When it comes to health and fitness possibly the last thing any of us consider is our brain. Chasing that elusive six pack, pumping biceps, and busting our glutes are on most gym workout routines. Even if you don’t have a workout routine but consider yourself aware of the importance of regular exercise and healthy eating we don’t think about our brains.
Why is that? It’s quite literally one of the most important organs in our bodies that controls every function and yet we take it (most of us anyway) completely for granted.
I’m a member of the 5am club and most days, after my morning walk, I indulge myself 30 minutes to listen to podcasts. It’s my way of enforcing learning.
This week I’d like to share the insights I picked up from an excellent interview on MindValley with Vishen Lakhiani interviewing Dr Kristen Willeumier about her new book – Bio Hack Your Brain. Dr Kristen Willeumier, Ph.D., is a neuroscientist with research expertise in neurobiology and neuroimaging. Dr. Willeumier holds a B.A. degree in psychology from Boston College, M.S. degrees in physiological science and neurobiology, and a Ph.D. degree in neurobiology from the University of California, Los Angeles.
Dr Kristen Willeumier’s ten tips to creating a healthy brain
1. Exercise. Yes – it’s pretty much a staple for most things good for you in life! As little as ten-minutes brisk walking each day, can make the difference. Our brains have circa 644km’s of blood vessels in it. Exercise helps expand these blood vessels, it also creates nitric oxide which ensures that enriched nutrients in our blood are reaching our brain and keeping it healthy.
Exercise as we know also produces endorphins such as Dopamine and Ceratonia which enhance our mood. Step up the exercise intensity and the brain responds. More strenuous activity such as high interval training or running or activity that utilises most of your muscle groups creates brain derived neurotropic factor, a factor that helps grow neurons in the part of the brain called the hippocampus whose major role for us is learning and memory. So exercise keeps blood flowing to your brain, which reverses brain aging. It also enhances your mood AND improves our cognitive capacity!
2. Eat Blueberries. One to two cups per week (over sustained periods of time) Blueberries, as with other berries are loaded with antioxidants and polyphenols. A foundational food source for your brain health. Why? Because they help keep your blood vessels healthy and flexible and promote good circulation. A Harvard study conducted over twenty years, discovered that polyphenols have been found to slow brain aging by up to two and a half years. The study also showed that they reduced the risk of cardiovascular disease by one third. A true superfood! Brain food! (side note here – Blackberries, Raspberries, Acai Berries are in the same category as Blueberries)
3. A square of dark chocolate. Once a day! We all need a little indulgence in our lives right? Just so you know I do love a square, or two, of dark chocolate myself. Dark chocolate (must have more than 70% cacao content) is loaded with flavonoids which are polyphenols which cross the blood brain barrier and protect our neurons. Also shown to improve cognitive ability! Literally we can eat ourselves smarter!
4. Visualise your day. Taking a little time each morning to visualise what your day is going to be like has a powerful impact on your brain. Your brain processes thousands of data points and filters many out to enable one to focus on tasks at hand. Visualising can help lock in what’s important to achieve and has been proven to help attain that goal.
5. Use your nose. Humans are sensory creatures. The nose can distinguish over a trillion different scents. Aromatherapy can significantly improve your mood. Creating the right environment with light, sound and smell can alter brain waves, reducing the perception of stress, decreasing the levels of cortisol (stress hormone) and triggering positive emotional responses. Defusing Lavender can put your central nervous system into a parasympathetic (rest & digest state) versus the flight or fight response we spend a significant portion of our day in.
6. Use your non dominant hand. Writing or using your toothbrush in your non dominant hand can have a profound impact on your brain. You are creating new neuro pathways to your brain or even growing new ones. Studies have found our brain benefits by swapping things around. Try opening the door with your keys using your non dominant hand. Switch which pocket your phone goes into! Use the other hand for the mouse on your computer. If you really want to go hardcore try writing with your non dominant hand.
7. Creating down time in your day. It may seem a little counterintuitive to find ten minutes and do nothing in your day. Doesn’t matter if it’s a meditation or breath work or simply sitting or lying down away from the hustle of the day – but do it. We need to give our busy minds a break from ‘always on’. Mental breaks really do increase productivity, replenish attention, embed memories, and encourage creativity. Take a short nap and know that it’s healthy to do so.
8. Expand your vocabulary. Learning a new word daily or learn a new language. Research shows that adults who learn a new language slow brain ageing by four and a half years!
9. Gratitude. Creating a gratitude journal and committing to writing down things you are grateful for helps build a stronger more resilient mindset. Negative thoughts are always ready to creep in but practicing gratitude helps support more positive, optimistic thinking. Moral and social cognition are created from the frontal lobe in your brain and this area is affected positively through daily journaling your gratitude’s. Specificity is important when writing gratitude’s, get personal, go for depth, and write regularly.
10. Sit up straight. Posture is important. Hunching over, leaning forward, head down as so many of us are during the day does not allow good blood flow to the brain. The back holds a lot of tension, especially in our shoulders and neck. Sitting upright, head back and shoulders back can help move cerebral spinal fluid through the brain. Cerebral fluid is what helps clear toxins and abnormal proteins.
On my quest to understand longevity of life I now have new insights on the importance of looking after my brain and my hope of course, is that now you do as well.
To your continued future health, success, and happiness