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Neurogenesis vs Neuroplasticity
  • Neurogenesis - is the process of which new neurons/brain cells grow in the brain;
  • Neuroplasticity - refers to the existing neurons and the new neurons grow and form different connections with each other. It shapes who we are.

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Health

Brain cells get destroyed when we experience high levels of chronic inflammation. This mainly happens due to chronic stress, unhealthy eating habits (eating too much processed sugar, meat, and refined carbs), and not getting enough rest.

When we have an inflamed brain, it leads to brain fog, anxiety, depression, and low energy; and in the long run, it may cause cognitive decline and other diseases.

How new brain cells are grown

Neurogenesis happens in two parts of the brain: the hippocampus and the olfactory bulb. The former is responsible for emotional health and memory function while the latter is associated with smell.

In order to stay mentally sharp and emotionally balanced, we need to develop habits that promote neurogenesis: having a healthy diet, getting consistently good sleep, and regular exercise. Your diet needs to consist of omega-3 fatty acids, phytonutrients, B vitamins, zinc, and magnesium.

The neurotrophin BDNF is a type of protein that helps with the brain cells' growth and survival.

In order to boost its production, a diet with consistent omega-3 fatty acids and flavonoids are great boosters. Moreover, anti-inflammatory spices such as turmeric, rosemary, and ginger are important as well.

Taking A Proper Luch Break: Steps To Improve Your State of Well-Being
  1. Schedule an actual lunch break. Even though we're working from home it doesn't mean that we have to sit in our chairs the entire day working. It is important to have time for yourself.
  2. Move away from your work area and have a change in environment. Set the table where you can eat peacefully and not think about work for the next 30 minutes or so.
  3. Start behaving like you're actually going to work. Sometimes, it can be less stressful and even motivating to think that you're reporting to the office.
Mindful Pause For Lunch

Since we've been deprived of socialization and have been away from people for as long as we can remember it's important to try and reach out to people.

Taking a break away from your workstation and having lunch maybe at the park or just by the balcony of your place and someone to talk to on the phone can recharge our batteries and possibly make us more focused and creative for the rest of the day.

Unconscious Eating

Having close proximity to food will increase the chances of developing a habit called "unconscious eating" where an individual will eat without giving it much thought and ignore the physiological cues that are being given to us while eating a meal.

When we do not pay attention to the cues being alerted to us regarding satiety we tend to eat quickly and don't feel full or satisfied from what we've eaten. Moreover, having easier access to food can also lead to higher calorie consumption.

Our Response To Stress
  • When we experience a stressful event, different hormones like adrenaline and cortisol are released inside our body, resulting in a fight-or-flight response, and may experience volatility, extreme emotions and brain shutdowns.
  • Long-term stress has been linked with all kinds of problems related to physical and mental health.
  • Our community, the support we get from family, friends and relatives tend to factor in our response towards a stressful situation.

Mature adults have developed their coping skills and are not as reactive and stressful all the time as the young population, which are yet to understand steadfastness, resilience or the benefits of a calm mind.

When a person has successfully managed challenging situations, new problems are not reacted with panic as our past experiences give us strength and self-efficacy.

Right action comes when we take proactive steps to remedy a problematic situation, tapping into the things that are possible and can be controlled.

  • A person with an external locus of control blames others and acts like a hopeless victim.
  • A person who has an internal locus of control is able to move into positive action and cope up with the situation at hand.

A person with underlying and invisible mental health issues is likely to get triggered by any event.

Like the straw that broke a camel’s back, a person’s current mindset and problems can project a new problem in a distorted way, making even a small event feel overwhelming. This leads to feelings of inadequacy and low self-esteem.

Our personality and upbringing play a major role in how we handle a stressful situation.

First responders, firefighters and surgeons have different skill sets and mental strength, apart from the professional training that they have undergone, leading to better handling of pressure situations.

  1. Take care of yourself by practising mindfulness meditation, yoga, or deep breathing.
  2. Focus on what you are able to control, and regulate it, like watching less news.
  3. Ask for support from family or a therapist.
  4. Help others and listen to their problems, creating a reciprocating feeling of empathy and understanding.
  5. Understand that we are all different yet the same, and learn to live in harmony.
Eating before or after you exercise

Research shows the importance of nutrition for exercise. However, it is not always clear whether it's best to eat before or after you exercise.

The following should be considered:

  • What you're training for.
  • The level you're at. An elite athlete's needs differ from a beginner.
  • Considering what works for you.

When we exercise, our bodies use energy, either supplied by carbohydrates stored in our bodies, or from the food we eat.

  • If the exercise is demanding or we exercise for a long time, we use more stored carbohydrate.
  • If your energy is low, or you're doing a longer or more demanding session, consuming carbohydrate-rich foods such as pasta, rice, cereals or fruit three to four hours before exercise can help.
  • Eating lower glycemic index foods such as porridge oats or whole grain bread can better sustain energy during exercise.
  • Eating right before exercising could cause indigestion, cramps or nausea.
  • If your goal is building strength or muscle, eating protein before exercise may improve overall recovery responses.

Recent research shows that training in a fasted state can lead to efficient fuel use, fat burning, improved blood sugar and hormone regulation. This is helpful when training for a marathon to help delay fatigue.

