Nov 25, 2007
By: Alvaro Fernandez
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:
The brain is composed of 3 main sub-systems
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.)
More about the Limbic System
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)
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.
- Temporal lobes: Auditory processes and language
- Occipital: Visual processing center
(credit for pic: Morphonix)
When we exercise our brains
When we exercise our brains, we put our neurons and connections between neurons 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.
Read more about the brain and brain skills/cognitive abilities:
Read more about how to keep the brain sharp:
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