Brain Fitness: 5 Ways To Shape Up Your Brain

This article originally appeared in The Carousel

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. Here’s five ways to shape up your brain…

Brain fitness is about having a fit and healthy brain that allows us to perform at our very best, in all circumstances, according to Dr. Jenny Brockis, who specialises in the science of high performance thinking.

“Life is getting busier, faster and more complex,” she says. “Staying at the top of our game requires a high level of mental agility, flexibility and innovative thinking. The problem is, that 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 was designed for boosts mental performance.”

According to Dr. Brockis, brain fitness (like physical fitness) takes some time and effort to achieve – after all, we are working with our neurobiology. “Following a framework for a brain fitness program reveals the benefits of a sharper, more resilient mind very quickly,” she explains. “The good thing about our brain is – the more we use it, the better it gets!”

Here, Dr. Brockis reveals the five things that you can put in place immediately to start to lift your level of brain fitness.

1. Refuel Smart.

“Topping up our cognitive energy means not skipping meals and including fresh unprocessed food at every meal,” explains Dr. Brockis. “The diet most extensively studied for better brain health is the Mediterranean style diet; leafy green vegetables, three portions a week of oily, cold-water carnivorous fish, other lean protein, 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,” explains Dr. Brockis. “We can’t concentrate, we make more mistakes and we get cranky. Long days, heavy workloads, working late or starting extra early, all adds 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 of 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.”

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 for,” says Dr. Brockis. “We have peaks and troughs of energy cycling through 90-minute periods during our day. By taking a 20-minute break between each of these allows us to get more done, to 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, to solve problems, make good decisions or think creatively,” cautions Dr. Brockis. “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, twenty 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. “Thirty minutes daily of aerobic exercise gives the brain it’s best workout and primes us for optimum performance,” advise Dr. Brockis. “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 a ‘nice to have’, it’s an essential for better brain health, better thinking and greater happiness.”

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