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The human brain is one of the most complex things known to man. We know so much about it, yet its power and ability never ceases to amaze.
There are all sorts of things we do to enhance our mental capacity. At the same time, there are plenty of things that can have the reverse effect.
As such, it’s so important to be aware of the brain’s health, how to promote its well being and how to keep damage to the absolute minimum.
But how exactly do different activities affect the brain? This article will investigate a few of the most common: music, exercise, gambling and alcohol.
Research has shown that music can have a positive impact on the brain.
For example, it can assist in pain reduction. A study in 2014 showed that patients with fibromyalgia benefitted from listening to music. The exact words were that listening to relaxing music “reduced pain and increased functional mobility significantly.” Music is believed to have this effect by triggering the release of natural pain-relieving opioids.
Music can also reduce stress, depending on the type of the music. Relaxing music can reduce cortisol production in the brain, the hormone released by the brain when feeling stress. A study in 2013 showed a link between music and reduced stress in a pediatric emergency room. According to the American Psychological Association, “In the trial with 42 children ages 3 to 11, University of Alberta researchers found that patients who listened to relaxing music while getting an IV inserted reported significantly less pain, and some demonstrated significantly less distress, compared with patients who did not listen to music”.
Music also affects memory. In fact, the number of studies that have looked into this have increased a lot since the research first emerged. Listening to music can cast your mind back years almost instantly – and this is important in those patients that are suffering with neurodegenerative conditions that dementia.
For example, a study in 2014 looked at the effects of music on 89 patients, all with dementia. Patients and caregivers were randomly given either a 10-week singing coaching group, a 10-week music listening coaching group, or their regular care. According to the results, “compared with usual care, both singing and music listening improved mood, orientation, and remote episodic memory and to a lesser extent, also attention and executive function and general cognition. Singing also enhanced short-term and working memory and caregiver well-being, whereas music listening had a positive effect on quality of life.”
Exercise has multiple benefits on the brain. There have been many studies on this topic, but here are some of the highlights.
First, exercise increases heart rate and blood flow to the brain. The more blood in the brain, the more it is exposed to oxygen, nutrients and proteins that keep neurons healthy.
Exercise is also important for mood and keeping stress levels down. Dopamine and endorphins are released during physical activity, helping you feel good but also reducing the production of chemicals like cortisol that can trigger anxiety.
Further, exercise helps to improve overall mental ability. Both children and young adults, on average, that exercise have better grades compared to those that don’t take part in reduced physical activity. In full adults, exercise can improve performance at work. Part of this is due to enhanced memory and enchanting capabilities of taking in and processing lots of information.
Finally, exercise helps the brain to recover. Being active encourages energy production in the body, helping the brain to rest. And better sleep results in improved creativity and cognitive function.
Gambling has some really interesting effects on the brain. Now, gambling is often referred to with negative connotations, but with moderation, structure and an understanding of the games (sites like Casinofy are a great place to bet on this basis), it can be the complete opposite.
In order to see how gambling affects the brain, scientists use special images and chemical tests to measure the production of neurochemicals.
Most studies have looked at two areas of the brain: the prefrontal cortex and the ventral striatum.
The prefrontal cortex is the front portion of the brain. It’s responsible for planning and personality. In other words, it’s what drives goal-setting. So, when you’re paying attention to something (or at least trying to), then the prefrontal cortex is being activated. This same part of the brain that thinks about actions and their consequences.
On the other hand, the ventral striatum is the area of the brain that processes the feeling of reward. It’s one of the deepest parts of the brain. The ventral system also controls the limbic system.
To round out this article, let’s look at the effects of alcohol on the brain.
It may not come as a complete surprise, but alcohol has a great impact on the brain’s complex structures. To start, it blocks the chemical signals between neurons which can lead to all sorts of issues, like slurred speech, bad memory and poor reflexes.
Sustained heavy consumption of alcohol can cause the brain to adapt, but not for the better. Once the alcohol has exited the body, the brain over activates neurotransmitters that result in withdrawals and damage to brain cells. This is then made worse by further binges and a sudden withdrawal.
Alcohol brain damage comes in several forms.
The first is neurotoxicity. This is the official term for the above mentioned condition – the over activation of neurotransmitters that cause neurons to burn out. Neurons form the internal pathways that connect the brain’s components. When the neurons burn out, the reaction times of these pathways can slow down.
In addition to overall damage, heavy alcohol consumption can cause harm to brain matter. Addicts experience “brain shrinkage”, a reduction in grey and white matter over time. The changes are subtle when comparing men and women, but regardless of gender, the older the individual, the more brain matter lost with heavy alcohol consumption.