This is your brain-keep it fit.
Abstract: This post discusses various brain exercises with citations from the current literature.These brain exercises are extremly important for the well-being of all of us as whole.So lets try
The world seems wonderful, delightful and full of curious questions when we are young.Everything looks so curious to us that we go on asking question to ourselves or to anybody nearby. Our brains are taking in countless bits of information and we are developing lifetime skills. Researchers have given the name Brain olympics to all the skills and bits of information we are constantly getting onto our brain. But brain olympic athletes are different from Olympic athletes who have a limited time to demonstrate their peak performance, the human brain can continue to grow and improve with exercise infinitely.
There is lot of research on how exercise can help keep us mentally fit. Simple exercises go a long way to monitor our well-being. Here are some of the representative ones:
1.Deviate from routine: Switch the hand you are using to control the computer mouse. Use the hand you  normally do NOT use. What do you notice? Do you feel like you did when you were first learning to tie your shoelaces? You feel  uncomfortable and awkward because  your brain is learning a new skill.Use your opposite hand to brush your teeth, dial the phone or operate the TV remote. We know it is hard in this  fascinating experiment. Researchers at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation discovered that a muscle can be strengthened just by thinking about exercising it.For 12 weeks (five minutes a day, five days per week) a team of 30 healthy young adults imagined either using the muscle of their little finger or elbow.Dr. Vinoth Ranganathan and his team asked the participants to think as strongly as they could about moving the muscle being tested, to make the imaginary movement as real as they could. The control group did no imaginary exercises and showed no strength gains. So what was the result?
a)The little-finger group increased their pinky muscle strength by 35%. The other group increased elbow strength by 13.4%.
2. It is important to challenge your brain to learn new and novel tasks, especially processes that you’ve never done before. Pay attention to your breathing. Is it slow and deep, or quick and shallow? Is your belly expanding and contracting, or is your chest doing all the work? Learning new skills  include square-dancing, chess, tai chi, yoga, or sculpture. Working with modeling clay or playdough is an especially good way for children to grow new connections. It helps develop agility and hand-brain coordination, (like controlling the computer mouse with your opposite hand).
3.Travel is another good way to stimulate your brain. It worked for our ancestors, the early Homo sapiens( biological name for human beings). Their nomadic (moving from one place to other) lifestyle provided a tremendous stimulation for their brains that led to the development of superior tools and survival skills. In comparison, the now-extinct Neanderthal was a species that for thousands of years apparently did not venture too far from their homes. This may be due to the reason that they were satisfied with their lives – in contrast to the seldom-satisfied  nomadics. Early humans gained a crucial evolutionary edge from the flexibility and innovation required by their strategic lifestyle, which also led to a more diverse diet that allowed their brains to rapidly evolve. Neurobics™ is a unique system of brain exercises using your five physical senses(smelling,seeing,hearing,tasting and feeling)  and your emotional sense in unexpected ways that encourage you to carry on  your everyday routines.They are designed to help your brain manufacture its own nutrients that strengthen, preserve, and grow brain cells. Created by Lawrence C. Katz, Ph.D., a professor of neurobiology at Duke University Medical Center, neurobics can be done anywhere,anytime, in offbeat, fun and easy ways. Nevertheless, these exercises can activate underused nerve pathways and connections, helping you achieve a fit and flexible mind.
 Try these easy exercises:
a)Get dressed with your eyes closed
b)Wash your hair with your eyes closed
c)Share a meal and use only visual cues to communicate. No talking.
Combine two senses:
a)Listen to music and smell flowers
b)Listen to the rain and tap your fingers
c)Watch clouds and play with modeling clay at the same time

Break routines:
a)Go to work on a new route
b)Eat with your opposite hand
c)Shop at new grocery store
Consider your brain a flexible muscle and do anything that stimulates you to think.
a)Do crossword puzzles.
b)Play Scrabble.
c)Start a new hobby or learn to speak a foreign language.
Also, watch less television, because “your brain goes into neutral.”
 4.The more we think, the better our brains function

