Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

6 Ways to ‘Quiet’ Your Brain and Live Longer

Health + Wellness

By Dan Gray

  • Newer research links "quiet" brains with longevity.
  • Researchers theorize that a less active brain uses less of the body's energy.
  • Experts say there are a number of ways to calm your brain, including meditation, active listening, and mindful eating.

Everyone wants to stay mentally sharp as they get older — and it stands to reason that one way to do this is to maintain an active brain.


But new research suggests that less may be more when it comes to your brain activity.

In a study published in the medical journal Nature, researchers from Harvard Medical School report that a calm brain with less neural activity could lead to a longer life.

After analyzing donated brain tissue from people who died at ages from 60 to more than 100, researchers said they noticed that the longest-lived people had lower levels of genes related to neural activity.

A protein, REST, that suppresses neural activity was found to be associated with neural activity and mortality.

In experiments on worms and mammals, boosting REST led to lower neural activity and longer lifespans while suppressing it did the opposite.

"This study shows that daily periods of slowed activity, whether spent in meditation, unitasking, or simply being still or sleeping are as important for brain health and longevity as activity and exercise," Gayatri Devi, MD, a neurologist and psychiatrist at Northwell Health in New York, told Healthline.

"The brain is the most energy-hungry organ in our body, consuming nearly a third of our energy, although it weighs only about one-seventieth of our body weight," explained Devi. "For our brains and our bodies, less is more and rest is best."

In a world that often feels like it's moving too quickly, what are some of the best ways to quiet the brain?

Maryanna Klatt, PhD, a professor of clinical family medicine at The Ohio State University's Wexner Medical Center, specializes in stress-related chronic illness and is trained in mindfulness, running a program called Mindfulness in Motion.

She shared some strategies for your brain with Healthline.

Tune into Your Body

Klatt says a great way to start on your path to lowered stress and heightened mindfulness is to be more aware of your body.

"Just some gentle stretches and awareness of where you're holding your tension is a great starting point because when people acknowledge their body, they open up to what really is going on for them," she said.

Another exercise in mindfulness is to establish a habit that sets events into motion.

"Since we deal a lot with medical doctors, I suggest touching a doorknob before meeting with a patient," explained Klatt. "This creates a moment to focus on why they're doing what they're doing and how they're going to connect with the patient. The habit is a helpful way to be present with a patient or co-worker."

Meditation works hand-in-hand with mindfulness because it provides a helpful barometer of one's mental state.

"It's not about clearing your mind, it's about seeing where your mind's at," said Klatt. "That's why having a little meditation practice, even 5 or 10 minutes a day, can make a difference in bringing mindfulness to your activity during the whole day."

Listen!

In a spirited discussion, it's all too easy to stop listening to others as you wait for your chance to speak.

Klatt says she's seen this in a classroom setting.

"One way to recognize that we are going a thousand miles an hour is to watch our thoughts," she said. "If you're not really listening, or not being present with whoever you're with, that can be a wake-up call to be present and not miss the moment."

Chart It Out

A simple exercise can spell out, in stark terms, whether we're truly living the life we want to live.

Klatt asks students to create two pie charts, one to show how they'd like to divide the 24 hours in their day, and one to show how they actually spend their time.

While the breakdown likely includes time away from the office, it often doesn't include any time that's truly free.

"Earmarking open space intentionally every day, so it's not for X, Y, or Z, not for exercising, not for reading, but for unstructured time, can help," said Klatt.

During this time, it's important to set boundaries and consciously tell yourself that you're taking time for yourself.

"It's about being really honest with yourself about having clear boundaries and telling yourself that you're going to take a break from work, or kids, or trying to solve problems, during the downtime," Klatt explained. "I think that people waste their downtime. People feel doubly bad because they didn't get anything productive done and what they really didn't get done was relaxing."

Think About Meals

We're often told to watch what we eat, but we're rarely told to watch how or where we eat.

While it's fine to enjoy a treat full of empty calories from time to time, it's probably best not to wolf down a bag of chips while zoning out in front of the television.

"I tell people that if they're going to eat it anyway, they need to savor it," said Klatt. "Savor every moment of it because otherwise you're getting all those calories and you're missing the pleasure of it."

Recognize Burnout

Many people don't acknowledge burnout until they're fully burnt out.

Recognizing the signs of burnout before it sets in can help with re-assessing and re-prioritizing.

Klatt says symptoms can include emotional exhaustion, the lack of a sense of personal accomplishment, a lack of excitement, and a pervasive mood of irritation.

"It's when stuff that hadn't in the past been a big deal suddenly becomes a big deal," she said. "That's the point where you want to step back before you get to the point where you're really not effective at your job, nor effective at living the life that you want to live. Then it's lose-lose."

Seek Mentors

It's always good to learn from the best.

To this end, Klatt suggests reading up on mindfulness and meditation. (She suggests the book Wherever You Go, There You Are by Jon Kabat-Zinn).

Positive examples can also be found in daily life. People who are engaged in their job and their life might have good advice for finding the right balance.

"I think mentorship in terms of mindfulness has really meant a lot during my life," said Klatt. "Sometimes, you stumble and don't know how to move forward. I think people all around us have this wisdom, but we don't take the time to think about who we respect in terms of how they live their lives."

Reposted with permission from our media partner Healthline.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Pie Ranch in San Mateo, California, is a highly diverse farm that has both organic and food justice certification. Katie Greaney

By Elizabeth Henderson

Farmworkers, farmers and their organizations around the country have been singing the same tune for years on the urgent need for immigration reform. That harmony turns to discord as soon as you get down to details on how to get it done, what to include and what compromises you are willing to make. Case in point: the Farm Workforce Modernization Act (H.R. 5038), which passed in the House of Representatives on Dec. 11, 2019, by a vote of 260-165. The Senate received the bill the next day and referred it to the Committee on the Judiciary, where it remains. Two hundred and fifty agriculture and labor groups signed on to the United Farm Workers' (UFW) call for support for H.R. 5038. UFW President Arturo Rodriguez rejoiced:

Read More Show Less
A woman walks to her train in Grand Central Terminal as New York City attempts to slow down the spread of coronavirus through social distancing on March 27. John Lamparski / Getty Images

By Julia Conley

A council representing more than 800,000 doctors across the U.S. signed a letter Friday imploring President Donald Trump to reverse his call for businesses to reopen by April 12, warning that the president's flouting of the guidance of public health experts could jeopardize the health of millions of Americans and throw hospitals into even more chaos as they fight the coronavirus pandemic.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
polaristest / Flickr / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

By Melissa Kravitz Hoeffner

Over six gallons of water are required to produce one gallon of wine. "Irrigation, sprays, and frost protection all [used in winemaking] require a lot of water," explained winemaker and sommelier Keith Wallace, who's also a professor and the founder of the Wine School of Philadelphia, the largest independent wine school in the U.S. And water waste is just the start of the climate-ruining inefficiencies commonplace in the wine industry. Sustainably speaking, climate change could be problematic for your favorite glass of wine.

Read More Show Less
Pixabay

By Rachael Link, MS, RD

Spinach is a true nutritional powerhouse, as it's rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.

Read More Show Less
Pexels

By Jeff Turrentine

From day to day, our public health infrastructure — the people and systems we've put in place to keep populations, as opposed to individuals, healthy — largely goes unnoticed. That's because when it's working well, its success takes the form of utter normalcy.

Read More Show Less