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6 Health Tips for a Better Brain

Healthy Superfood with vitamins and fiber

6 Health Tips for a Better Brain

Smart Phones are making us Dumber

Back in the uh…ahem… ‘old days’, people knew phone numbers by heart, and if they didn’t know an address, they looked it up on a map. Recipes were found by looking through cookbooks and writing them down, not by talking to Siri, or Alexa. All of this effort signalled the brain to pay attention and engaged the hippocampus, the part of the brain responsible for memory. With smart phones, information is literally always at your fingertips. Since the effort is minimal and you know you can retrieve it again if you have to, your brain registers that it doesn’t have to remember the information. It no longer has to work has hard. Technology has made our lives easier and our brains lazier.

The good news is, the brain can form new neural pathways and improve! Here are 7 tips to keep your brain in good shape:

  1. Use it or lose it

If you want to be more flexible you stretch. If you want your brain to be more flexible you need to exercise it as well. 

Here’s how to flex your brain:

  • Choose a different route to drive to the grocery store
  • Memorize phone numbers
  • Use your non-dominant hand to perform tasks
  • Learn something new- an instrument, a language
  • Play brain games or Download Tetris- According to a study playing Tetris reduced anxiety and increased brain density in subjects
  1. Watch your diet

You are what you eat and drink, and so is your brain. According to Harvard University, what you eat directly affects the structure and function of your brain and, ultimately, your mood. Following an anti-inflammatory diet full of healthy fats and hydrating is essential for brain health.

Tips for a brain healthy diet:

  • Power up with omegas- Eat foods high in Omega 3’s such as fish, nuts and chia or flax seeds or supplement with a high-quality fish oil.  Omega 3’s are neuroprotective and have even been shown to improve ADHD.
  • Limit sugar- There is a reason Alzheimer’s Disease is often referred to as type 3 diabetes. Numerous studies have found a link between a diet high in refined sugars and impaired brain function including a worsening of symptoms of mood disorders, such as depression. Try stevia for a sweetener that won’t impact blood sugar, and avoid simple carbs such as flours and grains.  
  • Eat more fruits and vegetables- These beauties are high in antioxidants that protect the brain from environmental stressors and free radicals. Leafy greens are a brain’s best friend.
  • Limit pesticide and hormone exposure in food- Choose organic produce when possible (check out the most sprayed fruits and veggies here) and organic grass-fed meat which is higher in good fats and less inflammatory.

Need more guidance with diet? Contact our registered dietician for a personalized brain healthy meal plan today.

  1. Say hello to H20

Proper hydration (water) is important to brain health. A dehydrated brain actually shrinks in size, and studies have shown that dehydrated kids perform worse on tests.

How to hydrate:

  • Make water tasty- Not a fan of water? Try infusing it with lemon, cucumber or strawberry slices and leave in the fridge. The water will soak up the flavour and antioxidants. 
  • Juice- Make a green juice with apples, romaine lettuce, cucumber, and limes. You won’t taste the lettuce but it is very hydrating.
  • Steer Clear of Beer- And other alcohol for that matter. Alcoholic drinks are very dehydrating and not great for brain cells in general. A hangover is from dehydration and the nasty headache is from your brain shrinking. Try a spritzer (part wine and part carbonated water) or drink a glass of water for each alcoholic drink you have.
  • Limit Caffeine- Caffeine is a diuretic and dehydrates the body. Try to limit your intake or have a glass of water before your morning cup of java. 
  • Join our Water Drinking Challenge over in our private facebook group, Optimizing Health.
  1. Move your Body, Help your Brain

Exercise is one of the key components to brain health. A healthy circulatory system that pumps oxygen and blood to the brain is important, and exercise is one of the ways to get your blood flowing. The Alzheimer Society recommends exercise to reduce the risk of dementia.              .

How to Exercise:

  • Just Move- We sit while we work, zoom, binge watch Netflix, eat, drive, play video games…we sit too much. Moving your body gets your blood flowing and helps mood. Depression is one of the leading factors in developing Alzheimer’s later in life. Gardening, walking, even chores spread throughout the day can help.
  • Sweat it out- While any movement is good, making your body sweat through interval training or other forms of cardio exercise helps get rid of toxins, alleviate stress and improves your cardiovascular system.
  • Make it fun- Choose exercise you like to do to keep you motivated, or keep it short. Several short sessions a day can be just as effective as a long one. 
  1. Be social

Those who live in the blue zones (areas of the world with healthy centenarians) remain social throughout their lives. Isolation is shown to be a contributor to poor brain health. With the pandemic and social distancing, and zoom meetings the norm, it’s difficult to get social time in. Our brains depend on us engaging with other people so it’s important to do it however you can. 

What to do:

  • Phone a friend- Call someone. Even if it’s someone you haven’t talked to for a while. Connect by phone, not text or email, and engage in a non-distracted conversation. Focusing on someone else and sharing reduces stress, and raises oxytocin in our bodies helping our mood.
  • Walk it Out – Go for a socially distanced (during Covid) walk with a friend or neighbour- even if your friends don’t live nearby, ask a neighbour or a senior who lives close by to join you on a walk. It will make you feel as though you are helping someone (also good for the brain) get you in nature (which reduces stress) and get you exercise.
  • Game night- Arrange for a group zoom game night. There are apps which allow you to host a murder mystery party, or quiz night.
  1. Stress Less

Stress isn’t good for any part of the body, and the brain is no exception. Touro University states, “Stress can kill brain cells and even reduce the size of the brain. Chronic stress has a shrinking effect on the area of the brain responsible for memory and learning.” Yikes. Just hearing that is stressful. Don’t worry, here’s what you can do to chill out:

  • Meditate– Meditation has many benefits to our health including reducing stress and anxiety according to Healthline.com.  
  • Yoga- Yoga helps activate the parasympathetic part of the brain responsible for rest and digestion. This is important in a world where the fight or flight part of our brain is continually activated. This ancient practise also helps to reduce anxiety symptoms. Here’s a video to get you started.
  • Essential oils– The brain is strongly ruled by our olfactory senses. Smell is linked to memory and can calm our moods. Lavender helps with sleep, peppermint with headaches and energy. You can also try a formula made specifically for stress such as: Adaptive and Balance. 
  • Lower your Cortisol- If your stress hormone is too high you may feel tired and wired all the time. This means you probably need some extra support. A supplement to support your adrenals may help. Talk to a naturopath or registered nutritionist for guidance.

Give your Brain a Break

Our brains are busy. Even while we sleep it regulates oxygen, and the heart…it has a lot to do. How we treat our brains with diet and lifestyle may decide how our brains ultimately decide to treat us. With these simple tips you can improve your memory, mood, and brain health for a better brain today and in the future.

Linda Ljucovic, Registered Nutritionist and Dave Ellis, Osteopathic Manual Practitioner, Oakville