Empower Your Brain
Your brain is the one organ that is involved with every single function in your body. In fact, it is the center of almost all operations in your body. It is your CPU (For those of you who went to high school in the 1980s and 1990s and took “Computer Studies,” you’ll know that the Central Processing Unit (CPU) is the center of operation in a computer). So it goes without saying that you need to take care of your brain, and treat it like the most important possession you own. Most of us take it for granted, and while we focus on taking care of other parts of our body, like our muscles or our skin, we rarely consciously make an effort to nurture our brains.
There are many things we can do and practices we can incorporate into our daily lives to improve the health of our brains. I list a few of the most important ones below:
For many years, the advice we’ve been given about sleep was to get at least 8 hours of sleep a night. And while that is a good amount of sleep, the real benefits of sleep are in the quality rather than the quantity. If quality of sleep is high, some people don’t actually need 8 hours. The amount of hours becomes very relative to the person. I have clients that function incredibly well on 6 hours of sleep a day, however they are Jedi’s of sleep.
According to two studies conducted by The Department of Psychology at Bradley University in Illinois, USA (1), that assessed the effects of sleep quality vs quantity on health, well-being and sleepiness, it was found that in subjects sleeping an average of 7 hours a night, all the results of their extensive surveys pointed to the fact that average sleep quality (as opposed to sleep quantity) had a much better effect on measures like satisfaction with life, depression, anger, fatigue... etc. These results indicate that we should focus more on sleep quality rather than sleep quantity.
Quick tips for better sleep are:
• Stop screen exposure 2 hours before sleep. That includes your phone too!
• Sleep early and wake up early
• Stop eating a few hours before bed
• Sleep in a cold room
• Have a sleep routine
• Add magnesium as a supplement 30 minutes before sleep
• Keep a sleep time journal
Healthy eating habits are crucial to our wellbeing in general. And how much do we actually consciously think about adding certain food or ingredients especially for the health of our brain? The most important way to feed our brains is to eat a diet rich in antioxidants, healthy fats (mono saturated fats), vitamins and minerals. Some of the best sources are:
Extra virgin olive oil
Salmon (wild caught and organic)
Egg yolk (yes you heard me right, Y O L K!)
Dark chocolate (at least 70% cocoa, not Kit Kat!)
Green leafy vegetables
Walnuts (they even look like brains!)
It is important to mention that while all of these wonderful ingredients are great for your health and specifically for the health of your brain, it is important to also pay attention to the source of all of these items. As always the advice is to buy organic produce as well as grass fed, free range and organic meats and eggs.
It is also important to mention that the worst foods for your brain are sugar, unhealthy fats (saturated fats) and processed food.
My clients can’t believe how much of a difference eating clean can have on the clarity of your mind and your health in general.
It is no surprise that I am a huge proponent of meditation. It has changed my life and the life of so many people I know. As a standard practice, I teach all of my clients how to meditate and without fail, it has prove to be one of the most appreciated life tools I give them. Because of that, you can imagine I talk about it A LOT! In this case, I would like to get scientific and explain to you what it does physically to the brain.
After using yoga and mindfulness as a way to stretch more for an injury she sustained, and noticing the amazing benefits it had on her both physically and mentally, Sara Lazar, a Harvard Medical School Neuroscientist, conducted a few studies on the effect of meditation on the brain. (2) In both studies she concluded that meditation increased gray matter in the subjects’ auditory and sensory cortex, as well as increased gray matter in the frontal cortex (associated with decision making and memory). One of the most incredible findings was that people at the age of 50+ had vortexes that were the same size as that of people half their age! (Cortexes are known to shrink with age). Meditation will help you to have a younger brain!
Dr. Joe Dispenza, a leading authority in research associated with meditation and the brain, found that meditating regularly for just 4 days activated the gene for neurogenesis (the growth of new neurons in response to learning). (3)
4. Movement and Exercise
Other than all the amazing benefits of exercise, it has proven to play a crucial role in brain development and maintenance.
One of the ways it affects the brain is that it increases the heart rate which results in pumping more oxygen into the brain. It also helps release different types of hormones that are essential in providing the environment needed for the growth of brain cells.
Research from UCLA also points out that exercise is important for the neuroplasticity of the brain as it stimulates the growth of new neural connections in important cortical areas of the brain. (4)
The brain is a magnificent organ, that does so many things for us, on a conscious and unconscious level. Just imagine that the unconscious mind, controls and regulates about 95% of all of our life’s functions, and we don’t even have control over it. It does it in the background, day in and day out with no complaints... The least we can do is give our brain the best fighting chance to do its job.
(1) Pilcher JJ, Ginter DR, Sadowsky B. Sleep quality versus sleep quantity: relationships between sleep and measures of health, well-being and sleepiness in college students. J Psychosom Res. 1997;42(6):583‐596
(2) See Hölzel BK, Carmody J, Vangel M, et al. Mindfulness practice leads to increases in regional brain gray matter density. Psychiatry Res. 2011;191(1):36‐43 and Lazar SW, Kerr CE, Wasserman RH, et al. Meditation experience is associated with increased cortical thickness. Neuroreport. 2005;16(17):1893‐1897.
(3) https://drjoedispenza.net/blog/meditation/new-studies-continuously-point-to-the-efficacy-of-meditation/ (Accessed May 16 2020)
(4) Ding Q, Vaynman S, Akhavan M, Ying Z, Gomez-Pinilla F. Insulin-like growth factor I interfaces with brain-derived neurotrophic facto-mediated synaptic plasticity to modulate aspects of exercise-induced cognitive function. Neuroscience. 2006; 140(3): 823-833.