Mindset Training Series #5

This series is all about your mindset and how you can develop it, in this post, I thought I would touch on brain health and discuss a few practical tips to help fuel and care for your brain.

Ever walked into a room to do something specific and by the time you get there you've forgotten what you went there for ... or started a sentence and gone off on a tangent then wondered what point you were trying to make ... ever struggled with brain fog, forgetfulness, an inability to focus and concentrate, ever struggled with low mood and anxiety that you couldn't seem to shift, ever found yourself feeling tired all the time?

These may be signs of a decline in brain health and they affect individuals of all ages and they often begin long before any physical symptoms are evident.

 

We continually look after our health and wellbeing by eating well and staying active, so why not focus on the brain to ensure we do all we can to stay well and healthy. The beauty of the human body is in its ability to heal and regenerate, to get stronger fitter and to improve and while age is one of many factors that can contribute to a decline in cognitive ability, understanding that our lifestyle choices are the key factors in brain health is crucial. These lifestyle factors include not taking care of our nutrition and failing to eat a varied and nutritious diet, not getting enough sleep and exercise, failing to manage stress levels, smoking and drinking excessive alcohol and then exposure to environmental pollutants all play a part in the health of our bodies and can damage our brain cells.

Amazingly our brain is incredibly dynamic and has the potential and ability to change at any point in our lives, mental deterioration is not irreversible, the good news is that we have the power to enhance brain function and protect it from damage and counteract the effects of ageing. That's assuming we are willing to make changes to everyday decisions and fuel the brain.

According to The Brain Health Program, keeping the brain’s structure in good physical condition is key to improving mood, memory, cognition, focus and concentration.

The brain is the most complex organ of the human body, with an adult brain comprising 60% of fat and weighing in at approximately 3lbs. It gathers and processes information from all our senses, and determines how we behave, what we say, and controls our complex thought processes. The brain consumes an incredible amount of energy in comparison with the rest of the body – around 25% of total energy expenditure. It, therefore, makes sense that the transfer of energy from the foods we eat to the neurons within the brain has a big impact, not only on its function but also on how we behave and feel.

Good mental health means being able to think, feel and react in appropriate ways in order to live your life as you wish. Mental health problems affect one in four people in any given year and can range in symptoms and severity. In 2001, an online health survey of 22,000 people identified the following statistics with regards to mental health issues:

  • 43 % of people have a poor memory or difficulty concentrating
  • 58 % suffer from mood swings
  • 50 % suffer from anxiety
  • 42 % suffer from depression
  • 76 % are often tired
  • 52 % feel apathetic and unmotivated
  • 47 % have difficulty sleeping

So a decline in brain health as we age is not inevitable – the brain is resilient and can thrive at any age when given the right conditions.

Here are 6 small changes you can make that can mean big differences in your cognitive abilities :

  1. Stay on top of your NUTRITION 
  2. Look after your DIGESTIVE system
  3. Manage your STRESS levels
  4. Getting a good nights SLEEP
  5. Regular EXERCISE
  6. Games & Music to TRAIN the brain

1. Stay on top of your NUTRITION

A diet that is low in sugar, moderate in starchy carbohydrates, with healthy fats and plenty of vegetables is best for brain health.  A low glycaemic load diet is recommended to prevent the development of insulin resistance and increase insulin sensitivity – insulin resistance within the brain can have a number of detrimental effects on cognitive function. Vegetables contain vitamins, minerals and anti-inflammatory phytonutrients. they are also high in fibre, which is important for the gastrointestinal system. The brain is 60% fat, so adequate healthy dietary fats, including the omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA, are important. It is crucial that the right types of fats are consumed as bad fats contribute to inflammation within the body.

Healthy fats like omega-3 fatty acids, which are found in brain fuel foods like salmon, flaxseed and walnuts, coconut oil, offer a number of health benefits, such as improving cognitive performance and warding off mental and mood disorders. Also, dark fruits and vegetables like beetroot and blueberries are full of antioxidant properties which can help to fight off the effects of free radicals on the body.

A deficiency of omega-3 fatty acids in humans has also been linked to an increased risk of mental disorders such as attention-deficit disorder, dyslexia, dementia, depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. One study found that individuals who consumed more omega-3s had increased volume of the brain’s gray matter, especially in the hippocampus, the part of the brain associated with self-awareness, compassion and introspection.

Its never too late to start fuelling your brain with the right food, being mindful of what you are putting in and making the best choices is key to fueling your brain with energy.

 

TRY THIS TO BOOST YOUR NUTRITION

Yep messy, colourful, fun and seriously delicious!

When I was slicing up all the veggies I got excited about the gorgeous colours & textures going into this magical, jewelled salad bowl.

