Brain Awareness Week
Once again it’s that special time of year when our thoughts turn to thinking about our brains. This always strikes me as sort of strange, because our brain is what lets us think in the first place, so if we’re thinking about our brain and how it thinks. . .well, it’s enough to make my brain hurt. But indeed it is “Brain Awareness Week,” an effort by The Dana Foundation to bring attention to the advances being made in brain research. I am a huge fan of the brain because, as it turns out, your brain is in charge of everything. It does so much but we know so little about it. So I wanted to share a few things that business leaders and employees should know about our brains.
The brain is like a muscle. When it is in use we feel very good. Understanding is joyous. ~ Carl Sagan
Brains are like pets. They need food, exercise and sleep.
Brain production takes energy. A lot of energy. And not just to keep up with activities. Some research shows that brains use a lot of energy even in their resting state. Brazilian neuroscientist Suzana Herculano-Houzel tells us that “Although the [human] brain weighs only 2 percent of the body [mass], it alone uses 25 percent of all the energy that your body requires to run per day." So remember, 25% of those calories you eat are going to your brain. High quality fats and nutrients do a body and a brain good.
Brains also need exercise. Not only mental challenges and brain training (like puzzles such as crosswords and Brain Teasers), but also physical exercise. Exercise seems to help the brain create new neural pathways and produces more of the key chemicals that do everything from controlling gross and fine motor skills to regulating depression and anxiety. (Source: Medical News Today)
And brains need sleep. Sleep is important to our long-term memory and learning abilities. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, “Sleep is an important part of your daily routine—you spend about one-third of your time doing it. Without sleep you can’t form or maintain the pathways in your brain that let you learn and create new memories, and it’s harder to concentrate and respond quickly.”
You have to train your brain to be positive just like you work out your body. ~Shawn Achor, Author, The Happiness Advantage
The Heart and Mind Connection
The American Heart Association just published an amazing report entitled “Mental Health: A Workforce Crisis.” You might ask, Why is the American Heart Association (AHA) concerned about mental health? Consider this finding: “Research has demonstrated that roughly one in five people (22 percent) with heart disease struggle with depression, and that depression is roughly three times more common in patients after a heart attack.”
This report was commissioned by the AHA CEO Roundtable. Employee health and wellbeing is a key issue for employers, and employees are expecting help from employers. As the report notes, "Employers have a unique opportunity to improve the mental health of the 157 million working U.S. adults who spend more time working than any other activity apart from sleeping.” Among the findings:
- Nearly nine in 10 survey respondents agree that employers have a responsibility to support mental health.
- 40 percent want their employers to train managers and supervisors to identify emotional distress among workers
Another national survey, conducted by Nielsen in 2016, found that more than one-quarter (28 percent) of employees say they often or always experience stress as a result of work. Apart from the medical and productivity costs associated with poorly managed stress if it results in depression and anxiety, work conditions that contribute to employee stress have been estimated to account for 120,000 annual deaths, incurring annual health care costs of approximately $190 billion.
Our brains do a lot, so we need to take care of them, using what we know today, and working toward learning even more tomorrow. So, take a walk, have a healthy snack, and get some sleep. Your brain will thank you for it.