How to Build a Healthy Brain

Dr. Robert Melillo

Studies have shown that without proper stimulation, a child’s brain suffers. Researchers at Baylor College of Medicine, for example, found that children who don’t play much or are rarely touched develop brains 20 – 30 percent smaller than normal.

The Brain Depends on Natural Environmental Stimuli

Although the brain is able to provide a certain amount of stimulation on its own – dreaming is the best example – it is mostly dependent on outside sources to spark neural growth. These outside sources of natural environmental stimuli are:

  • Light
  • Sound or Vibration
  • Odor
  • Taste
  • Temperature
  • Touch
  • Pressure or Gravity

The sensory system is equipped with receptors that act like a switch to start the flow of stimulation that activates the brain. The retina has rods and cones that serve as light receptors. Ears possess cilia or hair cells that carry sound. Joints & muscles have receptors that sense movement and gravity. These receptors exist for the sole purpose of collecting information from the environment and sending it to the brain. Stimulation travels from receptors to nerves in the spinal column, then up through the brain stem, and throughout the brain, where it fires a burst of activity in cells.

Three Keys to Successful Brain Stimulation

The more a brain cell is stimulated, the more it will increase in size and processing speed, strengthen its connections, and form new synapses. Success is based on three factors:

  1. Frequency of Stimulation
  2. Duration of Stimulation
  3. Intensity of Stimulation

The impulses that stimulate cells the most frequently, for the longest period of time, and with the greatest degree of intensity will have the greatest effect on the growth of the cells and the overall speed of brain processing. Because of its constant presence, unlike any other stimuli, gravity plays the most important role in brain development. Therefore repeated muscle activity is the single most important element of brain development.

Synaptic Connections and Learning

Synaptic connections are the key that makes learning – what most people think of as brain development – possible. They are the key to physical growth as well. These synapses are depending on fuel in the form of oxygen and glucose and stimulation. As the brain grows in size, it required more and more fuel to sustain the increasing workload. But all the fuel cannot make cells proliferate in the absence of stimulation. Without stimulation, the brain will not grow. Brain cells will degenerate and die. By age ten. the average child will lose half of the trillion synapses that existed at birth.

You’ve heard it said: Use it or lose it. Well, it doesn’t just apply to brains that are getting old and senile. It’s essential to making young minds grow!

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