Over the weekend I had the incredible opportunity to listen to local researchers sharing their groundbreaking studies on Alzheimer’s disease related issues. Once again I beamed with joy hearing how much work is happening right here in our own backyard. And although I do my best to stay on top of developments as they happen, several comments nearly took my breath away, in a good way.
The World Health Organization currently recommends that people conduct at least 600 metabolic equivalent minutes (Met minutes) of physical activity – the equivalent of 150 minutes a week of brisk walking or 75 minutes of running. But a new study suggests that most health gains are actually achieved at a much higher level: between 3,000 and 4,000 MET minutes a week. (Study: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.i3857)
This week I have the opportunity to present my latest research looking at the impact of humor on the brain. We talk about a lot of different techniques for stress management: a healthy diet, regular exercise, and adequate sleep to name a few. Personally, I have found massage to be a lifesaver for building in consistent recharge time each week where I intentionally let my brain and body be guided into relaxation mode. A few years ago, thanks to my friends at the Association for Applied and Therapeutic Humor, I was introduced to a new type of “mental massage” – one that enhances circulation to parts of the brain that often get left out of our day to day activities, such as perceiving amusement, irony and joy.
I recently began playing golf in an attempt to boost my brainpower. As Bobby Jones once said,"Golf is a game played on a five inch course, the distance between your ears". Golf is no doubt a mental game, but it's more than that. While it certainly challenges your brain it also stimulates areas that are often left out of our daily routine - things like play, social connection, physical activity, fresh air, and if you can master it, relaxation.
When we find ourselves slipping into survival mode, it can feel pretty chaotic. Consider what happens when you’ve gone too long without eating, haven’t had a good night sleep in a while, or haven’t seen the sun in days – you might not feel quite like yourself. This is when I like to remind myself that my “monkey brain” has taken over. The first reason it’s helpful for me personally, is I happen to be a huge monkey fan, so I instantly get big smile on my face. Monkeys always seem to be in a pretty good mood, and are usually playing around, acting silly. So the initial reaction to thinking about something called our “monkey brain” just makes me laugh (and we’ll talk about how important laughter is to staying healthy in an upcoming chapter). But there is another reason to consider how the monkey brain responds differently than other parts of our brain, and when it can be detrimental to us.
Sometimes the more we learn, the more we realize we don’t know. Especially when our exploration comes to terrain as dynamic and multifaceted as the human brain!
The brain is very sensitive to anything that may be perceived as a threat in our environment.
When we become aware of stress that others carry around us, it sends a very clear signal that we too should be worried. This triggers what’s called an “amygdala hijack” where the more primitive part of our brain responds in a more knee-jerk reactive way (based on the limbic system, fight or flight mechanisms) rather than a mindful, responsive, reflective way.