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Use it or Lose it: Brain Longevity Strategies
September 2008



I had four aunts who passed on in advanced stages of Alzheimer’s Disease. So when I went to see Gary Anaka speak on Brain Longevity in Parksville on Oct 14, I had an agenda.

“The looming demential epidemic” is not the result of simply living longer, as many think. Apparently, the human brain is having a hard go of it.

Anaka says our brain cells are like trees. Thin branches waving around at the top are the dendrites (information in.) The main blob of branches is the neuron (the body). The long trunk is the axon (information out.) The roots are long and lanky with clusters called synapses (transfer - connection stations).

A healthy brain has lots of dendrites, all waving in excitement; lots of synapses connecting an endless stream of aha-s . A young brain rejoices in sunrises and french fries, learning to tie a shoe and making friends. Alas, later in life, when the excitement, enchantment and commitment to life wavers a bit, routines turn into ruts, and the dendrites thin out. With less stimulation coming in, synapses break down. An Alzheimer patient’s brain looks more like a tree after the wind storms of 2006. A couple branches, and few roots. Only a fraction of the brain’s memory and power.
Why does this happen?

Possible contributing factors of dementia written about in articles on the US National Library of Medicine website included hypertension, smoking, artificial sweeteners, high sugar intake, lack of B vitamins, folic acid, calcium, and “a low level of intellectual activity (bad habits).” “Bad habits” covers a big territory, over which we have a lot of control.

The web of highways built after World War II put us behind the wheel. Small farms turned into suburbs. Television arrived. People sat down. We became sedentary, passive observers. Combine that with junk food, fast food, artificial everything and stress. Scientists tell us the brain doesn’t do well in such circumstances.

Any chance of getting smart or staying smart in such an environment? YES!
(Read “YES” loudly. Every time you say YES, the brain is flooded with dopamine - i.e. happiness).

Here are some of Anaka’s list of 25 things to do for brain longevity.

Movement is the secret to the brain. Exercise! Our bodies and brains long to walk – and build brain cells when we do so. Swim, ride bikes, move!

Most brains experiencing memory loss are suffering from oxygen, water and/ or nutrition deprivation. Breathe deeply. The brain needs oxygen. Drink lots of water! Eat well and take vitamins – especially Vitamins B,C,E, and Omega-3 oils.

Humour is important. So is art. Listen to good music! The brain loves Baroque and Gregorian Chants. Heavy metal and hard rock? Not good. Worse still are drugs and alcohol which create holes in the brain. (See brain photos at www.mindworkspress.com.)

Using your hands is using your brain! Every touch, pull and tap sends information to the brain. Garden, paint, knit, dance, build things. Stand on one leg. Learn a language or a musical instrument. Spend time in nature, especially beside moving water.

De-stress. De-clutter. Get at least 7 1/2 hours sleep. Make new friends. Have a positive attitude.

Pay attention. Keep learning. If learning shuts down, the brain shuts down.

Plasticity. The willingness and the ability to change is not just a personality trait, but a brain capacity which we can practice.

Volunteer. It’s critical that we have a purpose and feel needed. We were not designed to be passive consumers.
Of the best brain foods, fish and fish oils top his list. Blueberries are second! Walnuts, kale, apples, bananas, berries, eggs, wheat germ, greens, and rainbow foods. Brown rice and whole grains help produce seratonin which keeps us calm and happy.

Brain killers are sedentary lifestyle, brain malnutrition, television, video games, alcohol, smoking, monotony and meaninglessness.

Who makes the choice for us to live sedentary, brain unfriendly lifestyles? Does anyone benefit from a population which is half brain dead? Actually, there are those who benefit. So no one from above is going to pry us away from our t.v. screens, take artifical sweeteners off the market, put good music on our stereos or bring back alternatives to the monotonous chain stores that are identical from sea to shining sea. We will have to make positive changes and choices for ourselves. This is our personal, grass roots brain challenge. What brings us back to life?

A massive population of aging geniuses with dementia is a tragedy. But we are not powerless. “If the people will lead, the leaders will follow.”

Many blessings on our dendrites! May we enthusiastically embrace this new day. Yes! If this is the Second Renaissance, we don’t want to miss it.

Waves of Potential (www.wavesofpotential.com) sponsored Gary Anaka’s presentation (www.braincoach.ca)