4 cups per day
  3. Stop smoking or using electronic cigarettes… period. At least make an effort to get to zero use within a reasonable period of time, if you can.
  4. Learn to breathe properly and use deep breathing as your relaxation exercise in order to increase the amount of oxygen your brain gets.
  5. Try to get enough sleep. The amount of sleep you need depends upon your age and health conditions, but when you research how much sleep you need for optimal brain health, you will find that it is between 14 hours for toddlers and 7.5 hours for most adults (some may require a bit more). If you sleep less than 6 hours, you can bet that your brain may suffer some functioning issues at some point in time.
  6. Exercise, regularly. It doesn’t necessarily have to be strenuous exercise. It can be something as light as taking a walk each day or gardening. If you can combine your exercise with a brain activity, like listening to music or books on CD, planning for an event or speech, concentrating on the swimming techniques you are using, etc… you can work on two things at once.
  7. Refresh your brain by giving it some down time. You can do this with quiet time where you can clear your head, meditation or prayer, and even some forms of yoga. For young children and students, take a break from studies, several times per day. Some research has shown that more recesses for children (versus fewer) actually promote learning and decrease behavior problems.
  8. I know some of you will hate this one, but we need to reduce our screen time. Limit your television, computer, tablet, phone, and other device times in an effort to give your brain more down time, rest time, thought-producing time, and personal time. Learn to do things the old fashioned way, even if it isn’t always prudent (You can always pick up the device when needed) to gain back the part of the brain that learns from doing things.
  9. Find some time to create. Innovate, invent, produce, make, do…. It doesn’t matter if you are inventing a new product, creating a new way of doing work, developing new concepts, researching, creating fine art, coloring a picture, doing science experiments, or what you do to be creative. You can exercise the brain in many ways.

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