Want to live longer? Then maybe you should learn to quiet your mind.
An overactive brain not only reduces your quality of life, it may be detrimental to your body. Experts now know that brain activity influences life span. As a new study out of Harvard Medical School suggests, the secret to living longer may depend not only on the level of brain activity, but the type as well.
While there are many theories on how to live a long life, a great deal of research has revealed the many benefits of remaining physically and mentally active as you age.
The authors of this study found that excessive electrical activity in the brain, as seen with stress, anxiety, and overworking or worrying, was linked to shorter life spans.
Behaviors that many of us partake in, such as multitasking, constant mental chatter, idle gossip, and exposure to multiple forms of media without intermittent and consistent breaks, can overstimulate the brain and deplete energy reserves that could otherwise be used to repair, renew, and regenerate both body and mind.
Therefore, it seems like a stressed and an overworked brain accelerates age-related cognitive decline and may even increase the pace of physical aging as we deplete valuable reserves.
Not surprisingly, this study linked a long life to a quieter brain: A person that practices meditation or mindfulness, is focused and controlled, maintains a consistent state of calmness and serenity seems to live longer.
This is because it is only in a state of harmony that we thrive and promote longevity and well-being. All too often we are out of balance pushing both body and mind to extremes and exhausting the little energy reserves we have.
Of course, this is not easy for most people and this is why I suggest you get coaching or help from a skilled practitioner that can teach you how to modify brainwave activity whether via neurofeedback techniques or equipment or, better yet with specific meditative and breathing practices, such as those that I teach in the DNA Hacker Secrets Mastermind.
The Dangers of an Overactive Mind
Excessive brain activity is the common theme of the digital era we live in.
People of all ages find themselves rushing from one task to another, constantly looking for the next fix, whether on television, computer, or a smartphone.
According to a study from the Pew Research Center, 72% of adults in the United States use some type of social media. We spend the bulk of our waking time (often as high as 12 hours a day!) in front of a screen experiencing multiple streams of media that keep us multitasking, overstimulated, unfocused, distracted, and impacting our biochemical and genetic clocks.
This makes it difficult for us to concentrate and relax, leading to an overactive brain state. We have somehow set aside the important need to take a break to clear and reinvigorate ourselves.
The Harvard study compared the genes of older and younger participants. The researchers found that individuals who had died between the ages of 85 and 100 years old had significantly less expression of genes linked to neural overactivity than those who died at an earlier age (between the ages of 60 and 80).
This finding is in line with what bestselling author, Gregg Braden, and others have seen with individuals like Buddhist monks and yogis in the Himalayas who consistently integrate meditative, mindful, and brain quieting practices.
They have also been shown to easily change their brainwave activity from high beta waves (i.e. stress and worry) to alpha (relaxed and daydreamy), then theta/delta (meditation), and eventually gamma (flow state, see below).
These monks and yogis often live a healthy and bountiful life well into their 90’s and can maintain a high level of physical and cognitive performance.
The implication of this study according to the authors is that with aging, there may be some aberrant or deleterious neural activity that not only makes the brain less efficient but is harmful to the physiology of the person and accelerates the aging process.
The study also raises the possibility that modulating our mental excitatory state can affect life span. This is where mindful practices, formal meditation, and pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses to collect and concentrate energy) come into play.
Mindfulness Training to Quiet an Overactive Brain
Working to limit our neural activity seems to promote healthy aging.
By withdrawing our energies from the exterior world and slowing down mental stimulation, our nervous system is kept healthy and able to regulate bodily processes better. We must aim to become more harmonious and in tune with our innate healing capabilities (homeostasis).
Taking time to collect and concentrate our attention and energies certainly seems like a critical factor.
Be active and productive but take time to relax and quiet your mind more often. It is only when we are relaxed that we can heal, increase our creativity, and recover for greater productivity without sacrificing well-being.
Normal waking brain activity is absolutely healthy (low beta waves), but when we increase our stress and stimulation levels and push ourselves to extremes without periods of recovery and repair (high beta waves), our brain becomes disconnected and unfocused and we negatively impact our mental and physical well-being hastening the aging process, including, as I found while at Yale Medical School, increasing our susceptibility to neurodegeneration (i.e. Alzheimer’s disease).
