I was listening to a radio show the other day and a neuroscientist from Vanderbilt University named Suzana Herculano-Houzel was talking about something so interesting. She was talking about nerve cells called neurons that are in the cortex of the brain. Those neurons talk to each other and make connections or networks. The more neurons, the more connections, the more knowledge being passed around. She said humans have 16 billion neurons. The next closest is the gorilla with 8 billion neurons. An elephant has 5 billion neurons. Dogs have 500 million and cats 250 million.
When the radio host asked her how humans evolved to have so many neurons, she said the simple answer was cooking.
She said that any time a human created a weapon to catch an animal or made a tool to help in getting meat, or started a fire to cook the food and make it easier to process than when raw, it saved energy for the human. So instead of the human expending all that energy to catch and eat food, energy was saved that could go into creating more connections in the brain. And over time, more and more connections were made.
This got me thinking about our health. How can our body work to restore itself if all our energy is going into worrying about life or running from here to there or thinking of all the things that could go wrong? Our bodies truly are miraculous in what they can do. Heal a broken bone, give birth to a baby, create milk, and grow muscle mass. But when our body is constantly stressed, it will break down. And if we don’t take the time to let it rest and heal, bigger problems will follow.
So as we frantically run to make the holidays merry and bright, may we remember to stop and let those cells in our body recoup and reconnect. If making cooking easier exponentially multiplied our brain cells, imagine what a little relaxation could do for our mind, body and soul? As American journalist Sydney J. Harris once said, “The time to relax is when you don’t have time for it.” So today and every day, make time for you. It’s the best gift you will receive this season.