Sunday, March 3, 2013

Prefrontal Cortex

For a while now I’ve had this fascination with the prefrontal cortex (PFC) and the role it plays in learning, addiction, and those strange behaviors that make you scratch your head and wonder… “Why?”

To give you a brief description, this magnificent part of the brain is the gem of our evolution and the basis for our superb neural connections. 

The prefrontal cortex (PFC) is responsible for:
-  abstract thinking and thought analysis
-  our active working memory
-  our ability to judge right and wrong, and foresee the outcomes
-  social control (and controlling sexual urges)
-  control over intense emotional impulses (the seat of good judgment)
-  short term and long term decision making; allowing you to plan ahead and create strategies. 
focusing thoughts and enabling you to pay attention, learn, and concentrate on goals
evaluating complex concepts and tasks

This is one of the last parts of the brain to fully mature and doesn’t complete the process until around the age of 25, so you can use that excuse for every stupid thing you did up until that age range.  I have nothing to explain anything after that except maybe alcohol.  Basically, this area of the brain takes in information from the senses and decides on how we will react, which is related to consciousness, personality, and general “intelligence”. 

If you’re PFC is in tiptop shape, with every neuron firing appropriately, you will be able to control self-gratification of your needs and make wise choices.  You know, finding a balance between immediate rewards and those long term goals you have. 

How do you strengthen the prefrontal cortex?  Brahmi (written about in a previous article), works on the neurons as well as certain other herbs.  There is also a great amount of evidence of the effect physical activity has on rewiring neurons in the brain.  Meditation and a proper amount of rest help your brain process information you took in throughout the day and strengthen neural connections so that you can access the information faster. 

Weak interconnections between neurons in the PFC are seen in brain scans that are performed on criminals, sociopaths, drug addicts, and schizophrenics.  No, adolescents are not sociopaths (pretty close though) or schizophrenics.  But there are some interesting links here as to what goes on with the PFC in development and why schizophrenic breaks typically present for the first time between the ages of 20 to 25.  I will save that for another post before I go off on another tangent.

Prolonged periods of stress can also reduce the neural connection within the brain.  So, you want to strengthen the neural connections in your prefrontal cortex?  You want the ability to achieve more while expending less energy?  You want to increase your ability to focus, learn, analyze, evaluate, and control your emotions?

Meditate.  If you have no interest or no time for meditation then any relaxation technique will work.  Warm baths, reading, listening to music, taking a walk, running,… you get the idea. 

Change it up and throw routine out the window.  Even if you work a 9 to 5 job there are ways for you to spice it up.  Muscle confusion is a wonderful thing and when you do something different, you use parts of your brain (or anywhere else in the body) that you haven’t used in a while.  I have a pretty firm belief that if I do not like something, whether that is a workout or work in general, it is something that I need the most.  Whatever it is that you do not enjoy you should probably do it first, and well. 

Every little change you make challenges your body and mind and encourages growth.  You know what they say, if you aren’t growing your dying.

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