Complete health is more than attending to our diet and getting physically fit – it’s about being brain fit as well. Because when we feel happy, focused and confident, everything functions better. Brain fitness is about having a fit and healthy brain that allows us to perform at our very best, in all circumstances.
Life is getting busier, faster and more complex. Staying at the top of our game requires a high level of mental agility, flexibility and innovative thinking. The problem is, up until now we haven’t given our brains much attention. However, the new brain science has shown how taking care of our brain and using it in the way it’s designed for boosts mental performance.
Brain fitness (like physical fitness) takes some time and effort to achieve – after all, we are working with our neurobiology. Following a brain fitness program reveals the benefits of a sharper, more resilient mind very quickly. The good thing about our brain is the more we use it, the better it gets.
"Following a brain fitness program reveals the benefits of a sharper, more resilient mind very quickly."
There are five things that you can put in place immediately to start to lift your own level of brain fitness.
1. Refuel smart
Topping up our cognitive energy means not skipping meals and including fresh, unprocessed food at every meal. The diet most extensively studied for better brain health is the Mediterranean style diet. Think leafy green vegetables, three portions a week of oily, cold-water carnivorous fish, other lean proteins, deeply pigmented fruits and berries, some seeds and nuts, whole grains, olive oil and a little bit of top quality dark chocolate (70% minimum cocoa solids). Who said healthy food has to be boring?
2. Sleep right
Cognitive fatigue is a menace. We can’t concentrate, we make more mistakes and we get cranky. Long days, heavy workloads, working late or starting extra early all add to our cognitive load. We fall into bed longing for sleep, which then eludes us as our brain decides it’s party-time and keeps us thinking all night long.
Maintaining good sleep habits with 7-8 hours of good quality, uninterrupted sleep is essential for neuronal health, emotional regulation, the formation of long-term memory and getting the gist what we have learned. Plus it helps for better recall of information at a later date. Putting in place a regular bedtime routine and keeping to it is a great start.
"Exercise helps to lift our mood, which opens up our mind to new ways of doing things, to learn more effectively and keep us mentally well."
3. Give your brain a break
Taking work breaks during our day isn’t being lazy; it’s about working with our brain the way it was designed. We have peaks and troughs of energy cycling through 90-minute periods during our day. Taking a 20-minute break between each of these allows us to get more done, at a higher level, in less time and with energy left to spare. Take a look at your daily schedule and see when you can next give your brain the break it deserves.
4. Book a room to think
Foggy thinking from having too much on our mind reduces our ability to focus, solve problems, make good decisions or think creatively. Scheduling some thinking space every day is the perfect way to pause, hone attention and gain clarity of thought. Whether it is a daily mindfulness or other meditation practice, listening to some beautiful music or connecting with some green space, 20 minutes is all it takes to set you up for a great day of thinking.
Where is your favourite thinking space?
5. Move it
It’s hard to imagine getting fit without some form of physical exercise being involved. 30 minutes daily of aerobic exercise gives the brain its best workout and primes us for optimum performance.
Exercise boosts attention, cognition and the production of neurochemicals including BDNF (brain derived neurotrophic factor). Not only does BDNF support neuronal health and function, it promotes neurogenesis – the production, survival and maturation of new neurons. Plus, exercise helps to lift our mood, which opens up our mind to new ways of doing things, to learn more effectively and keep us mentally well.
Being brain fit isn’t just nice to have – it’s an essential for better brain health, better thinking and greater happiness.
Jenny’s latest book, Future Brain – The 12 Keys to Create a High Performance Brain is available now through Wiley. Find out more at drjennybrockis.com
Check out our Illustrated Guide to the Brain to learn more about that mysterious mass of nerves and fibres in our heads.