The Right and Left Brain: Post 1

The human brain is divided into two halves or hemispheres with each hemisphere being responsible for certain functions. Although they can sometimes seem as though they work independently of each other, they in fact, do work together and are bound by a bridge of fibers called the corpus callosum.

Today’s post will look at some of the different functions that each side tends to be responsible for:

Left brain:

  • Logic. This is the side of our brain that likes sequences, tends to be detail-oriented and appreciates order and patterns. Bring me the facts please!
  • Math and Science. The left brain likes what is linear and this is where we go when we need to add something up in our head.
  • Words and Language. This is where the song lyrics are formed, when we think with words, how we link names to objects.
  • Reality based. By now, you can see that the left brain likes what is rational, practical, safe and predictable.

Right brain:

  • Imagination. Day dreaming, creative story-telling, the arts, symbols and images…this is the stuff the right brain loves!
  • Feelings. The right brain will use emotion to figure out big picture, or holistic thinking. Philosophical and existential thought.
  • Non-Verbal, Intuitive. This is the side of the brain that picks up on what is not being said. Tunes of songs, being able to visualize something, understands meaning.
  • Impetuous. When we take a risk, it is right brained oriented. Much more interested in the present and the future than the past and will present us the possibilities.

Although it was often thought that we tended to have a dominant side of our brain, it has been shown that there is no true relevance to this theory. Tomorrow’s post will look at how the two side of the brain work together to create optimal functioning.

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Photo credit: http://Photo by Brendan Church on Unsplash

Hug it Out; the Benefits of a Hug

In the article “Science of Kindness Shows Just How Important Hugging is for Our Mental and Physical Health” by David Fryburg and featured on goodnews network, we read about some of the benefits of hugging. What I found most interesting were these facts:

  • physical contact is critical for brain development in children.
  • hugging can increase our immunity to infection.
  • hugging is highly associated to lowering blood pressure.
  • receiving a hug increases our levels of oxytocin, the “love” hormone.
  • after receiving a hug, people report feeling less pain.
  • even after observing people hug, significant changes in EEG readings are noted.

Sometimes we simply forget how important a simple act of hugging can be. We are much better served to begin consciously hugging our loved ones during points of connection – leaving or coming home, before going to bed or upon waking, or just when the mood strikes. It will do the body good 🙂

To read the full article (it is worth the extra time!):

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Photo credit: http://Photo by Hian Oliveira on Unsplash


The Brain Parts You Need to Know About

Neuroscience is teaching us that parts of the brain are instrumental to our emotional health. The limbic system, which is a complex series of networks and nerves in the brain, plays a vital role in our emotional system. Through the help of specific parts, it helps to control basic emotions and drives. Let’s get specific:

  1. Prefrontal Cortex (PFC) is the front part of our brain and what we often refer to as our rational brain. Built to help us pay attention, the PFC helps us with what we focus on: planning, impulse control, judgment and insight. When our PFC is activated, we tend to be goal-oriented and focused on facts. It helps to control our emotions by bringing reality into the processing. Our PFC is often not fully developed until young adult hood – which explains all of our silly behaviour when we were teenagers 🙂
  2. Amygdala is an almond shaped structure that helps with emotional processing by alerting us to danger. It reacts quickly, and is responsible for the fight or flight response. When this area is activated, we tend to feel unsafe and anxious. It is important to remember that the amygdala responds to perceived fears as well.
  3. Hippocampus is the part of our brain responsible for memory, especially long term memories – those that are resistant to forgetting. The hippocampus  helps to link certain emotions or sensations to those memories; acting as a shipping center, temporarily storing and combining before shipping it off to long term memory.

Knowing these parts of the brain can help us to understand our emotional system, to make it more tangible – to become acquainted with it’s necessary functionality. Just another thing we can be curious about 🙂

Photo credit: http://Photo by David Clode on Unsplash

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Boosting the Feel Good Chemicals

In an article entitled “10 Ways to Boost Dopamine and Serotonin Naturally” and featured on GoodTherapy, we read about different ways to increase the amount of our ‘feel good’ chemicals in our brain. Some of what they recommend brings us back to the basics of proper nutrition and exercise, but a few that they featured, gave me pause for thought:

  • Gratitude: “Scientific research has shown gratitude affects the brain’s reward system. It correlates with the release of dopamine and serotonin. Gratitude has been directly linked to increased happiness.”
  • Goal Achievement: “When we achieve one of our goals, our brain releases dopamine. The brain finds this dopamine rush very rewarding. It seeks out more dopamine by working toward another goal. Larger goals typically come with increased dopamine. However, it’s best to start with small goals to improve your chances of success.”
  • Happy Memories: “Researchers have examined the interaction between mood and memory. They focused on the anterior cingulate cortex, the region of the brain associated with attention. People reliving sad memories produced less serotonin in that region. People dwelling on happy memories produced more serotonin.”

