Our Wonderful Brains
The human brain weighs slightly less than 1.4 kg. This is only about two per cent of our body weight, but the brain uses 20% of the bodyís oxygen and 25% of the bodyís glucose (energy) consumption. This is delivered by over 100,000 km's of blood vessels in the brain. If stretched out, they would circle the earth more than four times. This huge demand in energy is required to service the most active organ that we possess.
The brain is also the most complex structure known to man. It contains more than 100 billion neurons (brain cells), each of which is connected to around 10,000 other neurons. Thatís one million billion connections that need to be maintained - a truly astounding number.
This vast network of neurons controls all of the bodyís functions, from our heart rate, breathing and moving, to our sight, hearing, touch and emotion, and onto our consciousness, memory and thinking. Ultimately, it shapes our thoughts, hopes, dreams, and imagination. It is what makes us human. So far no one has ever managed to find a limit to either its processing power or what it can remember. The full extent of the brainís capabilities is unknown. It is potentially our own personal unlimited resource, if we choose to use it.††
In the past decade neuroscientists have discovered two important things about the brain:
1. Adult brains continue to adapt and develop new connections (neuroplasticity) in response to our circumstances
2. By being mentally active the brain develops additional capacity or Ďreservesí that help protect it from deterioration
The brain possesses the ability to modify and strengthen its network connections. Brain cell connections (synapses) are always forming and dying. This ability of the brain to change and adapt is known as brain plasticity. Age doesnít matter, the process of change is always happening. It is this adaption characteristic that provides memory, allows people to acquire new knowledge and to learn new skills. Each time we learn something new we form new connections, each time we practise something we already know we thicken those connections, each time we forget something we lose those connections. This is the same principle as our muscles, each time we exercise, our muscles get bigger. If we donít exercise, our muscles deteriorate.
Positive plasticity occurs when you create and strengthen your network connections by challenging your brain with novel activities. This creates new pathways and engages quieter parts of the brain. Negative plasticity occurs when you weaken and lose your network connections by not performing activities that you once did. Unused parts of the brain decline and stop working. The good news is that neuroscientists have found ways to exercise specific mental skills effectively (with tangible results) and efficiently (over a short time) and have found that with the right training, benefits last a relatively long time as compared with physical exercise and muscle development.
Our Control Centre
The brain is the bodyís control centre. It should be viewed as the centre of a complete ecosystem, not as an isolated organ. It is integrated via our nervous system to all of our other body systems. It must be kept informed of our bodyís immediate needs and of the resources available to satisfy them.† For this purpose, the brain relies on a vast network of wiring (our nerves) distributed throughout our body.
The nervous system transmits signals between different parts of our body. It coordinates all of our bodily actions - both internal and external.† It emanates from the brain and spinal cord, and branches repeatedly to every part of the body. Our nervous system is defined by the presence of a special type of cell, the neuron. The same type of cell that makes up the networks in our brain. In fact, the neurons in our brain and the neurons in our nervous system are part of the same network.
The spinal cord is a thin cylinder of soft tissue consisting of nerves that carry messages to and from the brain. The brain and spinal cord are connected to our peripheral nervous system, which carries information to and from the rest of the body, such as our limbs and internal organs. It is made up of many thousands of neurons which are bundled up into nerve fibres.† Neurons in the brain and spinal cord work together in health and disease. The brain plays a big part in influencing the immune systemís response to disease. So a healthy brain and a healthy body go hand in hand.
Brain Healthy Lifestyle
Different parts of our brain are recruited for all the different capabilities and skills we have. Different sections of our brain are specialised for each part of our body both to operate and for feedback. Different segments of our brain process each of our senses. The portion of our brain that deals with emotion is different from the piece that performs planning and organisation. The section of the brain that performs math is different from the area that understands the language we hear, which is different from the area that forms the words we speak, which is different from the part that helps generate our memories, and so on.
So just like our body no one single training exercise will build up our entire brain and the deficits that individuals have as they age vary. There are many cognitive domains covering both thinking and body operation that can be accessed for performance and appropriately targeted for training. We need to individually and specifically exercise lots of different parts of our brain to keep it performing well. And just like our body we also need to ensure we eat the correct foods and get the right amount of rest.
We often think of our youth as a time of intense learning and our old age as a time of mental decline when we start being more forgetful. But this is not how the brain works. The brain is capable of continuously learning and adapting throughout life. Indeed, as we age mental exercise becomes more important to maintain the facilities we are used to.
What We Can Teach You
Proactive Ageing can provide you with an overview on how your brain and nervous system work, how your actions affect positive and negative plasticity, and what exercises are of benefit.† Our training will make it easy for you to understand the biology and what it means for you. This will give you a better understanding of what you can do to keep both your body and brain healthy. Our goal is to give you enough knowledge to comfortably make the lifestyle choices that are right for you.
Want to Learn More
Good overviews of the brain are available from Neuroscience Institutes in the USA and Canada at ....
∑ Our Brain - Core Concepts†† http://www.sfn.org/index.aspx?pagename=core_concepts†††
∑ Interactive Brain Learning Site† http://thebrain.mcgill.ca/††††