Research on the physical results of thinking has shown that just using the brain actually increases the number of dendritic branches that interconnect brain cells regardless of age. The renowned brain researcher Dr. Marian Diamond says, “The nervous system possesses not just a ‘morning’ of plasticity, but an ‘afternoon’ and an ‘evening’ as well.”
Dr. Diamond found that whether we are young or old, we can continue to learn. It has been found that elderly people who regularly played bingo  reduced their memory loss and increased  their hand-eye coordination. Bingo players of all ages remain mentally sharp.The brain can change at any age. A dendrite grows much like a tree – from trunk to limbs to branches to twigs – in an array of ever finer complexity.Older brains have an advantage over the younger ones. More highly developed neurons respond better to intellectual enrichment than less developed ones do.The greatest increase in dendritic length occurred in the outermost dendritic branches, as a reaction to new information.The embryo is just a sort of sphere. It sends its first branch out to overcome ignorance. As it reaches out, it is gathering knowledge and it is becoming creative. Then we become a little more idealistic and generous and it is our six-sided dendrites which give us wisdom.
Animal studies show that intellectual enrichment can even compensate for some forms of physical brain damage. For example, a mentally stimulating environment helped protect rats from the potentially damaging effects of lead poisoning.
5.Healthy human being is a human doing
Most of us know that physical exercise is good for our general health, but did you know that physical exercise is also good for your brain? If you think you’re going to get smarter sitting in front of your computer or watching television, you may be wrong. Here scientists present the evidence that stimulating environment gives a better ability to learn compared than working in isolation. What will happen if we think of  giant thumbs in response to a push-button world. We will be producing a sedentary, inactive society with a deteriorated vascular system and consequent decline in physical and mental health.
Nearly half of young people ages 12 to 21 do not participate in vigorous physical activity on a regular basis. About 25 per cent  children  are getting at least half an hour of any type of daily physical activity and do not attend any school physical education classes.
In June 2001, ABC News reported that school children spend 4.8 hours per day on the computer, watching TV, or playing video games. The impact of computers, video games, school funding cuts, and public apathy have combined to leave Illinois as the only state that still requires daily physical education in first through 12th grades. President John F. Kennedy made physical fitness a priority for Americans of all ages. These sedentary tendencies represent a real health crisis. For couch-potatoes ( lazy people) it is word of caution. Continuously watching TV slows blood circulation , allowing clots to form and then, eventually, break free, causing death.The  nicknamed “economy class syndrome,” leads to DVT because airplane passengers sit throughout a long flight in the close quarters of economy class. 
The word exercise derives from a Latin meaning “to maintain, to keep, to ward off. To exercise means to practice, put into action, train, perform, use, improve. Exercise is a natural part of life, although these days we have to consciously include it in our daily routine. Biologically, it was part of survival, in the form of hunting and gathering or raising livestock and growing food. Historically, it was built into daily life, as regular hours of physical work or soldiering. What is now considered a form of exercise – walking –was originally a form of transportation. Walking is especially good for your brain, because it increases blood circulation and the oxygen and glucose that reach your brain. Walking is not strenuous, so your leg muscles don’t take up extra oxygen and glucose like they do during other forms of exercise. As you walk, you effectively oxygenate your brain. Maybe this is why walking can “clear your head” and help you to think better. Movement and exercise increase breathing and heart rate so that more blood flows to the brain, enhancing energy production and waste removal. Studies show that in response to exercise, cerebral blood vessels can grow, even in middle-aged sedentary animals. Studies of senior citizens who walk regularly showed significant improvement in memory skills compared to sedentary elderly people.Walking also improved their learning ability, concentration, and abstract reasoning. Stroke risk was cut by 57% in people who walked as little as 20 minutes a day.
The women who walked regularly were less likely to experience age-related memory loss and other declines in mental function.
University of California at San Francisco researchers measured the brain function of nearly 6,000 women during an eight-year period. The results were correlated with the women’s normal activity level, including their routine walking and stair-climbing.Here are the findings:
a)   In the group which was high energy, there was much less cognitive decline.
b)   Of the women who walked at least  half-mile per day the results were better than those who did not walk.
c)    It wasn’t a matter of all or nothing. It was also found that  for every extra mile walked per week there was a 13% less chance of cognitive decline. So it is not necessary to be running marathons. The exciting thing is there was a ‘dose’ relationship which showed that even a little is good but more is better.”
An important and simple exercise which everyone can do is the following:
In the morning, while you’re still in bed, slowly begin to move your toes in any way that feels good. Wriggle, scrunch, and stretch. Move all your toes up and down several times, or work just your big toes. Wriggling your toes activates nerves that stimulate your brain and internal organs.If this exercise is done first thing each morning or after sitting for an extended period of time. It will help you to wake-up and become alert more quickly. Your whole body may feel pleasantly energized. Most important, your first steps – and those throughout the day – will be safer ones.Falls are the second leading cause of spinal cord and brain injury among people over 65 years old.
The human foot is one of the body’s most complex engineering marvels. The eight arches in your feet do a remarkable job of evenly distributing the weight of your body, while 200 ligaments coordinate 40 different musclesthat control the 56 bones in your feet – one fourth of all the bones in your body. An intricate system of blood vessels and nerves connect the feet with the rest of the body. Your feet are good barometers of the aging process; inflexible toes, cold feet, and poor circulation are signposts of time. 
Sedentary people have the risk of death of their newly born brain cells.Running appears to ‘rescue’ many of these cells that would otherwise die.” Furthermore, the miles logged correlated directly with the numbers of increased cells.Those who ran more grew more cells. Running’s brain-boosting effects were in the hippocampus, a region of the brain linked to learning and memory and known to be affected by Alzheimer’s disease. The results suggest that exercise might delay the onset and progression of some neurodegenerative diseases.
8.Physical exercise has a protective effect on the brain and its mental processes, and may even help prevent Alzheimer’s disease. Based on exercise and health data from nearly 5,000 men and women over 65 years of age, those who exercised were less likely to lose their mental abilities or develop dementia, including Alzheimer’s. Furthermore, the five-year study at the Laval University in Sainte-Foy, Quebec suggests that the more a person exercises the greater the protective benefits for the brain, particularly in women.
Inactive individuals were twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s, compared to those with the highest levels of activity (exercised vigorously at least three times a week). But even light or moderate exercisers cut their risk significantly for Alzheimer’s and mental decline.
Mental challenge: Contrary to popular myth, you do not lose mass quantities of brains cells as you get older. “There isn’t much difference between a 25-year old brain and a 75-year old brain,” says Dr. Monte S. Buchsbaum, who has scanned a lot of brains as director of the Neuroscience PET Laboratory at Mount Sinai School of Medicine. Cognitive decline is not inevitable. When 6,000 older people were given mental tests throughout a ten-year period, almost 70% continued to maintain their brain power as they aged. Certain areas of the brain, however, are more prone to damage and deterioration over time. One is the hippocampus, which transfers new memories to long-term storage elsewhere in the brain. Another vulnerable area is the basal ganglia, which coordinates commands to move muscles. Research indicates that mental exercise can improve these areas and positively affect memory and physical coordination.

