Our brains have an immense workload to manage on a daily basis, overseeing every aspect of our body and mind. Therefore, it is essential to take good care of it to maintain our overall health, and happiness, and to evolve into the best versions of ourselves. In this article, you will discover seven essential habits for keeping your brain in top shape, both mentally and physically.
Prioritize deep sleep
Did you know that your brain is the hungriest organ in your body, as it consumes approximately 20% of the energy derived from your food? After processing this energy, it produces various wasteful byproducts that need to be cleaned up for the proper functioning of your brain. This cleaning process takes place while you sleep, particularly during deep, dreamless sleep. In this phase, brain tissues are cleansed by cerebrospinal fluid, a process one could call 'brainwashing'.
To ensure your brain effectively cleanses these tissues, the deep sleep phase should ideally last between 70-90 minutes or longer. Insufficient deep sleep can lead to feelings of concentration difficulties, fatigue, and moodiness. Therefore, strive for a restful and extended deep sleep every night. You can track your sleep duration with specific apps like Sleep Cycle or through smartwatches.
If you find it challenging to maintain longer periods of deep sleep, you can use a meditation technique inspired by Tibetan monks, which is incorporated into the Lumenate app. To get started, download the app, log in, and position the external camera toward yourself. Close your eyes and relax. A flash will begin flickering to music, varying in intensity and frequency. Your brain's natural rhythm will sync with the frequency of the flickering light, aligning with the gamma range associated with calmness and focus.
Move, dance, and jump
It's crucial to move on a daily basis and the global obsession with walking 10 thousand steps per day is something many people strive to achieve nowadays. Neuroscientist Shane O'Mara believes that daily walking unlocks the cognitive powers of your brain. She states, "There are all sorts of rhythms happening in the brain as a result of engaging in that kind of activity, and they're absent when you're sitting. One of the great overlooked superpowers we have is that, when we get up and walk, our senses are sharpened. Rhythms that would previously be quiet suddenly come to life, and the way our brain interacts with our body changes".
Just 6-15 minutes of walking in the fresh air can increase your creativity by up to 60%. It reduces activity in the prefrontal cortex, accelerates the blood flow to the brain, and trains your vestibular apparatus. If you need a power boost, try walking with a springy step, jumping, or even dancing. These activities trigger the release of happiness hormones. You can also add some musculoskeletal exercises, such as wearing a backpack, to stimulate the release of the RbAp48 protein, which improves memory, and osteocalcin, a hormone that enhances bone health.
Lower sugar consumption
It's no secret that the brain loves sugar, or more precisely, glucose. Glucose is essential for producing ATP molecules, which serve as fuel for the brain and are generated in mitochondria to provide energy for neurons. However, this doesn't imply that you need to consume excessive amounts of sugar or sweets to ensure your brain functions properly. Quite the contrary. Your body can extract glucose from nearly any type of food, and neurons lack the capacity to store nutrients for extended periods. Consequently, excess sugar consumption is directly linked to issues such as weight gain, obesity, dental decay, and even type 2 diabetes.
Frequent exposure to high glucose levels can diminish mental capacity. This occurs because excessive sugar intake suppresses neurotrophic factors in the brain that are crucial for cognitive functions. Neuroscientist Amy Reichelt explains, "The sugar-induced changes in the hippocampus were both a reduction of newborn neurons, which are vital for encoding memories, and an increase in chemicals linked to inflammation".
The World Health Organization recommends limiting our consumption of added sugars to 5% of our daily caloric intake, which roughly amounts to 25 grams or 6 teaspoons per day. So, it's better to cut down the sugar and focus on consuming long-chain carbohydrates and proteins, such as eggs, vegetables, nuts, cheese, and beans. This dietary adjustment can also help prevent the energy slump that often follows the consumption of sugary foods.
Try new things and experiment
Building new neural connections is crucial for brain development. Just as we train different muscles through sports, we must train our brains. Neuroscientist Lawrence C. Katz refers to this as 'neurobics', a series of exercises to keep our brains alive, healthy, and free from the monotony of routine tasks. The key is to continually create new neural connections by seeking new experiences, trying novel activities, and diverging from our usual paths to enhance our brain's cognitive reserve. This surprises the brain and fosters the formation of new neural pathways.
To achieve this, try activities you don't typically engage in change your usual route to the office, switch from driving to biking, or from biking to walking. Experiment with tasting new dishes you've never tried before, visit unfamiliar places, try to write with your left hand if you are right-handed and vice versa, and embark on learning a new language. In the book "Curious? Discover the Missing Ingredient to a Fulfilling Life' by renowned psychology professor Todd Kashdan, the author delves into how nurturing curiosity paves the way for a happier, healthier, and more meaningful life.
Remain socially involved
It's clear that being around friends and family helps us feel safe, secure, and happy. However, social isolation can have a significant impact on our physical and mental health. Unfortunately, a lack of communication can bring about significant changes in some brain regions, including reduced white matter in areas critical for thinking and emotional control. It also disrupts connectivity between the amygdala and frontal lobes, which is associated with increased behavioral problems.
According to Gary L. Wenk, a professor of psychology, neuroscience, molecular virology, immunology, and medical genetics at Ohio State University, the isolation experienced during the global pandemic affected many people. The good news is that these brain changes are, at least to some extent, reversible. Therefore, the best we can do is to remain socially active, maintain communication with loved ones, even if they live far away, and seek opportunities to meet new people.
Use breathing techniques
Stress is a source of many mental and physical problems. Under stress, our brains tend to lose creativity and default to familiar patterns of behavior, inhibiting the formation of new neural connections and personal development. While many of us experience constant stress in today's world, we have the capacity to adapt, help ourselves, and positively influence our brains through conscious efforts.
One effective approach is meditation or using various breathing techniques. A simple and helpful technique is the 4-7-8 breathing exercise: Begin by closing your lips and inhaling through your nose for a count of four. Then, hold your breath for a count of seven. Finally, exhale completely through your mouth for a count of eight. This practice increases oxygen flow and stimulates the long vagus nerve, which activates the parasympathetic nervous system, effectively reducing stress.
While it may seem obvious, it's something we should never overlook, even in our busy lives with limited time. Physical activity significantly enhances our thinking and memory skills while also reducing the risk of dementia. Exercise plays a pivotal role in the generation of new neurons, particularly in the hippocampus, the region responsible for learning and memory. This area tends to lose volume with age, as well as due to conditions like depression and Alzheimer's disease.
A recent study published in the journal Neurology revealed that older people who engage in vigorous exercise have cognitive test scores equivalent to individuals who are 10 years younger. Therefore, find a sport that you like and be consistent with it.