Tuesday 17 September 2019

#Staysharp: 7 ways to improve your brain function

Rachael Taylor Fawsitt

From the office to the bedroom, taking time to improve your brain function can help in all areas of your life.

With a million things to get through on our daily to-do list and a world where information is only a mouse click away, it is easy for our brain to become overwhelmed or equally, lazy.

There are lots of practical reasons we need to #Staysharp: staying focused in the office, being able to retain and understand new information and even for simple things like remembering why we walked up the stairs in the first place!

Here are seven easily implementable ways to improve brain function.

1. Stay mentally active

Countless studies have shown that keeping your mind active can help improve scores in cognitive function tests. Scientists are even suggesting that brain activity can produce new cells.

Mind gymnastics like crosswords, sudoku and even chess can all help to stimulate your brain and keep you sharp. Keep flexing your mind by reading, listening to podcasts that require you to really tune in or go one step further and sign up for some classes that will challenge your brain.

2. Practice daily mediation

Meditation and the practice of mindfulness is often recommended to those suffering with anxiety or depression, but did you know that it can also have a variety of neurological benefits and even help to preserve an aging brain.

Start small and try to incorporate five to 10 minutes of mediation into your day and give your brain a chance to rest from the business of daily life.

Here are some tips to help with your meditation practice:

  • Quietness: While it is possible to meditate almost anywhere, try to find somewhere quiet if you can
  • Comfort: Sit or lie in a comfortable position
  • Sight: Close your eyes, or if you prefer, another technique is to focus your gaze on the flame of a candle
  • Breath: A great way to clear your busy mind is to bring your attention to your breath. Check out the method known as ‘box breathing’, as this can really help
  • Try guided mediation: YouTube is a great source for free guides and there are also lots of apps that you can download and use on the go
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Irish author, fitness expert and Udo’s Oil ambassador, Pat Divilly, recommends his AVA approach to meditation. AVA stands for attention, vulnerability and acceptance.

“We have to start with training our attention,” says Pat. “We tend to be like the browser on our laptop, with 10 tabs open at one time. We have all these open loops in our mind, we need to train ourselves to focus on one thing at a time.”

“The second thing is vulnerability, so it’s training us to accept the feelings that come up. We tend to make ourselves busier or more distracted when feelings come up that we don’t like. It’s about sitting and being vulnerable and if a sad feeling comes up, you just accept it and don’t try to fight it.”

“The third point is acceptance, so accepting any thoughts that come up and again not fighting or becoming attached to them.”

Try Pat’s downloadable guided mediation plan HERE.

3. Get enough sleep

Sleep has a major effect on our brain’s function. A lack of sleep can result in irritability, memory loss and even false memories!

When we get the right amount of sleep every night, it leads to better productivity in work, it helps us to retain information and even makes us more creative.

Struggling to get your eight hours in a night? Here are some things you can do to help get a better night’s sleep.

  • Limit your caffeine intake after lunch: Caffeine can take up to six hours to leave the body, meaning the later you have it in the day, the worse it will be for your sleep that night. Reducing caffeine or cutting it out completely will lead to a better night’s rest
  • Read a book instead of scrolling social media before you fall asleep: The blue light on our phone, as well as a feeling of overstimulation from the busy social media world, can prevent us from falling asleep quickly at night time
  • Clean your room: Making your bedroom a clutter-free zone can help you have a better night’s sleep. Not only does it make for a more relaxing environment, but it can also alleviate allergens which may be having an impact. Dust, pollen, mould, and even pet hair can all prevent you from having a deep sleep.

4. Exercise

We all know that exercise is good for our bodies, but did you know that it can also make a difference to your brain function? Physical activity can help to improve the brain’s “plasticity”. This affects motor skills, our memory and the ability to absorber new information.

Exercise also releases endorphins and a protein called Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF) in the brain, making you feel happier. Those are just two of the very good reasons to get those running shoes on or head to the gym a couple of times a week.

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5. Nutrition

Having a healthy diet is vital for your brain to function at its optimum level. Too much processed junk food can lead to disrupted sleep as well as feelings of fatigue during the day, which is no good for healthy brain activity.

As the saying goes ‘you are what you eat’, so fuel your body with food that is going to make you feel and perform at your best. Get to know what minerals and vitamins you body needs and plan your meals to make sure you get them in every day.

As well as vitamins and minerals, it is also important to get your recommended daily allowance of omega essential fatty acids which must come from food sources and are critical for normal brain function and development. The human brain is made up of nearly 60pc fat, a large amount of which are made up by Omega 3 fatty acids. Omega 3 is a key component of brain cells. For this reason, it’s a good idea to consume Omega 3 on a daily basis

A great (vegan) source of Omega 3, 6 and 9 is Udo’s Oil. Try the oil, in a breakfast smoothie, drizzled over a healthy salad at lunch time or keep the capsules in your bag or car for taking on the go.

6. Limit your vices

Alcohol, tobacco, processed junk food and refined sugar all have an affect on your brain. Excessive drinking puts you at major risk of forming dementia in later years, while tobacco consumption can lead to severe neurological damage. According to a study published in the Journal of Neurochemistry, there is a compound in tobacco that encourages white blood cells in the central nervous system to blitz and attack healthy cells.

Elsewhere, researchers have discovered that high levels of insulin caused by too much junk food may affect the brain. Issues such as memory loss, confusion and even dementia have been linked to poor diet.

Enjoying the junk food in moderation and sticking to a diet of whole, unprocessed foods is universally advised by health professionals to help keep us (and our brains) in good health.

7. Self-care

Stress and worry can actually reduce the size of your brain, according to scientists. A build-up of the stress hormone cortisol in the brain can have long-term health effects. High levels of the hormone can wear down the brain’s ability to function normally.

So, practicing self-care is extremely important for our brain function. Actively reducing stress means we are taking steps to keep our brains in tip top shape.

Here are some simple self-care tips to help get you started:

  • Practice daily gratitude: Make note of three new things you are grateful for every day and invite this positive thinking method into your life
  • Avoid toxic situations: Reduce contact with people who have a negative affect on your mental health
  • Enjoy some me time: Even if it’s just for five or 10 minutes a day, take some time to really enjoy being by yourself. Spend that time meditating, enjoying a cup of tea, reading a magazine or even just sitting outside enjoying some fresh air. Whatever works for you
  • Use positive language with yourself: Be kind to yourself and avoid being overly self-critical. Remember that you are doing your best and treat yourself the way you would your nearest and dearest

Udo’s Oil, Ireland’s leading source of vegan Omega 3, 6 and 9, is available exclusively from health stores and pharmacies. Find out more on the Udo’s Choice website

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