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use-it-dont-lose-itWhen was the last time you gave a thought about your brain’s health care? It may seem like a bizarre question, but if you haven’t given much consideration to your brain’s long-term health, this question may spur you to.

Cases of Alzheimer’s and dementia (both diseases affect memory, thinking, language, judgment, and behavior) are on the rise, and the need to preserve brain function has never been greater. With 10,000 baby boomers turning 50 years of age every day, the number of people at risk for mental decline is becoming a national crisis. Only until recently has science been able to study the brain. The studies of age-related brain decline have been limited as the average life expectancy in 1900 was 47 years of age and today’s average is 75, meaning there has been precious little time to thoroughly study the aging of the brain.

Like the body, the brain benefits immensely from a healthy lifestyle, but the brain really thrives with a variety of creativity. Not only can mental exercise improve areas of your brain now, but these exercises may protect you from future mental decline. Give the below ideas a try, but remember to practice variation by working on one activity and then trying a new one after about six months.

Puzzles: Solving different puzzles will impact various areas of the brain. Crosswords challenge the language and memory area, while jigsaw puzzles exercise the parietal lobes. Instead of plopping down on the couch and watching TV, try working on some of these puzzles. Your brain goes into autopilot when watching TV, allowing your brain to become weak, but some of these puzzles can be worked sitting, lying down, or in almost any position.

Video Games: Playing video games (in moderation and in variation) may improve eye-hand coordination and spatial visualization skills. The number of things that you can visually attend to simultaneously may be improved by playing video games.

Learn New Words: Whether it’s a new word everyday or a completely new language, learning new words enriches your understanding of the world and enhances your brain’s language center. The prefrontal lobe where judgment and other important functions are controlled also gains from added words to your vocabulary.

Work with Your Hands: Honing your fine finger control is always great for enhancing your brain. Not only is your eye-hand coordination worked, but your focus is involved as well. Taking up a musical instrument that involves finger dexterity might just be the best idea, but try knitting or model ship or train building too.

Play with Sensory Experiences: One of the most common causes of forgetfulness and poor memory relates to the failure to register what is going on during the original experience. Practice this activity by incorporating different thoughts into some of your daily experiences. A few examples of this include trying to identify by name all of the components and herbs you encounter in everything you eat. While driving to any routine establishment, memorize all the street signs or take a completely new way. This activity should interrupt your boring old routine and give you things to contemplate.

These exercises are not a quick fix, and to fully gain from any mental stimulation the exercise needs to evolve into tasks that continuously push your limits. While a little helps, enjoying these activities on a repeated basis is going to supply the best benefits for your brain. It shouldn’t be too long until you start observing the advantages of “working out” your brain as you’ll likely notice your reading comprehension improving while your concentration is enhanced.

If you want to get aggressive about enhancing your brain function, your physician can make some excellent suggestions for you. One idea might include addressing heavy metals, which can be extremely beneficial when poisons like lead, mercury, and arsenic are eliminated. Another suggestion might include nutritional supplements like omega-3 fatty acids, amino acids, and support products for your neurotransmitters. Supplement recommendation should be tailored for each patient by a trained physician for maximum results as everyone will vary greatly in their respective needs. Taking good care of your brain isn’t “rocket science” and doesn’t have to be complicated or feel like an obligation. Taking control of your health care will become easier and become fun the longer you do it. The longer you take care of yourself, the longer you just may live.

Paul Stallone, N.M.D.

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