  • Studies also show that eating soon after exercise can help maximise recovery, particularly eating carbohydrates.
  • But there is also evidence that eating protein during recovery can maximise muscle growth. If training is done later in the day, eating a small protein meal before bed can help with acute recovery.

There is a clear advantage for eating before and during longer duration exercise. Using nutrition to strategically recover is essential for those who want to maximise their workouts.

When resistance training, consuming a combination of mainly carbohydrate, protein, and creatine before and after exercise, provide better muscle and strength gains over ten weeks.

Neuroplasticity: The Brain’s Ability To Adapt

The human brain is not static, but is shape-shifting, upgrading, maintaining and housekeeping itself all the time.

The constant rewiring, adapting and upgrading is happening not just in our formative years, but through the course of our lifetime. This neuroplasticity of the brain can be nurtured and stimulated for further development.

While neuroplasticity is the ability of the brain to form fresh connections and to rewire itself, neurogenesis is the brain’s ability to grow new neurons.

Experiments in the 1960s discovered that traumatic events, stress and anxiety are detrimental to the neuron cells of the brain. This led to new understandings about the brain being a regenerative organ, where cells can regrow and replenish, also known as neurogenesis.

Neuroplasticity has two broad types:

  • Structural neuroplasticity: When the synapses or the strength of connections between neurons changes.
  • Functional neuroplasticity: When learning and development lead to permanent changes in the synapses.

Just like medications and chemicals change our brain, neuroplasticity has the potential to reinvent oneself and get over the traumatic events of the past. It has the power to dissolve our hardwired memories which are fear-based.

When the brain learns new things, it connects neuron cells and creates new pathways. Learning new facts may not be very useful, but if one learns a new language, skill or a musical instrument, the neuron magic starts to happen and the rewiring begins.

If we have a growth mindset, where our skills and abilities can be consciously developed, the magic of the brain’s neuroplasticity starts to happen.

  • The brains of children are extremely adaptive and start to form patterns and connections as soon as they are born.
  • The exponential growth is then refined when the child grows up.
  • The neuron cells can be adaptive to learning special skills or recovering from injuries, impaired due to genetic/acquired disorders, and excessive negative growth due to incorrect pathway connections.
  • These abilities are present in adults though to a lesser degree.

Apart from forming new pathways and connections, neuroplasticity can also:

  1. Recover the brain from strokes and injuries.
  2. Rewire functions if one area is damaged.
  3. Heighten the senses of a particular function if the other is damaged.
  4. Increase memory and cognitive abilities, helping in learning.

One can boost or enhance neuroplasticity by:

  1. Fasting: Intermittent fasting increases synaptic adaptation and promotes neuron growth.
  2. Travelling: Exposing the brain to new environments.
  3. Memory Training: Memory exercises enhance connectivity and prevent memory loss.
  4. Learning something new: New neural connections are formed when learning a musical instrument.
  5. Using the non-dominant hand: When the unused hand is exercised, new pathways are formed and the existing ones are strengthened.
  6. Reading fiction: Stories that are imaginative enhances the connectivity of the brain.
  7. Vocabulary expansion: Learning words exercises the memory, visual and auditory processes.
  8. Drawing: Creating artworks enhances the default mode network (DMN), increasing introspection, empathy, attention and focus.
  9. Dancing: Increases neural connectivity, mind and body coordination and reduces the risk of Alzheimer’s.
  10. Sleeping: Sleep is crucial to process newly learned information and growth of the dendritic spines (connections between neurons).

Patients with severe brain damage are able to rapidly heal themselves, practically remodelling the brain a few days or weeks after the trauma.

What’s weird is that a brain injury is a great time to take advantage of the rapid reorganization, recovery and other significant changes that a brain can perform on itself. During stroke recovery, learning something new or even re-learning something can result in significant gains.

Psychiatric disorders, stress, anxiety and depression are by itself neuroplasticity, but in a negative, destruction-oriented way.

The damage caused to the brain by these mental disorders encourages unhealthy and dangerous pathways.

Breathing exercises, body awareness, changing thought patterns using meditation and memory exercises can help with the reversal of the negative neuroplasticity caused by mental disorders.

Depression and anxiety can be regulated and reversed by certain exercises:

  1. Memory games, crossword, or sudoku.
  2. Juggling, or learning to play a new musical instrument.
  3. Learning a new language.
  4. Yoga.
  5. Meditation.
  6. Regular exercise of the body.
  7. Learning a new subject in a short time.

These techniques can also be used for treating ADHD, OCD and autism. Online games and apps work more or less the same if the other aspects like learning and exercising are also engaged with.

Neurons are by themselves responsible for the experience of pain. The brain can adapt and manage chronic pain by:

  1. Mild electric shocks in the brain to stimulate certain areas.
  2. Magnetic stimulation of the brain.
  3. Fasting intermittently.
  4. Glucose supplements.

Apart from these, there are some regular things that we can do to treat chronic pain: exercising, avoiding junk food, quitting smoking, keeping the mind engaged and practising mindfulness.

  • Meditation has a profound effect on the neuroplasticity work inside the brain, with some regions like the hippocampus or certain parts of the amygdala becoming significantly larger.
  • Music lifts our mood and is a highly impactful way to facilitate structural and functional changes in the brain, like improving cognitive skills.

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