“One way to change our genes is to make new ones”- Dean Ornish
An amazing thing science has learned in the last 20 years is that our brains have dramatic capacity to change throughout the human lifespan. Our brains are more changeable and more capable of transformation than perhaps any part of our body. Because it is not visible we often don’t notice. It is evident, however, through changes in attitude and perception. The new science of neuroplasticity is teaching us how dynamic and powerful these changes can be. And, the good news is that we don’t need to wait too long to see positive changes.
The recipe for bringing change is quite simple. Science shows that in order to make positive brain changes we need to eat healthier, manage stress better, exercise, and love more. Anything that brings more oxygen to the brain and increases its blood flow creates positive changes, but it’s actually more than that. These activities cause the brain to get measurably larger in size. Along with these changes are a multitude of positive health and emotional benefits.
Here are some things you can do to grow more brain cells: consume chocolate and tea, blueberries, use alcohol in moderation, and learn to manage stress better. These foods and behaviors are associated with positive changes in brain chemistry and function. Saturated fats, sugar, nicotine, opiates, cocaine, excessive alcohol consumption, and chronic stress all are associated with loss of brain cells and brain functioning.
Changes in lifestyle result in more blood flow to the skin so you age less quickly. Your skin looks better and doesn’t wrinkle as much. You look better. Your heart gets more blood flow, and you can actually reverse heart disease. Studies have shown that you may be able to stop and reverse the progression of prostate cancer and breast cancer simply by making these changes. Studies found that tumor growth in vitro was inhibited by 70% in people who made these changes as opposed to 9% in a comparison group. People had improved sexual function, reported greater life satisfaction, and felt more connected to significant others in their lives.
A recent study has shown that these changes can change the gene expression in men with prostate cancer. Over 500 genes were favorably changed, in effect turning on the good, disease preventing genes and turning off the disease promoting genes. This study and others like it have shown us that genetics are not destiny and genetic predisposition to certain diseases and ways of thinking may be more under our control and we realize. Living a life of wellness, positive relationships, positive thinking, and moderation can reverse and change our destiny.
What can we do to change the genetic hand we’ve been dealt? It’s not as difficult as we’d initially think. Obvious changes in diet, smoking and drinking are obvious. If you have some bad habits along these lines, then a steady, systematic change is better. Positive lifestyle changes needn’t be black and white. Starting small with dietary improvements, cutting back on alcohol use, and quitting smoking are better ways to go, as the goal is to set yourself for success not failure. Involving your primary care physician may also be warranted as you will have an idea of what your physical baseline is and can gauge your progress from there.
Exercise of almost any type is going to be beneficial. We needn’t run out and join a gym either. A daily walk of 10 minutes, two to three times per day will yield positive benefits within an extremely short time.Certainly you can go to a gym and get involved in more formal exercise, but it is not necessary to change your brain and your genetic makeup. Learning to breathe deeper, from your abdomen instead of your lungs, can create an improved relaxation response. Consciously making more meaningful connections to people in can also better equip us for the rigors of life.
Find ways to change your lifestyle that you enjoy. You are more likely to follow through doing what you enjoy so don’t punish yourself! Life is meant to be lived not endured.
“Be the change that you desire in (your) world”-Gandhi
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