Maren Schmidt: Tips for a healthier brain |

Maren Schmidt: Tips for a healthier brain

Maren Schmidt

John Medina, affiliate professor of bioengineering at the University of Washington School of Medicine, gives us 12 principles for surviving and thriving at work, home and play in his book, “Brain Rules.”

While delivering a peer-reviewed summary of current brain research, Medina entertains us with “the rules.”

The first brain rule: Exercise boosts brainpower. Movement helps our brains grow and increases oxygen levels throughout our bodies. Oxygen is critical to effective brain function.

Feeling fuzzy-headed and having trouble thinking? Get moving.

Second rule: Our brain has evolved. We actually have three brains. The reptilian brain focuses on survival. Our mammalian brain regulates our emotions. Our third brain, the cortex, makes us human by allowing us to reason, analyze and create. If we don’t feel safe, our reptilian brain focuses on survival and keeps us from tapping into the problem-solving resources of the cortex.

Third rule: Every brain is different. We are not going to find a common place in the brain where certain memories or functions are found. Our brain grows based on our response to our environment, and that is as unique as every person on this planet.

Fourth rule: We don’t pay attention to things that aren’t interesting to us. If something is boring or holds no meaning for us, we tune out. Also, the brain can only focus on one thing at a time. Multi-tasking is a myth. We waste a lot of time and brain effort switching back and forth between multiple activities. We are better off if we focus consistently on one thing at a time. So, yep, turn off the TV when you study. And instant messaging and the cell phone and :

Fifth rule: We have to repeat information to learn it. Also, the richer the sensory experience, the more likely we are to remember it. A rich sensory experience is like we repeated information several times. We need to make an effort to repeat and use all our senses to help us remember.

Sixth: Reliable long-term memories take many intervals of repetition, perhaps years. We can’t cram for the exam. We need to repeat the feat.

Seventh: Sleep is important to optimum brain function. Loss of sleep affects attention, our ability to make good decisions, short-term memory, mood, the ability to deal with numbers and logic as well as quantitative skills and motor dexterity. Protect your brain. Sleep eight to 10 hours a day.

Eighth: Stressed brains don’t learn the same way. With a stressed brain, the reptilian brain takes over and survival trumps our ability to learn and remember.

Ninth: The more senses we use, the more we remember. The smell of hot cocoa can trigger memories of a Christmas time sleigh ride and the words to a tune you haven’t heard in years.

Tenth: Vision is our dominant sense, and it is not 100 percent accurate. We learn best through pictures not through written or spoken words. This brain rule suggests that the old adage is true: A picture is worth a thousands words.

Eleventh: Male and female brains are different. Men don’t think like women, and women don’t think like men. Understanding the differences in how men and women process information can help us.

Twelfth: Humans are natural explorers. We are born to explore our world and be inquisitive. Our natural tendency to explore, if we use it, keeps our brain flexible and growing for all of our lives.

Use these 12 tips to have a healthy brain that will survive and thrive at any age.

Kids Talk TM is a column dealing with childhood development issues written by Maren Stark Schmidt. Ms. Schmidt founded a Montessori school and holds a Masters of Education from Loyola College in Maryland. She has more than twenty-five years experience working with children and holds teaching credentials from the Association Montessori Internationale. Contact her at or visit

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