What I especially like about these suggestions is  that they are all doable. We can choose to jot down what we are grateful for, create our to-do list and start plugging away, look through old photos to trigger happy memories. Little boosts to the our brain and our feel good chemicals; sounds like a good plan to me 🙂

To read the full article:

Photo credit: http://Photo by Dan Gold on Unsplash

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Dancing: How It Can Help Our Brain

In an article entitled “Dancing can reverse the signs of aging in the brain” by Frontiers and featured on Medical Xpress, we read about a study out of Germany that looked at the benefits of exercise in the elderly to determine what type of effect it can have on the brain:

“Exercise has the beneficial effect of slowing down or even counteracting age-related decline in mental and physical capacity,” says Dr Kathrin Rehfeld, lead author of the study, based at the German center for Neurodegenerative Diseases, Magdeburg, Germany. “In this study, we show that two different types of physical exercise (dancing and endurance training) both increase the area of the brain that declines with age. In comparison, it was only dancing that lead to noticeable behavioral changes in terms of improved balance.”

Rehfeld goes on to explain that by constantly changing the dance routines and introducing different genres of dance, the seniors in the study were constantly engaged in a learning process.

We know that music it itself can greatly affect our mood and can be an important element in our emotional health; just putting on music while I am cleaning the house always makes the task that much more enjoyable. Now I have a reason to put some swing in my step!

Bottom line? Find some time to dance 🙂

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Photo credit: http://Photo by Mitchell Orr on Unsplash

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Get a Little Green

In an article entitled “Kids surrounded by greenery may grow up to be happier adults” by Katherine Schwab and featured on Fast Company, Schwab writes about a new study coming out of Denmark that shows that “children under 10 who had greater access to green space had 55% less risk of mental health disorders in adulthood.”

55%. That is quite a high number considering they came to that conclusion after having controlled for such factors such as urbanization, family history, socioeconomic status/factors and parent’s age. 55% less risk of mental disorders in adulthood.

Although the article features how these types of studies can affect urban planning, it would seem the message we can take from it is much simpler. Let’s get outside.

In many ways, we have lost the comfort of “just sending our kids out to play.” Gone are the days of our childhood where we donned our sneakers and play clothes, left the house to explore the back fields and forests – without cell phones – and returned when we instinctively knew a meal was close to being on set on the table. But perhaps we can still create enough space for our kids to get the green space they need with less of a focus on piling up their weeks with activities, and more of an emphasis on taking walks after school or supper, grabbing a soccer ball and heading to the park, fishing at the dock or setting up a tent in the backyard.

55%. That’s enough of a reason to get green 😊

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Photo credit: http://Photo by Luke Brugger on Unsplash

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Food Facts; Then and Now

Our body image is tied to our self image. When we don’t feel good in our bodies, it affects our emotional health as well; we can feel grumpy when we pull on our two-tight jeans, or allow negative thoughts to influence our mind set when we walk past a mirror.

Western society doesn’t do food right;  fast paced and a “more is better” focus has led the food industry to double and almost triple our portion sizes and calorie intake. Here are some interesting facts, then and now:

  • In 1970, Americans consumed  an average of 2,160 calories per day. Today, we sit closer to eating 2,673 calories daily.
  • In the 70’s and 80’s, you could buy a 3″ diameter bagel that was 140 calories; now they average 5″ at 350 calories.
  • Then, a 2.4 ounce french fry was 210 calories, now the same french fry is averaging  6.9 ounces at 610 calories.
  • Packaging sizes have increased; from the 1950’s to now, package sizes have increased by 67%!
  • Fountain sodas have increased 500% from the 50’s, with the norm in restaurants being free refills.
  • We have increased our average dinner plate from 9 inches to 12!