Give it a whirl, you can’t help but be happy when you put this together.

Makes 2-3 servings.

2. Look after your DIGESTIVE SYSTEM

The digestive system has many functions that are central to health including digestion, absorption, immunity, detoxification and elimination, however, many factors of our modern lifestyles affect its function and health.

There is an intrinsic link between digestive health and brain health. Poor digestive health can result in increased inflammation. This is interestingly enough one of the causes of many chronic health conditions, including the decline of cognitive ability, not to mention the impact this has on the production of serotonin, the feel-good hormone. So improving digestive health is key to overall health and takes just a few tweaks to your nutritional habits to do so.

The Body Reform Program principles can dramatically improve digestive function by applying the 5 STEPS we take together, these are to Remove - Alkalise - Balance - Support and Replenish. Over 28 days we work to speed up the digestive system through an elimination process where we remove foods that might trigger inflammation in the digestive system. We then introduce whole foods that are full of nutrition and increased fibre that may encourage the function of the digestive system. We also consume foods that are full of antioxidants to support the digestive process, introducing probiotics to provide good bacteria. At the same time, we look at any lifestyle factors such as stress, sleep and exercise, all of these can affect the health of the digestive system.

TRY THIS TO BOOST YOUR DIGESTIVE SYSTEM

This is our signature 28 Day Body REFORM program. Designed to help you boost your digestive system, we upgrade food choices, exercise at the right intensity and get results !!

The program runs for 28 days, we provide you with all the information and supplementation you need to effectively blitz your cells of toxic build up.

3. Manage your STRESS LEVELS

We are all familiar with the causes of stress in short – 21st-century living! We know that stress is a part of life and can't be completely avoided. In fact, it's often said that a little bit of stress is good for our well-being, and exercises our faculties. However, too much stress can cause serious damage to our physical and mental health.

When we are experiencing stress, or we have an infection, cortisol (a stress hormone) raises our blood pressure and blood sugar levels. These changes help us to survive short periods of stress but become harmful when they continue. Persistently elevated levels of cortisol can kill brain cells and negatively affect brain function, stress can also contribute to a host of other pathological conditions within the body.

It is important to focus on stress reduction activities that work for you to effectively manage stress. These could include yoga, meditation, mindfulness, massage, breathing techniques, gardening, reading, listening to music, or keeping a happiness and gratitude journal. When we learn to effectively manage our stress, we see an improvement in our sleep, energy, patience, resilience, focus and memory.

Stress is fundamentally a state of mind that is affected by our attitude. When we experience problems and start to believe we don't have what it takes to solve them, chronic stress can be the result.

Stress, if you let it, can build up and over time can pose major health risks. Here are a few ideas of simple things you can do to reduce the impact of stress on your life.

Have some fun! 

Having fun can provide a nice distraction from any problems you may have. Finding the things you enjoy the most and doing them often will help to relieve your stress.

Take care of your health!

Learning to pamper yourself with healthy meals and doing things you love will help you cope with stress. I love going to a spa and taking in the atmosphere and relaxing. This is about being kind to yourself and allowing yourself time to breathe and unwind. Having a workout in the gym or heading for a yoga class will help and the best part is that your body will release endorphins, that will increase your sense of well being.

Don't be afraid to ask for support.

When you are feeling stressed and like there is nothing you can do to change the situation you are in, ask for help and support from your friends and family. There are people around you who can help. My friends have a knack for picking me up when I'm feeling low plus they are great sounding boards and can provide insight where I just can't see a way out. If stress gets out of control and you feel like you can't control it on your own, then it may be time that you ask for help from a professional. 

4. Get enough SLEEP

Sleep is absolutely vital for optimal brain health and optimal function in life. While we sleep our cells detoxify and cleanse and recover from the day's activities, our brain cells are no exception. We produce a hormone called Melatonin which is responsible for restful sleep, however as we age we produce less, and therefore as we get older we often experience more trouble sleeping.

Experts tell us that we need 7-8 hours of uninterrupted sleep, which for many of us is a dream and something that rarely happens even on holiday. So its very important to find the sleep strategy that works best for us.

Over the last 6 months, I have worked hard to develop a bedtime routine that I protect and practise with rare exception. This helps me get the maximum number of hours of quality sleep possible and in turn, allows me to perform and function to the best of my ability the following day.

Any interruption to this routine and I know all about it, but on the day's I get it right, I have the most productive and fulfilling day that is focused and full of energy.

Here are a few tips that may help you do the same:

Keep a regular sleep cycle...

Go to bed and wake up at the same time of the day every day, sounds boring and predictable, and that's exactly what your body needs. Consistency.

