A healthier environment leads to a healthier brain
If you want your brain to work at its optimum level, make sure you stay in a healthy environment. Why? Because the environment around you matters more to your brain than you think. In fact, California Institute of Technology and Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles have published a research which supports the fact that a relaxed brain is better at remembering and processing new information. Many other studies already suggested this connection, but this study is the first one to highlight that the brain’s memorization process is at its peak during a specific electrical brain state.
Every human brain displays different types of brain waves across the cortex. Each brain wave has a purpose and together they help to serve optimal mental health. Out of these five types of brain waves, theta is the elusive brain state, which is produced in states of daydreaming, meditation, relaxation, and sleepiness. It is also known as the ‘twilight state’ of mind because theta brainwave activity heightens the receptivity of your brain. In the theta state, you can increase your brain’s clarity and speed to learn and memorize new things. This is why, when you are relaxed and are a part of a healthy environment, you can reprogram your mind with positive thoughts.
According to scientists, stronger and better lasting memories are likely to be created when a person is in a relaxed and healthy environment. Memory-related neurons in the brain synchronize with theta waves to increase memory and learning skills. Adam Mamelak, a neurosurgeon at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, supported this research by adding, “Our research shows that when memory-related neurons are well coordinated to theta waves during the learning process, memories are stronger.”
This research can be considered a breakthrough and will eventually lead to techniques that can help people with learning disabilities or dementia, to form stronger memories. Another reason to stay away from a negative environment is that it decreases your ability to remember and actually stops new neural connections from forming in the brain. In fact, staying in a toxic environment will cause the brain to slow down, making it hard to process information and find solutions. Negative emotions, like fear and stress, can decrease activity in your cerebellum, cause mood swings and decrease your learning abilities drastically.
So, what can you do to ‘let it all go’ and be a part of a healthier environment? According to a research, calm environmental scenes and sounds, such as the sea, enable different areas of your brain to connect in a better way. While man-made environments, such as motorways and traffic, disrupt the existing brain connections and prevent new ones from forming.
This is why, if you want your brain to be healthier and free from mental health diseases, take some time out and reconnect with your natural surroundings. Spending a couple of hours outdoors will help your body and mind in many ways. You’ll notice a clarity in your mind and your stress levels will reduce automatically.
Here are some ways in which you can rejuvenate your mind and body by being a part of a healthier environment:
1- Get some vitamin D
You might have heard many parents say this phrase to their kids, if they see them cooped inside playing video games. Well, research supports the fact that vitamin D actually maximizes calcium absorption, elevates mood and prevents the risk of cancer, heart disease, diabetes and more. There are countless benefits of absorbing vitamin D from the sun, and it lowers your blood pressure too by literally relaxing your mind and body. So, slather on some sunscreen and step outside to improve your brain and body health.
2- Regulate your melatonin level
Stepping outside in the sun will not only help you absorb the much-needed vitamin D, but will also regulate your body’s melatonin levels. Melatonin is a hormone that controls the sleep cycle of your body. It is produced by the pineal gland of your brain, which is affected when you are exposed to light. This is why, there should be a balance between the hours you spend in sunlight and indoors. It will ensure that there is the right amount of melatonin in your body, helping you sleep well at night and feel refreshed when you wake up.
3- Unplug those devices
Are you constantly checking your email and always hooked to your smartphone? According to research, multi-tasking, particularly with your electronic devices, can actually cause more stress than relieving it. This is why, make it a point to leave your phone behind before heading out into nature. It will help you to leave behind the stressors and focus your mind on the pure and natural environment instead.
No wonder, a simple walk around the block can help your mind de-stress majorly and leave you feeling refreshed.
4- Recharge your brain
Did you know that the human brain needs at least 20 percent of body’s total energy to function properly? The requirement increases by 5-10 percent when you are focused on mentally challenging task. This is why, you can’t expect your brain to keep on performing without any breaks.
When the body and mind are at rest, the brain settles into the default mode network (or DMN). DMN is a complex communication activity that takes place between various parts of the brain and is essential for your overall mental well-being.
5- Lower your stress levels
Spending twenty to thirty minutes outdoors and performing repetitive tasks, like gardening, can do wonders for lowering your stress levels. It actually yields better results than other leisure activities.
Additionally, taking a brisk walk down the lane, swimming and exercising can uplift your mood and release a hormone known as ‘dopamine’ in your body. Dopamine is also known as ‘the pleasure hormone’ and can help you fight mood swings, depression, body aches and other issues that may plague you down throughout the week.
6- Don’t forget to breathe
When you are a part of an artificial indoor environment, the body has to work hard to filter oxygen from the air. This causes your blood pressure and heart rate to increase. Lack of oxygen in your brain can increase serotonin levels in your brain, causing you to become irritable and tense.
On the other hand, too little serotonin levels in the body can leave you feeling low and depressed. Breathing in a natural and fresh environment can regulate the serotonin levels in your body and promote mental well-being. When you are outdoors, your body finds it easier to absorb oxygen, enabling the mind to perform in a better way.
Pure air has a higher content of negative ion-rich oxygen, which relaxes the body and the mind. Negatively ionized air has a calming effect on the mind and increases brain wavelength amplitude. So, plan an outdoor hike whenever you get the chance. It can really relax those brain muscles.
Also, make sure you practice basic breathing techniques whenever you step outdoors. They help reduce the production of the stress hormone in the body and train your body to react calmly in stressful situations. Slow and deep breathing activates the body’s parasympathetic reaction, which relaxes the mind and helps to clear it. So, stop by to smell the roses and deflate your body’s natural stress response.
7- Bacteria in the soil can double as an anti-depressant
According to a research, Mycobacterium vaccae, harmless bacteria that is found in soil, can act as a natural anti-depressant. This bacteria increases the release of serotonin in the brain, which helps in controlling your cognitive function and mood in a positive way. There are countless benefits that are associated with this bacteria. It even decreases inflammation of the immune system and keeps heart disease and diabetes at bay.
So, encourage yourself and your loved ones to spend some quality time outdoors. Don’t be afraid of getting your hands dirty!
8- Pump up those endorphins
It is a well-established fact that any form of physical activity encourages the production of endorphins in the body. Endorphins are your brain’s “feel-good” neurotransmitters. This is why you feel happy and satisfied with your daily dose of exercise. This sensation is also referred to as a ‘runner’s high’.
So, flex those muscles and increase the production of endorphins in your body. It will leave you feeling relaxed, clear-headed and calm. You will be all set to take on the next challenge with full vigor and energy.
The never-ending mental stimulation within the brain defines us human beings. However, the intricacy of the brain is beyond our imagination. An adult human brain has more than 80 billion neurons that are constantly at work. This complexity of the human brain makes it even more vulnerable to the effects of the environment. Environmental factors play an important part in our physical and mental well-being.
It might be impossible to break free and step away from our established environments, but we can try and make small efforts to engage with our natural surroundings. A few minutes of daily outdoor activities can create a positive impact on our mental and physical health.
How do you refresh your brain after the daily grind? Are there any methods that help your brain de-stress successfully? If yes, we would love to hear about them. Share your ideas in the comments below.
Alycia Gordan is a freelance writer who loves to read and write articles on healthcare technology, fitness, and lifestyle. She is a tech junkie and divides her time between travel and writing. You can find her on Twitter: @meetalycia