Protecting Your Brain: New Research Points the Way
Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. Updated: Mar 18th 2013
Using wild mice, a new study from Brigham and Women’s hospital backs up the use it or lose it theory that is emerging in the field of neuroplasticity. The study shows that continued exposure to novel activities may stave off the negative factors associated with Alzheimer’s disease. In particular, certain proteins are prevented from breaking down signaling in the hippocampus, which is associated with learning and memory. What does this mean for me and you?
For one thing, the study out of the journal Neuron means that no matter what age we are, we can set the intention and practice to engage in novel activities and this may protect our brain.
All those things that you say you don’t have time to do because you’re so caught up in routine are no longer just frivolous pleasurable activities, are now protective health factors.
In other words, it’s important to do new things, explore new parts of town, expose yourself to new forms of exercise, get out and meet new people who have like-minded interests, try new cuisine, pick up scrabble, or even try mindfulness meditation.
If you’ve been following my work you know I’m a mindfulness advocate, but there’s a specific reason in this case.
A key ingredient to mindfulness, is cultivating a beginner’s mind or engaging things as if for the first time. This activates the novelty network in the brain and interestingly enough, studies have shown that practicing mindfulness meditation can increase matter in your hippocampus.
That’s in interesting correlation with this study on Alzheimer’s disease.
We can pick up the little things in life and make them novel.
Here are five examples to try today:
Wherever you live, take a walk around the block imagining it’s the first time you’ve ever done it before. What do you notice? What’s new? What surprises you?
Try sitting for 3 minutes, paying attention to your break. Here’s a quick practice to start you off from The Now Effect.
The next time you bring that coffee, tea or juice to your mouth, imagine that you’ve just gained the sense of taste and bring curiosity and wonder to how it touches your mouth, the flavors and where you experience them. Savor!
When you see a friend or colleague today, rather than getting caught in whatever your routine interaction is, set the intention to deeply listen to them, or maybe see them as a person that you care about and let them know that, wishing them well.
Pick any routine activity and practice 5X5. Go through all your five senses and name five things that you notice for each. There may not be five things for each, so go out of your way to find some. For example, when you’re walking, you may not smell five things in the air. Stop and choose some things to smell, bring back that beginner’s mind and see what you notice.
Whether you inevitably stave off Alzheimer’s we can’t conclusively say, but you will drop back into the wonder of everyday life.
As always, please share your thoughts, stories and questions below. Your interaction creates a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.