Brain Fit For Life

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In Brain Fit for Life, Dr. Simon Evans, PhD and Dr. Paul Burghardt, PhD tackle a very contemporary and timely issue. Is it possible to achieve lifelong brain health and fitness? Is there anything we can do to prevent the inevitable decline of cognitive function? The answer to both questions is a resounding yes!

The coauthors are research scientists from the University of Michigan with a wealth of public speaking experience. The strength of their book is that they break down a highly complex subject matter into an easy to read and entertaining format.

According to the authors, “your brain responds and adapts to the environment you live in and the experiences you have. … Just like the rest of your body, your brain can be fit or in shape or unfit and out of shape.” The authors state that the brain fitness industry is feverishly producing intellectually challenging software games in an attempt to keep the mind young. However, they are adamant that their book is about boosting total brain fitness. It is definitely possible to exercise your brain to improve your level of brain fitness. However it takes a variety of exercise routines to really get your brain “in shape.”

The foundation of the book is laid down very strategically in the first chapter. Total brain fitness is broken down into three main cognitive systems: 1) Emotional Intelligence (EQ); 2) Physical Intelligence (PQ); and 3) Intellectual Cognition (IQ).

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Evans and Burghardt present the four cornerstones of brain fitness as quality nutrition, physical activity, mental activity and sleep. If only one of these cornerstones is weak, your brain health can be drastically compromised. The reader will discover what nutrients are the best raw materials to boost brain power and how to utilize exercise and physical activity to improve learning and memory. The reader will also learn what mental activities and exercise will help sharpen his mind and cognitive function. “Most researchers believe there is no harm in using the cognitive training games but realize that it’s only a small piece of the overall puzzle.”

And finally the reader will learn why sleep is so important for learning. One fascinating concept describes plasticity and the brain’s ability to rewire itself. “You’ll need it to continue to learn, adapt to and successfully conquer the challenges that life throws at you.” Sleep deprivation decreases the brain’s ability to strengthen connection between brain cells and consolidate what one has just learned. In particular it gives great insight into the reason why some sleep deprived students have difficulty passing some of their exams!

If you are looking for an excellent guide to lifelong brain health and fitness, Brain Fit for Life is for you. Through their insightful analysis, practical illustrations, and amusing cartoons, the authors absolutely inspire you to improve your level of brain fitness. Brain fitness is a lifelong journey. However, if you follow the directions, integrate the four cornerstones and take action, you are going to enjoy the ride.

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Sleeping Posture Tips for 2017

Many thanks to my colleague Dr. Chris Enns from Winnipeg for his article about the importance  of sleeping posture. Let me know if you have any questions.

As a chiropractor, I often discuss with my patients the importance of good sleeping posture.  When we think about posture, we usually think of how we hold our bodies while standing, lifting or sitting and not necessarily our posture at rest. After all, it is a body position that occupies the greatest proportion of our time.  Normally it should be a time for rest and recuperation. It should be when our body renews energy, replenishes cells, and recovers from the normal stresses and strains of life.  Unfortunately, your sleeping position can not only result in sleep deprivation, but it can be a cause for shoulder, neck and back pain .  It is well known that when we don’t sleep well, it can contribute to a variety of health conditions, some of which pose significant risk to both quality of life and longevity.  In this article, I will discuss some general guidelines.  Every individual presents unique challenges with finding the right position, so this discussion will not apply to everyone.  The best sleeping position is a balance between the ideal posture and the most comfortable position.

1. Don’t Sleep On Your Stomach.

It is tough to control what your body does when you are sleeping, but avoid sleeping on your front.  Sleeping face down always forces your neck into extension with significant rotation.  This position places significant loading to your spinal joints.  Typically, stomach sleepers don’t alternate which side they rotate their head, so it becomes an asymmetrical strain to their neck, upper back, and even low back.

2. If You Sleep On Your Back, Don’t Use Two Pillows.

Sleeping on your back can be an excellent way to ensure a neutral posture.  When you lay flat without a pillow, on a firm mattress, most people are in an almost perfect posture.  This may not be comfortable, however.  Regardless of how ideal the posture, your sleeping position must be comfortable or you’ll end up falling asleep in a poor sleeping posture.  If you are a back sleeper, try using only one comfortable pillow at the head to reduce the forward head posture and perhaps a pillow or two under the knees to reduce strain to your low back.  Contoured pillows may help preserve the normal curve in your neck and keep your head from flexing forward and causing excess strain.

3. Side sleepers Need To Find Neutral.

A common sleeping position is laying on your side.  This may be comfortable, but there is plenty of room for error when trying to find a neutral posture.  Remember, the goal is a neutral posture that is comfortable for restful sleep.  The head should be in between the shoulders and not bent towards or away from the pillow.  You should avoid twisting into various body contortions or this will cause rotational strain to the spinal discs.  A body pillow, or using multiple pillows, for supporting the body can be a solution to this problem.  Placing a pillow between the knees and the elbows is an effective way to find a neutral body position.  For the head, there is no rule that is applicable to everyone.  Because of varying shoulder width, some will only need one pillow to keep their head level.  Others will require two pillows if they have large shoulders.  Or, a contoured pillow that has multiple depths can help with finding the right pillow height.  Another suggestion, if these are uncomfortable, would be to pull your pillow down towards the shoulder and prop up to support the neck.

4. Choose A Mattress That Is Firm And Comfortable

Choosing a mattress can be very difficult.  There is so much variety with the materials used and how soft or hard the mattress can be. There are plenty of claims by manufacturers and retailers that may not have any scientific validation.  The best recommendation that I can make is to choose a mattress that is firm enough to keep you in a neutral sleeping posture but without compromising on comfort.  Sleeping face up on the floor will accomplish neutral, but few will wake up re-energized. Too hard and you will develop pain from the pressure points on your hips or shoulders.  Too soft, and your hips will depress further into the bed than your head and will take your body far from neutral.  So, choose a mattress that you feel will offer enough support for your body and sleep-position, but is going to be as comfortable as possible.

Remember, these are only general recommendations.  We are all individuals and need to find what works right for us!

Dr. Chris Enns, B.Sc., D.C. has been a Winnipeg chiropractor since 2005.  He is the owner of Balance Chiropractic and Wellness Centre, located at 121 St. Anne’s Rd in Winnipeg, Manitoba.  Services include: chiropractic, massage therapy, athletic therapy, orthotics, spinal decompression therapy, laser therapy,  x-ray services, and health and fitness consulting.