Living With Your Brain in Mind

Tracy Sherlock

Richmond News, Friday, April 10, 2009

By living with your brain in mind, you can actually slow the aging process in your brain.

"Your brain ages at a different rate than your body does. It's possible to have a brain 15 years younger than your body, or 15 years older," said former teacher Terry Small, who is the keynote speaker at this year's Learning and the Brain Conference.

The keynote speech, Studying with the Brain in Mind, is designed for parents and students to learn study secrets to achieve better grades, self-confidence and more free time. Following this keynote, Small will be hosting two additional sessions, Brain Boosting Secrets and Engaging the Brain.

In the Brain Boosting Secrets session, Small will talk about how to keep your brain sharp and as young as possible.

Diet is a key factor in Small's age-defying strategy.

"I think for me, the most substantial changes that I've made are dietary changes - especially breakfast, which is your brain meal," Small said.

The No. 1 breakfast for your brain, according to Small, is a dish of high-quality yoghurt, mixed with blueberries, a teaspoon of pure vanilla and crushed walnuts, sprinkled with cinnamon.

Small also reminds people to drink lots of water.

"The brain is made up of 70 to 80 per cent water and people don't drink enough water," Small said. "Thinking is a process of electrical-chemical recreations and a dehydrated brain doesn't work well, it doesn't think well."

Small says exercising regularly has been critical for his brain's health.

"One of the things people can do is to keep their brain reasonably stress free by eating the right kinds of food, exercising, setting goals and taking time for yourself," Small said.

"Some stress is good for the brain and helps the brain perform well, but chronic stress actually makes it hard for the brain to think. Over a long period it can also lead to cell death in the hippocampus."

The research is pretty clear that prayer, relaxation, meditation, going for walks, or giving your brain a chance to recover is very important, Small said.

People sometimes cut back on sleep when they're feeling overwhelmed, but Small said this is not a good strategy for brain health.

"People who aren't getting seven to nine hours of sleep, their brain is going to pay the price for that," he said.

In Small's second seminar, he will discuss engaging the brain.

"You can have the best study strategies on the planet and excellent material, but if the brain isn't in the right state for learning then the Teflon factor is going to be really high," Small said.

"We will talk about some of the strategies that people can use to change brain state and lengthen their attention span."

Students in Grades 7 to 12 are invited to this year's conference, and there are seminars designed specifically for students.

The tenth annual Learning and the Brain conference takes place Saturday, April 18 between 8:15 a.m. and 1 p.m. at MacNeill secondary school, 6611 No. 4 Road.

On-site registration for all workshops will begin at 7:45 a.m. on a first-come-first-served basis. Register for the Learning and the Brain Conference online at

This conference is organized by the Richmond School District in collaboration with the Richmond District Parents Association (RDPA), the Richmond Chinese Parents Association (RCPA), S.U.C.C.E.S.S. and the City of Richmond.

The keynote address will be simultaneously translated in Mandarin using headsets and a number of workshops will be offered in Mandarin, Cantonese, and Punjabi.