Your Brain is Your Friend: Be Nice To It!

After a fresh reading of John Medina’s book, “Brain Rules,” I have pledged to treat my brain better. And while John has 12 rules for your brain (and mine), I will stick with just three. If we (yeah, me too) took these three things more seriously and incorporated a plan into our lives, we’d see an increasingly wonderful existence. Keep in mind I am not a physician, psychologist or stress expert. I’m just passing on some things I read that work for me (how’s that for a disclaimer?). 

The three things are Exercise, Sleep and Stress.

Exercise. In the beginning, we were hunters and gatherers. Researchers estimate that the average person from the Homo erectus group, over a million years ago moved 10 to 20 kilometers a day (6-12 miles). No, not in a Prius or a scooter, on their feet. Scientists believe that during this time of the human brains most impressive development, man (the species, not the gender) was on the move. Put together these two things from opposite ends of the age spectrum: For my friends in the Baby Boomer generation,  aerobic exercise only TWICE a week halves your risk of general dementia and cuts your risk of Alzheimer’s by 60 percent. Can’t find your keys? Go for a walk (or if you’re like me, look in your hand). For kids, physically fit kids concentrate better, pay more attention and are less likely to be disruptive. Most all people who exercise have higher self esteem, less depression and less anxiety. The key here is that when you exercise, you increase blood flow across the tissues of your body. The more the blood flows, the more toxic waste is removed. That’s a good thing, especially in you brain!

Sleep. Medina’s rule #7 is, Sleep well, think well. First, it’s probably a good idea to know what kind of person you are. There are morning people, night owl’s and some in between. Identifying when you are at your best because of when you sleep is essential in being your best. I’m writing this at 6:15 am. It’s when I do some of my best work (as well as when I go for a run). For some of you, that idea is apalling! It’s okay. Just know when you’re at your best (most awake, clear, bright, whatever) and revolve your schedule around it. Of course, how much sleep we get is the key here. Obviously people vary as to their own sleep requirement. Most studies show that most people need between 6-8 hours of sleep a night to be effective (and most studies are at the high end of that range). Get less and eventually it will hurt attention, memory, mood, logic, reasoning and motor dexterity. One thing is clear, One of the greatest regenerating tools that Americans have treated with disdain (especially in the workplace) is the nap. Research has found that the biological drive (yes, BIOLOGICAL DRIVE) for a nap is universal. Sleep is good. Think about it (or just sleep on it).

Stress. They call stress a killer, and they are right. We’re not talking about short term stress here like that person who cuts you off without a turn signal while they’re chatting on their phone and you get really pissed. In fact, that kind of stress is natural (and some maintain it’s healthy). It’s chronic stress that is the problem. “Under chonic stress, adrenaline creates scars in your blood vessels that can cause a heart attack or stroke, and cortisol damages the cells of the hippocampus, crippling your ability to learn and remember,” says Medina. Emotional stress has a huge impact on us and is believed to be one of the biggest roadblocks to work productivity. The worst of the stresses is the feeling you have no control over a problem: helplessness. We all have ,or should have, stress relieving protocol. You know what works for you. The problem is we don’t take the time to do what works. Two solutions have already been offered: exercise and sleep. Part of the problem, however, is that American society has made being a stressed worker kind of a badge of honor on the road to success. Nothing could be further from the truth. Time to wake up and smell the damage.

So what do we do? I think you could begin gradually with some exercise. Exercise will not only help your brain but it should also help you sleep. Pick something that works for you: walking, running, cycling, yoga, whatever. Just pick something that works your heart and pumps your blood. Your sleep will also be helped by lowering stress. Worry is a big stressor. I remember learning in a Franklin Covey time management course that there are two walls in our lives. There is the wall of control and the wall of no control. We get into trouble when we try to control the things on the wall of no control. I guess I’m saying, “let go, Luke.” For me, my running helps me let go of the things I can’t control. Maybe for you it’s meditation, prayer, a good talk with a trusted frined. Whatever it is – do it. Maybe, you need grass. No, not that kind. Maybe just sitting in the grass and working through things (if you’d like, you can read my blog Back to the Grass http://richyacks.blogspot.com/2011/08/back-to-grass.html).

We need our brains and we need to be good to them. Exercise, sleep and lower stress might be a great start!