Naturally, regulate your sleep/wake cycle...

I use a Philips Wake Up Alarm or while I am away I use the Sleep Cycle Alarm Clock - both these alarms allow me to wake up to light rather than sound something that helps me wake up stress-free and it feels as natural as possible especially when it is still dark outside.

The sleep cycle alarm clock gives you a few options to wake with sound or light and monitors your sleep patterns so you can take remedial action if needed.

Keeping your sleep cycle consistent is the key to feeling rested and refreshed every day. If you are woken up every day by young children or pets, taking care of this will help you enormously.

Create a relaxing bedtime routine...

For me this consists of a warm drink before bedtime, usually turmeric late - see the recipe. I have also set the screens on my computer and iPad to switch to night shift which gives the screens a softer glow so that if I do access them they do not affect my sleep pattern. I usually manage to avoid screens and fluorescent lighting for at least 30 minutes before bedtime as they emit blue light which suppresses melatonin production. I make my way to bed at the same time every night and aim to switch off my light by 10:30/45 latest to allow for 6.5/7 hours of sleep I need before I wake up to begin my day.

Eat well and get regular exercise...

These two go hand in hand for me, taking care of my nutrition and exercising regularly is the key to my health and sense of well being, both non-negotiables! Don't get me wrong I love a glass of whisky and a chocolatey treat every so often, its just not a daily occurrence for me.

 

5. Get regular EXERCISE

We are all aware of the many health benefits of physical activity, feeling and looking better is always a good thing for our sense of well being and of course it plays a role in optimising cognitive health.

Aerobic exercise protects the brain from damage and as mentioned previously a recent study has shown that it can help to produce brand new cells within the part of the brain responsible for memory and emotions, which commonly becomes damaged due to age and disease. Exercise increases blood flow to the brain and therefore the delivery of oxygen and nutrients, which are important for attention and mental focus. It also challenges us mentally as we push ourselves on all levels, not only testing our resilience it can create new motor pathways within the brain.

The Department of Health recommends 30 minutes of moderate intensity activity 5 times per week for adults which ideally should be a combination of cardio and strength training. The recommendation is for moderate activity so it could take the form of time in the gym exercising or participating in classes or could be something as simple as walking the dog or hopping off the train or bus a few stops earlier. No matter what it is it needs to be a moderate activity that is Implemented consistently and the benefits will be obvious.

6. Play GAMES and use MUSIC to train the brain

Call me paranoid but I really want to do everything I can to keep my mental acuity in optimal working order. 

Mental acuity is a measure of the sharpness of the human mind. The measure of mental acuity usually considers focus, memory, concentration and understanding, but does not measure intelligence. This is a way of talking about how well or poorly the brain is functioning, not about its ability to perform complex functions or the amount a person has learned in his or her lifetime.

ref: www.wisegeek.com/what-is-mental-acuity.htm

There are so many tools available to us to do just that so I thought I would share two that help me engage my mind learning new skills. In recent years there has been lots of discussion about mind training and how we need to train our brains as hard as we train our bodies, I love that idea. So I have found a great tool that lets me do just that, it's called https://www.lumosity.com - when you head over to the website you are offered an opportunity to complete a test that measures your mental ability in three areas. Give it a go! I found myself getting nervous completing the tests because I am so competitive and the thought of not being good at something is such a driver for me to improve, so this is a tool I use with daily reminders to keep everything ticking over. Plus it gives me a good opportunity to laugh at myself because I have a tendency to take life far too seriously at times. #winwin right!

The second tool I use is called brain.fm and is something I listen to when I need to carve out a couple of hours to work uninterrupted in the day. I set the timer, plug in my ears and go! It helps me create the space I need to be very efficient and focused for a block of time and gives me an ability to block out distractions like dogs barking, doorbell ringing, phone buzzing etc. I love it !!  I use it as an easy and pleasant way to stimulate my brain, I love to think of it as brain fuel.   

FUEL YOUR BRAIN WITH ENERGY ...

The big question is ask is what are you doing today to fuel your brain?

We know we need a combination of foods and activities and that by creating and maintaining a healthy lifestyle, we vastly improve our chance of retaining and sharpening our cognitive abilities. We also understand that by challenging and stretching the brain we allow new connections to be created and maintained, so activities which challenge all the senses will help maintain processing speed. All of these things are doable and the interesting thing here is that research on the human brain is ongoing so there will undoubtedly be new discoveries made continually. Hopefully, I've piqued your interest in this topic and that you are inspired to mindfully take care of your brain and now have a few ideas for fueling your brain.

Do this with consistency and you will definitely feel the benefits!

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