I had just finished another session of my brain-aware instructional design workshop and I came to a big realization. As learning professionals, we all see information on the science of learning almost every day and we’re becoming better and better at incorporating this information into our instructional design and training delivery practices. But how about the people we care most about?

I was ashamed to realize that I leave my workshop participants armed with information to lead healthier, longer lives by taking care of their brains – and I’d never had that conversation with my own husband. I just fixed that.

I’ve started talking about these concepts with my family now, so they can benefit from the latest research in brain health. I urge each of you to do the same. Here’s a quick rundown of some of the things everyone should know.

Your brain is constantly rewiring itself.

neurosplasticityThe discovery of brain plasticity has proven that anyone can change at any stage in life. If you or someone you know is trying to make a major change, you’ll find it easier if you are also taking good care of yourself.

A healthy brain learns faster and remembers longer.

digital brainJust like any other part of your body, your brain depends on a healthy lifestyle to keep it running at peak performance levels. For some of us, the holidays are time to treat ourselves with treats and activities that we know aren’t good for us, but – hey – it’s the season to be jolly. That’s all well and good, but here’s a few things to keep in mind for maintaining a healthy brain:

  • Limit alcohol use. Even a few drinks a week can reduce overall brain function and create areas of reduced brain function.
  • Maintain a healthy weight. As your weight goes up, the physical size and function of your brain goes down.
  • Stop smoking. Smoke inhalation blocks the carotid artery, restricting blood flow to the brain.
  • Manage high blood pressure. Prolonged exposure to high blood pressure not only restricts blood flow to the brain, but increase the risk of dementia, heart attack and stroke.
  • Stop negative thoughts and cultivate positive ones. When we formulate an idea, such as “I’ll never be able to lose weight,” or “I’m good with people,” a physical pattern, in the form of neural connections, is formed in the brain. Every time we go over this pattern by revisiting this thought, we make the behavior stronger.
  • Learn something new every day. Brains with a high degree of new activity tend to stay that way. Brains that are slow to learn new things gradually lose some of their ability to change. Fortunately, this is a skill that can be learned.
  • Get at least 8 hours of sleep each night. In our sleep-deprived world, the average adult is walking around in a brain-induced fog. The brain uses sleep to rebuild and reorganize. Sleep deprivation can result in lower brain performance and less ability to change.
  • Meditate. Counter to previous beliefs, meditation has been shown to activate the cerebral cortex, which is the seat of conscious thought. A meditating brain is highly functioning brain.
  • Exercise. Thirty minutes of physical exercise increases brain plasticity, making it more receptive to learning and change.

In Closing

If you are a trainer, a mentor, a leader or educator, don’t neglect the role of brain health in the process of learning. You have a responsibility to share what you know with your learners, your coworkers and most especially the people you love.

brain-heartIf you’ve been struggling with making some changes in your own life, take a look at your lifestyle and nutrition choices. You may need to make some changes there to get your brain ready for 2017. Give the gift of brain health to everyone in your life.

Make sure you share what you know, to help the people you love live longer, healthier lives, with brains that continue to grow and learn every single day.