Six Pillars of Brain Health
Pillar Three: Stress Reduction
This is the third of a six-part series on brain health from Deborah Schrameck, NC, PT, of the Eisenhower Wellness Institute. Additional articles can be found here.
Do you have people you gravitate towards or a place you go when you have had a stressful day? Nan was always that person and place for me. There was nothing in the world like hugging my grandmother to shift my state from traumatized teen to one totally relaxed, loved and adored.
Stress! It is a natural part of life. For two years in a row, the annual stress survey commissioned by the American Psychological Association has found that about 25% of Americans are experiencing HIGH levels of stress (rating their stress level as 8 or more on a 10-point scale), while another 50% report moderate levels of stress (a score of 4 to 7). 1
When it comes to our brain health, chronic stress has been shown to be detrimental and linked to cognitive decline. Short-term stress raises levels of cortisol, the so-called stress hormone, for short periods which can be beneficial; however, long-term stress can lead to prolonged increases in cortisol, which can be toxic to the brain. Scientists suspect high levels of cortisol over long periods are key contributors to Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, which severely impair short-term memory and other cognitive functions.
Research has endeavored to understand, alleviate and cure Alzheimer’s, dementia and cognitive impairment over the last decade. Great strides have been made toward interventions that focus on reducing stress, a leading factor.
A team of researchers at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center used meditation and mindfulness as an intervention for halting the progression of dementia in people diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment (MCI). Following the trials, researchers observed positive results slowing cognitive decline.2
Meditate to preserve our aging brains. A study from UCLA found that long-term meditators had a higher volume of gray matter throughout the brain.3
Meditate to change brain volume in key areas. A Harvard study found that eight weeks of mindfulness and meditation could actually change the structure of the brain pointing to an increase in cortical thickness in the hippocampus which manages learning and memory.4
Meditate; it’s worth a try. Meditation is not a cure-all for our brain health, but there’s certainly a lot of evidence that it can benefit those who practice it regularly. Just a few minutes of meditation daily may make a big difference.
Deborah’s Meditation 101
- Close your eyes. Sit up straight with both feet on the floor.
- Focus on your breath; slowly inhale through your nose, feel the breath open your chest and fill your abdomen. Reverse the process as you exhale.
- Recite a positive mantra silently or out loud such as “I feel at peace” or “I love myself.” Place one hand on your belly to sync the mantra with your breaths.
- Let any distracting thoughts float by like clouds.
Try 5 minutes at first and work your way up to 20.
Let’s put the first three pillars of brain health together: find a group or class combining meditation and movement, like yoga. In a class setting you are being social (pillar 1), you are moving (pillar 2) and you are reducing your stress with meditation (pillar 3).
I am personally learning to move from mind FULL to mindful. See you in class.
Deborah Schrameck is a wholistic kinesiologist, health coach, nutritional counselor and personal trainer currently working with the Eisenhower Wellness Institute, AcQpoint Acupuncture & Wellness Center and the La Quinta Resort and Club.
References available upon request.