How to increase prefrontal cortex activity

Happy-momentsPrefrontal cortex (PFC) is responsible for many “higher-order” functions like planning, decision-making, learning, concentration, goal-setting, emotion-control, creativity, self-observation, prioritizing, social interaction, and behavior control. For effective cognitive function control and happiness, exercises for prefrontal cortex are very important. Here, I discuss seven secrets to increase prefrontal cortex activity and improve our cognitive ability.

Location of the prefrontal cortex (PFC):

The prefrontal cortex (PFC) is located in the very front of the brain, just behind the forehead. PFC occupies one-third of the entire human cerebral cortex. The PFC through its extensive association connections is linked with distant and broadly dispersed parts of the association and limbic cortices. Prefrontal interconnections with the amygdala, hypothalamus, midbrain, and pons represent important subcortical linkages of the extended prefrontal neural system.

Functions of prefrontal cortex (PFC):

prefrontal cortexPrefrontal cortex provides bias signals throughout much of the rest of the brain, affecting not only visual processes but also other sensory modalities, as well as systems responsible for response executive functions, memory retrieval, emotional evaluation, etc. It also helps to focus thoughts, which enables people to pay attention, learn, and concentrate on goals. Based on its neuroanatomical connections, the PFC can be broadly divided into two sections: (a) the medial PFC (mPFC) and (b) the lateral PFC (lPFC).  The mPFC is thought to be mainly involved in processing, representing and integrating social and affective information, lPFC is thought to support cognitive control process. The famous work of Dr. Richard Davidson at the University of Wisconsin reported that happiness is associated with a greater activity in the left prefrontal region, while negative emotions are linked to a greater activity in the right prefrontal cortex.

Seven Exercises to increase prefrontal cortex activity:

1. Breathing through the Nose:

There are two breathing routes in humans– through the mouth and through the nose; and humans normally breathe through the nose. Researchers tell us that breathing through the mouth instead of the nose can adversely affect brain function. Excessive oxygen consumption in the cortex causes central fatigue. Mouth breathing causes an increased oxygen load in the prefrontal cortex and causes fatigue. Hence, to increase prefrontal cortex activity, we must breathe through the nose.

2. Mindfulness Meditation

Mindfulness meditation is one of the most powerful yet simple tools for altering the brain in many positive ways. There are numerous studies about the benefits of meditation in relieving stress and anxiety, improving sleep, and nurturing deep states of calm. Mindfulness meditation increases the activity of the prefrontal cortex.

3. Conscious Breathing

Breathing is tightly regulated by the amount of carbon dioxide, pH and oxygen through negative feed back loop control system. There are many other factors and brain regions that impact on breathing. Breathing involves complex muscular events controlled by the vagus nerve and the motor cortex. Conscious breathing is the best way to increase the activities of the prefrontal cortex.

4. Brain-training Games

Recently many 3D digital games are developed for increasing the activities of the brain. They are designed to give your brain a full workout, and to engage both hemispheres of the cerebrum, and both hemispheres of the cerebellum. You can spend 30 minutes of the day in front of a flat screen in a cyber reality. However, scientists observed that spending more than half an hour in cyber reality is not much helpful.

5. Physical Activity

You can effectively engage  the prefrontal cortex by physical activities, practicing, exploring, and learning new things in the three-dimensions of the real world. Physical activity improves overall connectivity of the brain network.

6. Social Activities

Among the specific brain areas involved in the adult social brain, functional activity in prefrontal cortex (PFC), particularly the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC), is of special importance for human social cognition and behavior. Feeling lonely can trigger psychological and cognitive decline. Social interaction increases prefrontal activities.

7. Good Sleep

Recent data indicate that the prefrontal cortex is particularly sensitive to sleep and benefits from it in important ways.  Prefrontal cortex is particularly sensitive to the fatigue induced by prolonged waking.  Seven to eight hours of daily sound sleep improves prefrontal activities and increase learning, memory, and cognitive development.

Conclusion:

The seven secrets to increase prefrontal cortex activities and to optimize the  cognitive function are discussed. The seven habits I recommend here  are exercises for prefrontal cortex. If performed consistently, these habits can improve cognitive function and protect against cognitive decline.

References:
1. Neuropsychology of prefrontal cortex
2. The prefrontal cortex in sleep
3. The role of medial prefrontal cortex in early social cognition

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