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Use It or Lose It, and Cells that Fire together Wire together

Who has not heard “Use It or Lose It”. Now, what is “It”? Last week I gave a talk at the Ital­ian Con­sulate in San Fran­cisco, and one of the areas atten­dants seemed to enjoy the most was learn­ing about what our brains are and how they work, peak­ing into the “black box” of our minds. With­out under­stand­ing at least the basics, how can we make good deci­sions about our own brain health and fitness?

Let’s review at a glance:

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The brain is com­posed of 3 main sub-systems

The brain is com­posed of 3 “brains” or main sub-systems, each named after the evo­lu­tion­ary moment in which the sub-system is believed to have appeared.Theropod

A) Neo­cor­tex, or Human Brain, is the most recent area, where we per­form high-level think­ing and com­plex inte­gra­tive tasks. Other mam­mals do have this part too, but in smaller pro­por­tion of the whole brain vol­ume. This is where we have our right and left hemispheres.

B) Lim­bic Sys­tem, or Mam­malian Brain, crit­i­cal for emo­tions and for memory,

C) Cere­bel­lum and Stem, or Rep­til­ian Brain, that reg­u­lates basic vital vari­ables such as breath­ing, heart­beat and motor coor­di­na­tion (Credit for pic: Arnold Key­ser­ling and R.C.L.)

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More about the Lim­bic System

TheropodEmotions are gen­er­ated here, as well as the appetites and urges that help us survive.

For instance, the amyg­dala gets trig­gered to pre­pare us to deal with a threat­en­ing sit­u­a­tion, result­ing in our feel­ing of fear.

The hip­pocam­pus is key in the for­ma­tion of mem­ory. (Credit for pic.: Sand­hills College)

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More about the Neocortex

The Neo­cor­tex is com­posed of:

  • Frontal Lobes: or the CEO of the Brain, for sophis­ti­cated brain func­tions such as plan­ning and conceptualizing.
  • Pari­etal lobes: Deal­ing with move­ment, the senses, and some forms of recog­ni­tionTheropod
  • Tem­po­ral lobes: Audi­tory processes and language
  • Occip­i­tal: Visual pro­cess­ing center

(credit for pic: Morphonix)

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When we exer­cise our brains

When we exer­cise our brains, we put our neu­rons and con­nec­tions between neu­rons in action.

In action“Cells that fire together wire together” means that synapses-unions between neu­rons– get solid­i­fied the more often the respec­tive neu­rons “talk” to each other. (Credit for pic.: Peter Furstenberg)

Given the diver­sity of func­tions out­lined above, it is clear that dif­fer­ent activ­i­ties are going to acti­vate dif­fer­ent brain areas, which sci­en­tists now know thanks to neu­roimag­ing techniques.

There is no one magic bul­let that is best (either cross­words puz­zles, or computer-based pro­grams, or phys­i­cal exer­cise): We do need a vari­ety of men­tal stim­u­la­tion or “brain exer­cises” to main­tain the whole brain healthy.

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Read more about the brain and brain skills/cognitive abilities:

Read more about how to keep the brain sharp:

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