We go from having our energies pulled outward, scattered and diluted, to moving inward, collected and harnessed for health and well-being.
Out-of-control excitation is clearly not a good thing for your brain and body. As I teach in my Mastermind, this pattern of asynchronous, out-of-control brain activity is associated with deleterious gene expression changes, immune suppression, accelerated aging, and reduced brain function.
The good news is that this decline associated with brain activity can be prevented. If it weren’t, we would not see people who age more gracefully and possess a mind and body much younger than their age would suggest. If we learn what lifestyle choices, habits, and practices, these people have in common we can find what makes them an aging success.
The solution to a stressed and overworked brain lies in altering your behavior and habits in simple ways.
We must strive to become more conscious of moments of hyperactivity and overstimulation when we often disrupt our natural patterns of breathing and dilute our energy reserves quickly.
Taking microbreaks (even if for 5 minutes) during different points in the day and learning to slow down and reel in the mind through the senses (pratyahara) can shift our habits in ways that enhance calmness, serenity, and well-being.
If you are overworking yourself and the push and shove of life are even interfering with your sleep and your sense of passion and enjoyment, paying more attention in the HERE and NOW to your mental, physical, and emotional health and doing something to restore it with the right practices and techniques, will keep your mind sharp and your body healthy and more youthful.
So, what can you do to help yourself right now?
Begin by filling in breaks with stillness and silence to balance out the hurried and noisy pace of everyday life. Plan more time during the day to disconnect and make time for you (this is not selfish and will only enhance your relationships and your overall productivity and health).
Take time to sit quietly with an enlightening or uplifting book rather than an electronic screen or idle gossip.
Even better, sit quietly observing the activity of your mind as it drifts from one thought to the next. Couple that with deep, controlled breathing to reel in the activities of the mind and bring your energies into the present moment to change your gene expression to patterns associated with health, serenity, and longevity.
Think of what it would be like to feel, after just a 5-minute break at work, like you just got up from relaxation pose at the end of a yoga asana practice.
The power is within you already to feel healthier, more youthful, and at ease even in the midst of a busy work week.
Safeguard the moments of mental stillness as much, if not more, as moments of overactivity and recognize calmness, serenity, and well-being require practice and must be prioritized and cultivated. Build self-care and self-regulation practices into your schedule.
As long as you commit to doing at least one practice daily and building on that, you can certainly boost your chances of living a long, healthy, and more joyous life. Relaxation and quietude are one of the first ingredients for greater focus, creativity, and health.
Work on becoming more present in your body especially centered in the heart, rather than in your brain, which is often noisy, unfocused, and overactive.
How to Change Your Brainwave Activity
As I teach in my Mastermind, you can change your brainwave activity easily with practice and turn stress into flow.
Both involve similar neurochemistry, but the latter puts you in a state of calmness, bliss, and well-being. In addition, being in the flow state more has a number of benefits that impact the aging process.
- You are fully present in the HERE and NOW, which is the only place where healing can occur as energy is channeled more fully into the nervous system and the rest of the body.
- Time perception is shortened and not only does the passage of time slow down mentally (i.e. estimate less time went by than actually did when in the flow state), but it also slows down physically. Yes, you will age slightly less when in flow.
- You harness different chemistry during flow that alters gene expression promoting greater health, energy, wellbeing, and joy.
As we also teach in the Mastermind, it is crucial to learn how to increase your energy reserves by tapping into a universal storehouse that most have little access to.
Moreover, as we quiet the mind more often, we reduce our exposure to excessive noise and unnecessary amplification of stimuli that overcharge and burden our nervous system. Less unnecessary stimuli will allow you to quiet an overactive brain.
We can harness and focus our energies better and leave more in the tank to heal, renew, and regenerate our tissues and organs.
Aging is an active process that we can make better or worse depending on many factors, including how we conserve our energies and apply them more wisely in the HERE and NOW. Limiting or reducing neural activity is clearly a key component of healthy aging!
Neuroscientist, author, stress specialist, and yoga master. He is a teacher, not a speaker, with a powerful voice in the mental health field and an advocate of reconnecting with nature to re-establish healthy and harmony not just in ourselves but also in the ecosystem.