I’ve been thinking a lot about brains lately.
A few weeks ago, I posted an article about simple tips for keeping your brain healthy through your adult years. It sparked a lot of interest with people, including the director of an assisted living home in Kansas, who called me later in the week to talk about dementia. Out of that conversation, I got two of my most talked-about “Wellness Wednesday” articles, about caring for a loved one with dementia. You can read them here and here.
Focus On The Brain
As we wrap up 2018 and head into 2019, you’re going to see a lot more about this. I’ll tell you the truth: I’m fired up about brain health.
And I’m not just talking about how the brain relates to the spinal column and the rest of the nervous system. It’s a common misconception that chiropractors only care about your spine. Your spine is the center of my focus as a healthcare provider, but only because the spine is the center of your body’s overall wellness mechanism.
If a vertebra in your spine moves out of alignment and pinches off the nerve cord to your pancreas, for example, communications between your brain and pancreas will be blocked. The brain won’t be able to recognize dysfunction in the pancreas and release the necessary neurotransmitters to effect a repair.
Your muscles and organs do not operate themselves independently of control signals from the brain. A breakdown of communication between them can limit their functionality. Because your heart beats and your lungs breathe without you having to consciously think about it, it’s easy to assume that your brain has nothing to do with it. But the fact is, the medulla, which is part of the brain stem, regulates all of your involuntary functions, including pain communications.
So yeah, keeping your spine aligned and your brain communications flowing freely is important to all of your health.
More Than A Physical Organ
Over the next year, you are going to see more and more articles about keeping your brain healthy, but it’s not just a physical organ.
Since your brain is at the hub of all forms of wellness (physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, relational, and so on), it’s important to keep our brains working at their best.
If you’ve been following “Wellness Wednesday” over the last three years, you might remember that we’ve talked a lot about maintaining a healthy gut, especially the bacterial flora inside your gut that regulates both digestion and your body’s immune response to viruses and other toxins (which also might seem to be an odd topic for a chiropractor). Wellness is tied as much to the gut as it is to the spine – in fact, they are intertwined.
Again, it would be natural to expect a chiropractor to focus on structural issues. Wellness takes many forms in the human body. We’ve talked here about the wellness dashboard. Most specialists look at health like a car dashboard, when a holistic view of wellness is more like the cockpit of a 747: thousands of meters and controls to manage, and all of them interrelated.
The Mental And The Physical Are Linked
I’ve given this example before, but think about how anxiety in your mind stimulates gurgling sensations in your abdomen. Think about how anger in your mind causes your muscles to clench up, your heart to race, and your lungs to breathe faster. The evidence shows that emotional wellness is tied directly to physical wellness.
Did you know that research is piling up that ties unforgiveness to heart disease, high blood pressure, bowel disorders, and even cancer?
How does that happen? In short, angry emotions trigger the release of neurotransmitters that tell the body to prepare for a fight. Those neurotransmitters are intended for short bursts to help the body prepare to engage in a fight or run. Short bursts. Cortisol, adrenaline, and epinephrine are supposed to serve their purpose and get out of your system. You are not supposed to leave the faucets on all the time. Unresolved anger keeps the faucets on, creating a toxic, acidic environment in your organs. It overtaxes your heart muscles. It ramps up your glucose production. That’s not healthy.
If you’re new to the family, our motto here at my practice, Fundamental Health Solutions, is “move right, eat right, think right, live right.” Now, I’m not making any moral judgments when I say “think right” or “live right;” I’m taking a more pragmatic approach.
If you live in an environment with lots of chemicals and toxic fumes, your body is going to absorb them and suffer the consequences. In the same way, if you live with uncontrolled anger, unforgiveness, and emotional bitterness, it will play out in your health. That has nothing to do with your faith or ethics; it’s strictly a matter of biology.
Now, at the same time, I can show you a pile of studies that link active faith in God with longevity and better health.
