So often we’re reminded to take care of our bodies so that they look and perform the way we’d like them to. Are we as concerned about keeping our brain fit, sharp and healthy? Here are a few ways to keep your brain as youthful as your body.
The brain is largely made up of fat, so we need to eat fat to support a healthy brain. Fat coming from omega-3 sources such as olive oil, nuts, wild salmon, etc. are all great sources. Since sugar and carbs are pro-inflammatory foods, these should be dramatically reduced too, since they impair brain function while creating inflammation and disease. Of course, highly processed foods aren’t contributing to brain health either. Here's a general rule for making healthier choices – if you can’t pronounce the ingredients, if you wouldn’t find the ingredients in a cookbook, if your grandmother never had those ingredients in her kitchen, and if it can last indefinitely… you may want to make a different choice.
What’s the link between physical health and brain health? When you exercise, you’re releasing powerful chemicals like endorphins, serotonin and dopamine. These chemicals make us feel relaxed, while igniting the reward and pleasure centers of our brain. The most powerful pharmacy is located within your own body and exercise has the ability to release these feel-good chemicals to offer a greater sense of well-being and calm. Exercise also prevents memory decline and can also give you a subconscious feeling of “strong body, strong mind.”
So many people talk about their lack of sleep as if its a badge of honor. “All I need is a solid 5 hours of sleep a night.” “Really? I wish I got 5 hours.” And on and on it goes. The truth is, we do need sleep. Deep, quality, restorative sleep contributes to a healthier immune system, better memory, better impulse control and so much more. What can we do? We can create a healthier sleep environment and a sleep routine more conducive to quality sleep. For a healthier sleep environment see if your room feels calm and peaceful. Are the colors calming, the room soothing, or is there clutter and stimulation around you? Is it dark and cool or light and too warm? As far as your sleep routine, try to avoid caffeine after the morning and create a routine that tells your body it’s time to wind down. Maybe that means shutting down the TV, computer and phone earlier, maybe it means a bath, reading a book or having a cup of tea. Whatever routine you choose, make it something that tells your brain and body that healthy sleep is on the way.
Sure you can get lots done, but it’s often not without a price. Switching gears from moment to moment between all of the items on your to-do list puts your body and brain in a frenetic state. It creates brain fog, while preventing you from being present and productive because of the constant state of switching gears. This makes us less effective and impactful, not to mention, you may not be bringing your “A” game to each task that way. When you focus on one task until completion, giving yourself mental breaks when you need them, you’re likely to be so much more focused than when you’re bouncing from one idea to the next. Have you ever been writing something, then took a call, then answered an email then spoke with a coworker and completely lost your momentum with the writing you were originally working on? Every time you pull yourself away from a task, it takes time to get back into the “zone,” which impacts your results along with the way you feel.
Learning a new skill, remaining curious and trying new things keeps your brain sharp and active. When you’re doing the same thing day after day, with nothing new inserted into your routine, the brain is lulled to sleep. Imagine a muscle – when you stop working it, it atrophies. Same thing with your brain. By learning something new, you’re causing new neural circuits to be created, “waking your brain up,” and keeping brain cells alive and engaged. I know many people who’ve adopted the discipline of “learn something new every day.” Besides making life more interesting, they’re giving their brain a workout and the stimulation it needs to stay in top condition.
Yes, having fun, being social and enjoying our relationships and all that life provides is as important to brain health as everything else. When our stress levels are down because we’re playing with a puppy, laughing with a friend, snuggling with a partner, enjoying a funny movie or anything else that allows us to connect and relax, we’re turning down our stress response and giving ourselves an opportunity to heal physically, mentally and emotionally. I know my fellow Type A friends may be feeling like they’re slacking off with this one, but it’s no joke; laughter isn’t just one of the greatest pleasures in life, it’s great for your brain and body.
How do you keep your brain healthy? We’d love to know, comment and share!
Photo from here, with thanks.