The inner workings and complexities of the human brain are still largely a mystery, despite recent and ongoing advances in medical technology. 

However, there are some things that we are beginning to understand, such as the five stages of brain development. The brain undergoes more changes than other parts of the body and develops at an uneven rate.

In the womb

During the very earliest stages, neurons and connections are growing at an astonishing rate.  Pregnant women should avoid cigarettes, drugs, alcohol, toxins, heavy metals and undue stress.  It is also important that expectant mothers get enough folic acid and vitamins B6 and B12.

Birth to Six Years of Age

The brain is about 80% of its adult size by the age of two years old.  Voluntary movement, perception, reasoning, emotions, planning, working memory, and attachment are developed during the early years.  When a child is six years old, his brain is 95% of its adult weight.  To avoid emotional consequences that may manifest later in life, caregivers should consistently provide a safe and nurturing environment, where open communication is encouraged and the child is well-loved.

Ages 7 to 22 Years

During these years the fatty tissue that surrounds neurons is increased, which aids in the speeding up of electrical impulses and stabilizing of connections.  The part of the brain that controls impulses and decision-making (the prefrontal cortex) is the last to mature.  Teenagers should practice controlling irrational and reckless behavior by avoiding alcohol, drugs, cigarettes, and unsafe sex.  Around the age of 22, the brain reaches its peak power, which lasts for about five years. 

Ages 23 to 65 years

The first brain functionality to decrease is executive control – which is also the last to mature.  Through the years, working memory is decreased and processing slows down. Stay mentally active by eating healthy food, avoiding alcohol and cigarettes, exercising, and learning new things.

Age 65 and older

During the sixth decade of life and beyond, critical brain cells are lost, primarily in the area of the brain that processes memories.  It is important that older individuals reduce stress, learn new skills, eat healthy, and exercise. 

50 Ways to Increase Brain Function

1.  Be curious.
2.  Look for connections between topics that seem unrelated.
3.  Practice ambidexterity by using your non-dominant hand to brush your hair, eat, draw, etc.
4.  Solve brainteasers and puzzles.
5.  Study optical illusions.
6.  Improve your vocabulary.
7.  Ask “what if?” questions.
8.  Develop comparative tasting (cheese, wine, or chocolate).
9.  Take a different route to work or when running errands.
10.  Debate two sides to an argument.
11.  Drink plenty of water.
12.  Read classic literature.
13.  Summarize books.
14.  Brainstorm.
15.  Learn to lucid dream.
16.  Collect quotes.
17.  Visit a museum.
18.  Focus on one thing at a time.
19.  Learn a foreign language.
20.  Paint or sculpt.
21.  Meditate.
22.  Turn off the TV.
23.  Travel to a new place.
24.  Help a child with homework.
25.  Learn to speed read.
26.  Eat with chopsticks.
27.  Play a musical instrument.
28.  Say your problems out loud.
29.  Provide thoughtful comments on blogs and articles.
30.  Practice yoga.
31.  Learn martial arts.
32.  Memorize people’s names.
33.  Take time for relaxation.
34.  Listen to classical music.
35.  Avoid junk food.
36.  Set short-term and long-term goals.
37.  Describe an experience in vivid detail.
38.  Practice empathy.
39.  Write a “how to” article.
40.  Watch foreign films.
41.  Doodle or draw.
42.  Understand the scientific method.
43.  Solve logic puzzles.
44.  Have sex.
45.  Ask questions.
46.  Think positive thoughts.
47.  Get plenty of sleep.
48.  Try a new recipe.
49.  Start a new hobby.
50.  Dance!

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by Jennifer Cebulak, Research Editor