No, it’s not a school for hippos! The hippocampus is a relatively tiny organ located in the brain in the region corresponding to emotions and plays a role in long-term memory storage and functions. It is part of the limbic system that controls many of our bodily functions and can be found in the temporal lobe near to the centre of the brain. All of our past memories and experiences are stored there.
Exercise can help to keep the hippocampus fit and prevent it from shrinking –as it shrinks our memories decline, as in Alzheimers and Dementia. If we were unable to create new memories, as is the case with these two diseases, we would be stuck in the past, rather like replaying old videos, over and over again, because there is no room to store new ones.
Also, when the hippocampus starts to shrink, it can lead to the onset of schizophrenia, depression and bipolar disorder. However, all is not lost as new treatments are available that can help to reverse the shrinkage and create brand new brain cells. The process is called neurogenesis.
What can we do to protect and help regenerate the hippocampus and reduce our chances of acquiring dementia or other serious ailments in later life?
Silence is Golden – recent studies have shown that spending two hours per day in absolute silence can help to stimulate neurogenesis. This results in lower stress levels, a greater ability to focus and more creativity.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) reported in 2011 that Western Europeans (population 340 million) every year lost as many as one million years of healthy life due to noise. If we can cut out noise pollution this will help to release tension in our brains and bodies and our blood pressure will reduce thus lowering the likelihood of heart attacks.
Silence allows us to become more imaginative and creative by blocking out all those distracting audio inputs and external stimuli that can ultimately lead to insomnia, increased weight gain and heart disease.
So, to keep your hippocampus healthy, find yourself a tranquil spot away from the hustle and bustle of daily life and bask in the silence whenever you can.