Getting Our Brain In Shape

Getting Our Brain in Shape a 3-part series
January 12, 2016

By Neal Lemery

There’s a lot to learn about our brains, and recently, I heard Dr. Neil Nedley engage several hundred of my friends and neighbors in rich conversations about the human brain.

We can improve our brain’s health, and get it in shape. It’s time for a brain fitness challenge which is as important as working our muscles and getting our bodies in shape.

Yes, we can change our brains, our behavior, and our attitudes, and we can change the functioning of our brains.

We can move through depression, anxiety, fear, and other unhealthy “stinking thinking” by improving our nutrition, exercise, social life, and our attitudes! By learning of new developments in brain research, we can improve our thinking and our lives.

Here are some of the things I learned. All this is a great start to a rich community wide education and conversation about mental health and our well being.


Oregon has the second highest suicide rate in the country. Tillamook County has the third highest rate in Oregon. Mental health is an issue we need to address as a community.

The brain has 100 billion nerve cells. There are 100 trillion nerve synapses, and there may be the possibility of ten times that amount. Each one of these cells has 20,000 possible connections. There are thousands of categories of cells.

As complex as the brain is, we now know the brain can repair itself and, with the right tools, even re-wire itself. Our research on the brain is just beginning.

There is a lot we can do to optimize our brains. Consider the acronym NEW START. We need:

• Nutrition – especially from vegetables. Nutrients in food provide the building blocks of our nerve cells and what makes them function
• Exercise. At least 20 minutes a day, ideally using our hands, moving in three dimensions, to stimulate the brain
• Water, more than you might think but yes, you can get too much
• Sunlight, natural or from a light box
• Temperance – Avoid harm. Live in moderation. Practice self-control. Understand the long-term benefits that come from delayed gratification
• Air. Fresh air is vital. Get outside and move.
• Rest. Early to bed, early to rise.
• Trust. Have a trusting relationship with others, with Spirit.

PART TWO – What’s the Frontal Lobe Got to do with It?

Depression and Anxiety

We are experiencing an epidemic. What we have developed to improve happiness actually often impairs brain function. Electronic screens with flickering light reduce frontal lobe activity and induce a hypnotic state in the brain. Increased sexual stimulation actually reduces pleasure and interest. Poor nutrition, lack of exercise and lack of exposure to light and fresh air also reduce the ability of the brain to respond and function.

26% of Americans have a major emotional disorder. Over 50% have a minor emotional disorder. This phenomenon is found across all social, economic, and education groups. One quarter of physicians are depressed.

We must look for long-term gain. Once brain health is optimized, a family is able to leave poverty, reduce violence, addiction, unemployment, and hunger.

The frontal lobe is the least studied aspect of the brain and yet makes up 33% of the human brain. If it is compromised, it affects moral principles, social interaction, judgement and foresight. The frontal lobe takes 30 years to fully develop and is home to such things as abstract reasoning, mathematical understanding, and empathy. When enhanced, the frontal lobe increases a person’s creativity, originality, curiosity and adaptability.

The frontal lobe is the seat of critical thinking. Current research shows that 45% of college students lack critical thinking skills. Lifestyle and behavior choices play a large role in the development of the frontal lobe. Drugs that can impair this development include illicit and prescription drugs, alcohol, nicotine, caffeine and marijuana. Alcohol can impair brain function for as long as 30 days after consumption. Repeated use of marijuana lowers IQ permanently, also lowering emotional intelligence (EQ) and motivation.

Intelligence is the capacity to learn, retain, and apply knowledge. Advancing in a job is NOT related to IQ but rather to Emotional Intelligence (EQ). Creativity, logic, and persuasion are tied to EQ. Improved EQ increases longevity, enhances the immune system and improves social relationships. Emotional Intelligence can be taught and increased over one’s lifetime.

PART THREE – “Know Thyself”

Enhancing Emotional Intelligence (EQ) occurs in five stages. The first of these involves self-awareness and understanding your own primary and secondary emotions. Why are you feeling that emotion? What thoughts and experiences are tied to that emotion? Feelings can lie. How we think, influences our reactions to problems and situations. Use the THINK technique to identify if these thoughts are helpful or harmful. Are they True, Helpful, Inspiring, Necessary or Kind? This is at the root of “Stinking Thinking.” The second stage of Emotional Intelligence involves the ability to manage our emotions and the thoughts that lead to them.

The third aspect of enhanced Emotional Intelligence is the ability to accurately recognize emotions in others. This is coupled with the ability to practice empathy, or the ability to understand and feel the emotions of another person even though you are not experiencing their situation firsthand.

The final two aspects of Emotional Intelligence have a lot to do with social relationships and “getting ahead” in life. How well we manage relationships with others and how effectively we can motivate others are features of a well-developed EQ.

There are many ways we sabotage the development of our EQ. Negative self-talk yields to adverse emotions. Magnifying minor issues or minimizing major issues are signs of impaired EQ as are defensiveness and denial. The alternative to this is an attitude open to repair and redemption. “A man who commits a mistake commits another mistake if he doesn’t correct it.” – Confucius

Practicing self-control, expressing gratitude, finding hope, seeking “bright lines” of morality, seeking worthy goals, and giving of self willingly are part of living the “psychological good life” and are the foundation for personal transformation.

We can turn setbacks into victories. Find the lesson, apply it, and
Move on. Then look back on defeat and smile.
–David Schwartz

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