 Alzheimer’s disease: Numerous studies show that better-educated people have less risk of Alzheimer’s disease. In a Case Western Reserve study of 550 people, those more mentally and physically active in middle-age were three times less likely to later get the mind-robbing disease. Increased intellectual activity during adulthood was especially protective. Examples included reading, doing puzzles, playing a musical instrument, painting, woodworking, playing cards or board games, and performing home repairs.
Depression:A team of researchers at Duke University Medical Center found that an aerobic( involving free oxygen) exercise program decreased depression and improved the cognitive abilities of middle-aged and elderly men and women.They followed 156 patients between the ages of 50 and 77 who had been diagnosed with major depressive disorder. They were randomly assigned to one of three groups: exercise, medication, or a combination of medication and exercise. The exercise group spent 30 minutes either riding a stationary bicycle or walking, or jogging three times a week. To the surprise of the researchers, after 16 weeks, all three groups showed statistically significant and identical improvement in standard measurements of depression, implying that exercise was just as effective as medication in treating major depression.
 Elderobics – Pedestrian Power In a sedentary group of people aged 60 to 75, University of Illinois researchers introduced them to a fitness regime. For six months the elders had either an aerobic or non-aerobic workout for up to 90 minutes, three times a week.
“We chose couch potatoes,” said the study’s lead author, cognitive neuroscientist Arthur Kramer. The 214 healthy adults hadn’t been involved in any physical exercise for the previous 5 to 10 years. Indeed most of our subjects hadn’t done any formal exercise for more like 30 or 40 years.”
One group took long walks three times a week, and the other only did gentle toning and stretching exercises using weights. Walkers, who completed an hour-long loop around the university, improved significantly in the mental tests, as well as being fitter. An improvement of only 5-7% in cardio-respiratory fitness led to an improvement of up to 15% in mental tests. The non-walkers, however, did not gain any benefits for their brains. We see selective cognitive benefits which accompany improvement in aerobic fitness,” says Kramer. Although benefits were not obvious in every type of test, improvements were clearly attributable to the aerobics workout.
Even beyond age 70, cardiovascular exercise can improve memory and reasoning skills. “People who have chosen a lifetime of relative inactivity can benefit mentally from improved aerobic fitness. It’s never too late.”

Source: Your amazing brain,Explore-at-Bristol,UK’s most amazing science centre.


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