The Brain At The Center Of It All
So here’s what I am getting at: every component of your physical wellness links directly to your brain through your spinal cord. Every part of your mental and emotional health ties directly to your brain through your thought life. Every part of your spiritual health has an effect on your thinking, and thus, your brain. And every part of your environment affects your brain through your skin, lungs, and bloodstream.
So, to launch this series, I want to talk about the brain benefits of walking.
Walking And The Healthy Brain
In my article, “Advanced Longevity: Keys To Fighting Dementia…and Winning,” I briefly mentioned how walking served the brain:
“Walking is good for your legs, your heart, your lungs, but especially for your brain. While I haven’t seen any research tying high-intensity exercise to mental acuity, there is some very exciting recent research linking casual walking to increased brain volume and dementia prevention (say that five times fast). Just anecdotally, I find that my patients who walk regularly are funny, creative, and vibrant. Something about a nice evening stroll activates your brain in a way that allows greater problem-solving, creativity, and imagination. Make a habit of taking a walk of at least half a mile to a mile every day.”
If you didn’t see that article, I encourage you to read it here.
I didn’t take the time to mention this, but 2017 research out of New Mexico Highlands University showed that every time you take a step, the pressure on your foot “caused significant…waves through the arteries that sync with the heart rate and stride rate to dynamically regulate blood circulation to the brain.”
Blood flow through the brain promotes brain health because it brings nourishing glucose and fat cells to the brain and carries out dead cells. The effects they measured were strongest with running but were also effective with walking, especially brisk walking (around two steps per second). Riding a bicycle or wheelchair showed no impact at all because there is no cyclical impact pressure applied to the feet. Food for thought.
Find Opportunities To Walk
If you live in Naples, you probably know that, unless you live right on Fifth Avenue South, nothing is convenient in walking distance in most of town. Fine. You can still walk more.
I know I’m going to get some mail about this, but if you’re an avid golfer in your golden years, I encourage you to walk the course from time to time, instead of using a golf cart. If you’re concerned about having to lug your bag around, and you have a grandchild in the area, pay them $20 to carry your bag around the course. If Phil Mickelson can have a caddy follow him around, why can’t you?
“I Don’t Golf”
Not a golfer? Take 20 to 30 minutes each morning to walk around the neighborhood. I find mornings are at least a little quieter than evenings – at least in my neighborhood. Pop in a set of earbuds and listen to a podcast as you walk. That way, you are stimulating your brain in multiple ways at once. You might even find that you retain more of what you heard than if you had been sitting at a desk and listening.
If you have a neighbor whose company you enjoy, make plans to walk the neighborhood together at least once a week. Enjoy a good conversation as you strengthen your heart, lungs, and legs…and core muscles…your spine…kidneys…and lymphatic system…
Shall I go on?
Best of all, you’ll be stimulating your brain and helping to keep it active and healthy for years to come.
Join Me To Learn More
If you want to know more about keeping a healthy brain – and you live in the Naples area – join me tomorrow night (Thursday, October 10) for the first Fundamental Foods and Friends Dinner of the new season. I’ll be sharing some of the things I’ve learned recently about brain health. Plus, we’ll enjoy a good, nutritious meal with interesting people. Last season, we almost burst out the doors of my office by the end of the season. Each month is a little more popular than the last as new people hear about the great time we have – and the great tips we learn. In all honesty, when I bring in a guest speaker, I learn at least as much as everyone else in the room, so it’s a huge win for me personally.
I hope you’ll join us. Bring a dish to share or $10 cash, and be sure to RSVP on my Facebook events page, here.
In the meantime, take a few seconds right now to help me get the word out about holistic wellness on your favorite social media channels. Even the channels where I spend money don’t always let me boost my articles – the word police don’t always like my advice. So, if we’re going to reach the world, it starts with you and me working together. Thank you.
“At the end of your FEELINGS is NOTHING. At the end of your PRINCIPLES is a PROMISE.” — Eric Thomas