Knowing these types of facts can allow us to begin to make some small changes to the way we consume food. When eating out, ask for the smallest size, at home switch to a 9 or 10″ dinner plate averaging out portions, slow down and enjoy your food, write in a food journal for a week or so to get a greater idea of what you are eating and how much fast food is actually being consumed. Little changes might just make a difference to the way we feel about ourselves.

When it comes to food, let’s go back in time 🙂

Information for this post came from two sources:


Photo credit:http://Photo by Miguel Andrade on Unsplash

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Interesting Facts About Walking

We all know that walking is good for us. In a recent article entitled “The benefits of walking and how to get the most out of it” by RJ Skinner and featured on CBC Life, Skinner includes some interesting facts about what is considered our most natural form of exercise:

  • “Regular walking has been shown to fight genetic weight gain, curb cravings, ease joint pain and strengthen your immunity.” I especially liked hearing that “walking can help tame your sweet tooth; even a 15 minute walk can help to alleviate sugar cravings.”
  • A 2015 study found that going from a sedentary lifestyle to taking 10,000 steps per day could lower your risk of mortality by 46 per cent.”
  • “Walking can be used as part of a greater regimen as it can work well with other forms of exercise such as strength training or flexibility type exercise programs.”

What I appreciate most about this article is the focus on the simplicity of walking. We don’t need a lot of equipment, it is a four season activity, and it feels natural to our body. Walking in nature is also good for our peace of mind, reducing our overall stress levels and increasing our feeling of calm. “One step at a time,” literally 🙂

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Photo credit: http://Photo by Arek Adeoye on Unsplash

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Important Facts About the Teenage Brain

I recently read a meme that made me laugh: The book we really needed was “What to Expect 17 Years After Expecting.”

The teenage years can be some of our most challenging as parents, but also some of our most rewarding. In a recent article entitled “The teenage brain: Seven things parents should know about adolescent behaviour” featured on Women’s Hour, BBC Radio, we can read about some of the characteristics that affect our teenagers. A few that I appreciated:

  • “The teenage brain undergoes a huge transition. Contrary to what was believed for many, many decades, the teenage brain in fact undergoes really substantial amounts of development, both in terms of its structure and its function throughout childhood, throughout adolescence and it only stabilizes around the mid-20s.” This can certainly explain how I saw much maturity from my oldest daughter by the age of 21.
  • “There is a biological reason why teenagers find it hard to get up. Essentially, their circadian rhythm is changing. We know that melatonin, which in humans is the hormone that makes us feel sleepy at night, is produced in the brain about two hours later during the teenage years, than during childhood or adulthood.” Gee, so I guess they aren’t just lazy 😉
  • “Long term health risks don’t scare teenagers. When we are worrying about the kinds of risks that adolescents take, research shows that focusing on the long-term health risks, or the long-term legal risks of decisions, does not work as well as focusing on the social consequences of those risky decisions. This is because the social world is really paramount to teenagers. They care very much what their friends think.” 

Knowing some of these facts can help to temper the frustration we sometimes feel when our teenagers are making impulsive choices or pushing back as a way to gather their independence. We are much better served to be flexible in our attitude towards what is proving to be a very important time in our children’s lives –  I still would have appreciated that book though 🙂

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Photo credit: http://Photo by Eliott Reyna on Unsplash

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The Facts Behind a Smile

In a recent article entitled “The Science Behind Smiling” featured on “Pick the Brain: Grow Yourself,” we learn some interesting facts about smiling:

  • -“When it comes to happiness, children clearly have an advantage over adults—they smile 400 times a day on average, as compared to 20 times a day for adults.” Well, that explains a lot doesn’t it?
  • -“Research shows that when you smile, people treat you differently. Smiling instantly makes you appear more reliable, relaxed, sincere, and attractive.”  Sign me up!
  • -“When the smiling muscles in our face contract, it sends a signal to the brain to stimulate the reward system that further increases our levels of endorphins, or happiness hormones. This triggering of the reward system can have the same effect on our happiness as eating chocolate or receiving a monetary prize.” Chocolate? Really? 🙂
  • -“The natural response to happiness is smiling. And according to science, the reverse is also true: smiling can actually create happiness. Smiling tricks our brains into believing we are happy, and one way it does this is by making us think of happier memories, which boost our moods.” Awesome!

Bottom line? Find more reasons to smile; it will do you good!

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Photo credit:http://Photo by Nathan Anderson on Unsplash

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