‘New year, new me’ has never rung so true. For myself, 2019 added a whole lot more to my plate, that in the past, had largely consisted of casual work and full-time university. I was offered a full-time position in public relations and continued with my undergrad degree part-time.
I quickly found myself becoming incredibly overwhelmed and come early January, spent a lot of time researching ways to change my lifestyle and become more productive, less anxious and invest more in my own wellbeing.
Whether or not you’ve stuck to your New Year’s resolutions or not, caring for your brain health is one priority that should remain at the top of your list - and as I quickly learned, it is never too early or late in your life to start. Just like you care for your body, your brain deserves some real TLC to be able to keep up with your busy day-to-day.
Being ‘brain healthy’ is important at any age, with scientific evidence suggesting that living a healthy brain life may reduce a person’s risk of developing dementia and other chronic illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer.
Through reading and testing, here is what I discovered.
Nutrition for brain health
While I’ve never had a ‘crap’ diet per se, I definitely knew I could make some improvements. Eating healthy was not only important for the health of my body, but when I began fueling up with more quality, whole foods - I am certain my mental clarity saw a positive shift.
To function properly, your brain needs to be fueled with a healthy and balanced diet.
Several studies have found that a high intake of saturated fats, such as those found in meat, deep fried foods and takeaway food and trans fats often found in pies, pastries, cakes, biscuits and buns are associated with an increased risk of dementia.
A lifestyle that includes a higher intake of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats or 'good fats', such as those found in fish and olive oil, are associated with a reduced risk of dementia. Foods that are high in antioxidants such as tomatoes, kidney beans, pecan nuts, cranberries, blueberries and oranges have also been suggested to be good for brain health.
The omega 3 fatty acids, such as those contained in oily fish and walnuts, may reduce inflammation in the brain and promote the growth of new brain cells. One study has also shown an association between higher fish consumption and lower dementia risk.
Engage with your social networks
We’re all social beings and most of us prefer to interact with others rather than live our lives out in isolation. Being social with other people, like going a road trip or brunch date, has been found to have benefits for health factors related to cognitive functioning - like depression. It is also mentally stimulating and may even contribute to building brain reserve which contributes to a less risks of developing dementia.
I am a natural born introvert and since moving into a studio apartment, alone, I have found myself experiencing more loneliness than I have ever known. Gone were the days of high school where I saw my best friends every day and family every night.
I began putting in more effort to make plans with friends and book into group fitness classes after work, like yoga, pilates or boxing, where I could interact with others for a few hours. At work, when we aren’t too busy, I suggest an outdoor lunch break where we leave our phones at our desks and concentrate on our food and de-briefing for the day.
Keeping your brain active around friends and family is not only beneficial to keep us sane - but combined with physical activities provide a much greater benefit to our brain health.
Move your body
Getting the body moving and blood pumping is a great way to keep your brain ticking away. There is strong evidence to suggest that regular physical activity is associated with better brain function and reduced risk of cognitive decline and dementia.
I was able to find solace in practicing yoga, especially yin. Phones and shoes are left outside of the studio and my brain is able to switch full off and concentrate on the movement and nourishment of my body. The Vedic practice, has been shown to significantly improve brain function and energy levels.
Physical activity increases blood flow to the brain, stimulates the growth of brain cells and the connections between them, and is associated with larger brain volume. It reduces the risk of high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes and high cholesterol, which are associated with an increased risk of cognitive decline and dementia.
It is recommended that we be active most, if not all, days of the week - for a total of 150 to 300 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity or 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous intensity physical activity (or an equivalent combination of both) each week.
Stay on top of your stress
Starting work full-time, combined with co-founding a startup and studying part-time made it incredibly difficult to find time for myself - to focus on the things and people I love, without the horrible guilt factor. I found that prioritising my day more efficiently and making sure I achieved what was most important to my professional work, allowed me to get what I needed done and switch off - stress free. I opt for using pen and paper and writing a to-do-list before I open my laptop and get bombarded with emails.
While stress manifests very differently in each of us - there is one thing is for certain - stress management can do wonders for positive effects on your brain health. Common symptoms of stress include muscle strain, headaches, digestive problems, sleeplessness, difficulty concentrating, worry, and even depression.
Being able to spot your triggers, adapt accordingly and knowing how your body best copes with stress has the power to enhance not only your memory and brain health, but your mood, relationships, and overall quality of life. Along with regular exercise and a brain-healthy diet, stress reduction is a powerful tool to add to the overall health of your brain.
Get quality sleep and relaxation
While living at home with my parents my commute to work would total three hours a day. I had the opportunity to house sit during January and early February closer to work and cut this commute down to 40 minutes. I was able to concentrate more on my physical health and personal errands with the extra time in my day and this allowed me to be able to switch off at a reasonable time. I found that with the right amount of sleep - eight hours sits just right with me - I functioned better during the day and felt less drained come 3pm.
If you’re running low on sleep, you’ll probably start having issues holding onto and recalling details. Sleep plays a major role in learning and memory and without enough of it, your brain starts to suffer the consequences. It is well known by most of us that sleep is essential for life but sleep is also essential for day to day functions, energy and concentration. When you fail to get at least seven hours of sleep a night, your brain will experience decreased blood flow and this heavily affects its primary functions (i.e thinking).