5 Simple Tricks to Get Yourself on The Road to Better Brain Health
By Gillian Brod, Neurofeedback Program Manager
1. Happy Heart, Happy Brain
There are many easy and simple practices we can implement to move our mindset in a positive direction. I am sure you are familiar with gratitude practices and you have heard a million times that just a few minutes of gratitude practice a day can change your life, but have you ever learned about the psychological chain of events that take place when practicing this simple technique? It is actually pretty amazing to understand the intricacies of our body systems and how connected they really are. When we practice gratitude for the joy and love we have in our lives, our whole body reacts. Taking a few minutes each day to focus in on this practice will not only change your mood, but can increase blood flow to all the body systems while providing a common language for all of our systems to sync to. When this happens, we actually can put ourselves back in the control booth of our systems and can communicate to our bodies what we want them to do. Imagine having total control over your feelings and body... you would be able to play an active role in your emotional processing, and in any health issues you may be facing. If you would like to learn more about this practice and how you can take control of your mind and body, please read Take Back Your Health and Re-write Your Story With HeartMath® written by Cali Freyn, one of our Holistic Health Coaches and Certified Heartmath® Practitioners.
2. Flap Those Social Butterfly Wings
Many studies have shown a link between longevity and overall brain health with our social life. As humans, we are social creatures, and although our relationships can look different for each of us, it is crucial to exercise and maybe even grow our social muscle to keep our brains in shape. Whether you’re introverted or extroverted, Aquarius or Scorpio, communication, love, trust, and respect are things we all long for in life. These basic needs can be met in our various relationships and often end up giving us much more than we realize. Usually, when someone does something nice for us or we get a hug, our thoughts don’t usually go to “Oh this warm fuzzy feeling that I am experiencing is pure love and that pure love feeling is aligning all of my body systems, opening my veins and capillaries to allow for more blood and oxygen to flow around my body, and my brain is getting high on life!” The cool thing is that is exactly what is happening...among many other complex biological functions. So the moral of the story is the more positive social interaction we have, the more love and support we receive, the healthier our brains and bodies are. It’s so simple, cliché, and effective!
3. Stretch and Flex That Muscle
This last year we have had to get creative in our forms of communication. For many of us, it has been difficult to keep up our relationships in the same ways that we have known. As you read in point 2 above, we know that social interaction is essential for most of us to thrive. The brain is like a big muscle, and just like any other muscles it needs exercise. The good news is that there are endless online forums, groups, and clubs out there to plug into anytime. We each have our own interests and comfort levels, so it is important to find our own ways of strengthening our brains that fit with our lifestyle and who we are. The best way to form a good habit is making sure it feels easy for us to get to it, and that there is a clear reward involved. I encourage you to explore new ways to stay in touch with your intellect and stimulate your brain… here are some resources to check out, and ideas to get you started!
- Join a Toastmasters Group: https://www.toastmasters.org/
- Start a virtual book club with your friends.
- Plan a ZOOM happy hour.
- Schedule a weekly virtual game night with your friends. https://houseparty.com/
- Join a virtual exercise group! Lots of gyms are hosting online classes.
- Get outside for a hike, snowshoeing, skiing, etc.!
4. Clean up Your Sleep Routine
We all know what it is like to get a really bad night’s sleep, and have probably experienced what it is like to try and function the next day. It is hard to concentrate and feels like our brain is not turned on. When we sleep, we cycle through different phases of sleep, and as we flow through these phases, our brain's waves are changing. REM sleep is the phase of the cycle where our brain is given time to repair and restore from the day. This is the last phase in the cycle and we have to make it through uninterrupted sleep for about 90 minutes, so the average person completes 4 or 5 cycles a night. We can’t always control our sleep cycles but there is a simple thing we can do to help our body form a habit and make it easier for us to get our REM cycles in every night. In this case, time is our friend. When we set a consistent bedtime and wake time our bodies start to respond by getting into a grove. Our bodies like routine so we can function smoothly. When you keep to a sleep routine, you will notice that you will start to get tired near the same time, and your body may even start to wake you up naturally near your set wake time. When we get into this routine you are providing your sleep cycles with the consistency needed to get the most out of your sleep, i.e., completing multiple cycles of REM sleep every night. When it comes to sleep, our brains do thrive on structure. We can’t always get a perfect night’s sleep, but every effort you can make toward regulating your sleep routine will pay off in the long run! Think of it like building blocks...eventually you will have a stable house.
5. Move It, Groove It
I think we all have heard the endless benefits of exercise, so it is no surprise that this practice also optimizes brain health. Increased blood flow from moving your body brings more oxygen and nutrients to the brain providing the fuel needed to function properly. There have been countless studies done on this topic and the positive benefits are endless - including improved memory, attention, and concentration, which are some of the building blocks of our overall cognitive performance. When we are having difficulty in these areas, we are often also experiencing a whole entourage of symptoms like poor word finding, brain fog, agitation, obsessive thinking, being hyper-emotional, restlessness, and being disorganized to name a few. When our brains are overloaded like this for a long period of time, more serious, and often more difficult to reverse, symptoms and conditions can occur like anxiety, depression, and severe cognitive decline. The difficult thing is that for most people cognitive decline happens slowly and over time, so it is easy to adapt to these undesirable changes and for some, these changes may even go completely unnoticed. For many, exercise can feel like no fun and be difficult to find time for, but I promise that your future self will thank you for putting in the effort now. It’s never too late to start moving your body and reaping its countless benefits. It is important to make it fun and easy for your lifestyle, so open yourself up to the idea of movement being fun and explore what works for you and your body!