Do you suffer from Backpack Brain?

by Dave Farrow
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Did you know carrying too much weight in your backpack is actually hazardous to brain health?

In addition to well-known warnings about the dangers to the spine, lower back and posture from carrying heavy backpacks to school, Bob Prichard of the Somax Institute, is warning parents about another potential danger–reducing the amount of oxygen going to the brain. Less oxygen to the brain leads to poor test results and forgetfulness.
“As kids tense up their chest and shoulder muscles to support heavy backpacks,” says Prichard. “Their connective tissue thinks they have broken some ribs and starts to form microfibers or mild scar tissue between the muscles to immobilize the area–just like an internal cast. The problem is that these microfibers not only do not go away after the backpack is put down, they tend to accumulate over time, gradually reducing the amount of movement in the rib cage. This in turn reduces the amount of oxygen going to the brain.”
The brain uses 4X more oxygen than the muscles, so when oxygen is reduced, the brain is the first part of the body to suffer.
When researchers gave students pure oxygen, they were better able to solve complex problems.
Backpack Brain can also affect adults, even years after you’ve graduated.


To discover if your child is suffering from “Backpack Brain,” all you need is a cloth tape measure and these simple directions.

  1. Have them lie on their back with their knees up and feet flat on the floor.
  2. While they are at rest, measure and write down the circumference of their stomach, diaphragm and chest.
  3. With the tape measure around their stomach, have them take a deep breath (make sure they breathe in both their stomach and chest). Note the new circumference (it should be bigger) and then have them exhale all their air and note that circumference (it should be smaller than resting circumference). Write down how many inches of movement for the stomach.
  4. Repeat this process for the diaphragm and chest.
  5. Divide the amount of movement in each area by the resting circumference. This will give you their breathing percentage.
Kids and adults who do not have restricted breathing have breathing percentage of 15{44c8773cfc5435cd81ad20e0c4d9124b8149e87e023df21bb722cbe5a8d7cc51} or more in each range. A child with a 30″ stomach will be able to move 4.5″. A child with a 34″ chest moves a minimum of 5.1″. An adult with a 40″ chest moves a minimum of 6″.
Carrying heavy backpacks, even done years ago, constricts movement in these three areas, but is not the only cause of restricted breathing. Chronic colds, pneumonia, bronchitis, asthma, getting the wind knocked out of you, sit-ups, push-ups, pull-ups and lifting weights all cause restriction in breathing.



So How Can we Combat Backpack Brain?

The answer seems obvious: don’t carry so much weight in your bag…but the demand on student these days is high. With so many obligations and responsibilities that can be easier said then done.
Luckily, as the digital world progresses, many textbooks are becoming available online. Ask your instructor or child’s teacher if a digital copy is possible. If not or if you prefer the physical text , ask if you can have a copy to leave at home and another to store in class or share with a friend.
Rolling backpacks are an option for some students depending on the environment.
Plan ahead but don’t OVER plan: Often times, females (especially mothers) are guilty of packing “just-in-case” items. While having exactly the right item exactly when you need it is wonderful, so many times these items are unnecessary and go unused. Pick and choose your items carefully. Of course you want to be prepared but you can’t be prepared for every situation all of the time.
Backpack brain can affect people of all ages.   Remember to keep it light and listen to your body.


Dave Farrow

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