In 1985, American scientist Marian Diamond studied Einstein’s brain to understand intelligence. At the time, the scientific community believed intelligence was measured by the number of neurons in the brain. More neurons meant higher intelligence. Diamond found that Einstein’s brain did not contain more neurons than the average person. She did, however, find that his brain contained more astrocytes, in the left inferior parietal area of the brain, which is the region associated with mathematical thinking.
Only recently have scientists begun to understand the importance of astrocytes. It was always assumed that a synapse, the point where two brain cells join to carry information, is made up of two brain cells. This was wrong. A synapse is made of two brain cells AND an astrocyte. And astrocytes are what nurture synapses. In other words, astrocytes are like silly putty…they can stretch, grow and change, so that one astrocyte can be in contact with 2 million synapses. Astrocytes are responsible for coordinating our brain’s activity, like pieces of a puzzle, and contributing to our intelligence.
Unfortunately, without stimulation, our brains are lazy and they don’t want to “grow” without good reason. The good news is, over the course of her career as a professor of integrative biology at the University of California, Berkeley, Diamond was able to determine the five factors boost and maintain strong astrocytes at any age:
1) Good Diet. Consider adding foods to your diet that are rich in brain-boosting nutrients, such as Omega-3 fatty acids found in salmon, avocado, and berries.
2) Exercise. The activity encourages blood circulation and glucose regulation.
3) Challenge. Stimulate your brain with complex puzzles, reading, and playing word games.
4) Novelty. Boost brain power by stepping out of your comfort zone, and exposing yourself to new experiences.
5) Love. Diamond found that during her studies with lab mice, she noticed that mice that were cuddled regularly lived longer and healthier.
Focusing on the five factors can increase stress resilience and keep you mentally sharp!