Some of the most common questions we receive has to do with brain health. Women are scared of “losing their minds”, developing Alzheimer’s disease or another type of dementia, and becoming unable to care for themselves.
Are you tired of reading that by taking the latest and greatest supplement, you can reverse the aging process, cure or prevent Alzheimer’s Disease, or reverse those well deserved wrinkles and gray hair? Me too.
In truth, you can do much to protect your brain. It’s not always fool proof, and you have to do the work…but like anything health related, your actions will have a direct impact on your health.
1. Body Exercise – Not only will exercise protect your brain, it will protect your entire body. It keeps you strong and agile (reducing your chance of falls), keeps your bones strong (reducing your risk of Osteoporosis and thus fractures), strengthens your heart (helping to prevent hypertension and heart disease), boosts your metabolic rate (by increasing your muscle strength, plus as a bonus you maintain or even lose weight), improve the efficiency of all your metabolic processes (lowers cholesterol, reduces glucose in your blood), and improves the flow of oxygen to your brain. And those are only a few of the benefits!
2. Brain Exercise – This is vital…surely you’ve heard the phrase, “Use it or Lose It”. Well, when it comes to the brain, take this literally – cognitive function declines when we don’t use our brains. So what can you do? If you don’t read…start. Do your figuring on paper instead of a calculator. Work puzzles and brain teasers. Stress yourself a bit and change how you are performing your daily activities…use your right hand instead of your left (if you are left handed like me), drive a different way to work, or get dressed in the dark by touch only (and then laugh at the results).
3. Speaking of Laughter – make sure you do this every day. It releases good chemicals into your blood stream, increases the flow of oxygen to your brain and generally just feels good. And you get to exercise those smile muscles.
4. Play Video games – yep you read that correctly. Several companies have begun to market video games that have “brain teasers”, but any type of game that has you thinking outside the box (strategy, mystery, etc) will probably do. Now…do you think you can get the game cube (or other device) away from your children/grandchildren?
5. Put yourself in new situations – for example, traveling allows you to see, taste and do different things.
6. Eat your Spinach! – Mounting evidence shows that all of us should have listened to the common sense of our mothers! The latest research is showing that folic acid may improve cognitive function. We’ve known for a long time that folks who have a high level of something called homocystine have trouble with blood vessels and an increased risk of strokes and heart attacks. It seems that risk also includes the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. So what is folic acid? It’s a water soluble B vitamin found in yeast extract, green leafy vegetables (among other vegetables), and dried beans and peas to mention a few).
7. Include foods high in antioxidants in your diet. – The top 5 foods include small red beans, blueberries, red kidney beans, pinto beans and cranberries. Also high include artichokes, blackberries, prunes, raspberries, strawberries, and apples. Yum!
8. Consider a Mediterranean diet. – This would include a diet that has a high intake of vegetables, legumes, fruits, cereals; high intake of unsaturated fatty acids (mostly olive oil), but a low intake of saturated fatty acids; a moderately high intake of fish; a low to moderate intake of dairy products (mostly cheese or yogurt); a low intake of meat and poultry; and a regular but moderate intake of alcohol, primarily wine and with meals.
9. Supplements? – Well, it’s a mixed bag as far as evidence based medicine goes. While your best bet is eating a well balanced diet with lots of vegetables, there are studies that look at the various components of a diet such as folic acid, and natural Vitamin E, Vitamin C and Vitamin B12.
10. Socialize! – Get involved with family, friends and your community. Research has shown us that the folks who are regularly engaged in social interaction with others maintain their brain vitality. This mean the more socially active you are, the better.
Of course none of these work in isolation. It’s vital that you combine all of them for the best physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health.
In a survey conducted by the Huffington Post people were asked what their #1 stressor was. Lack of sleep was one thing that dominated the results.
Without a doubt, there is a direct correlation between how much sleep you get, how stressed you are and how well you function throughout the day.
People who don’t get enough sleep tend to be lethargic and experience energy slumps throughout the day. Lack of sleep also tends to cause irritability, which makes it hard to fall asleep later on. It’s a vicious cycle that can cause mental distress and even wreak havoc on your physical well-being.
The reverse is also true. When you experience an exorbitant amount of stress during the day, it causes you to lay awake thinking, which leads to more stress through the coming day.
Stress and lack of sleep combined can cause you to lose mental clarity and they can put more pressure on your body to perform at less than optimal rates.
So it’s vital that you learn how to implement stress relief measures that also work to lull you to sleep at night. Because when you wake up well rested and refreshed, you’ll be able to tackle the world and anything it throws at you!
Rule 1: Institute a Bedtime Technology Ban
Remove TVs, laptops, iPads, cell phones and any other digital devices from your bedroom. It sounds simple but for many of you this won’t be so easy to do.
If you want to toss and turn, have trouble getting to sleep or want to stay awake, just keep your cell phone or iPad right by your bed. For some of you, that won’t be a problem – but for many people, it’s become an addiction that disrupts their sleep routine and causes a lack of sleep.
Some people have their computer right beside the bed and the glow of it lights up the room at night. The same applies to notifications sent to your cell phone, sometimes with lights and sometimes with the inclusion of sounds.
The physical distraction of the computer glow tricks your body into thinking it’s time for you to be awake. Consequently your body won’t produce the melatonin it needs and help you get (and stay) asleep.
It’s not enough to remove technology from the bedroom – it needs to be shut down one to two hours before you go to bed. Your mind needs time to disconnect and wind down, and it can’t do that if you’re constantly feeding it information.
If you go to bed at 10 PM, try disconnecting around 8:30 PMM. Let your stress melt away and your mind relax. I know, this is not an easy habit to break, but you can implement it. Start with baby steps and experience for yourself just how much better you’ll sleep.
Rule 2: Make Aromatherapy part of your Bedtime Routine
Aromatherapy soothes mind and body and scents are powerful elements in our lives. You can put aromatherapy to work and use it to help you feel more rested.
Start off by choosing calming scents helping you unwind, let go of anxiety the day brought and getting good sleep. You don’t want anything invigorating scents for bedtime – like peppermint. That’s a scent that’s perfect to help you start your day – not end it.
You want to look for scents that soothe and relax. Here are some possibilities:
What’s the best way to use these to unwind and get better sleep? There are many choices, find one that works and helps you fall to sleep.
You can find scented bath products (if you enjoy a bath before bed). You can use candles, diffusers, wall plugins and more. Some people like to create or buy a special mist that they can spray on their pillows at night or put on their wrists.
Last but not least, create and follow a bed time routine.
Our bodies are built for routine. But if you constantly change things up, leading to a disruption in your sleep pattern, it may lead to insomnia or other sleep problems over time.
Follow your night time routine as closely as you can and you will be rewarded with better sleep.
Rule 3: Look at what you Eat and help yourself Sleep!
The food you eat affects everything you do … and sleep certainly is no exception!
Foods are one area where what you eat can benefit or damage both your sleep and stress levels. If you want to alleviate stress and get better sleep, limit or better yet eliminate alcohol and caffeine before going to bed.
While alcohol initially seems to relax, allowing you to distress, it can lead to signs of heat in the body. Heat causes most of us to feel irritated and agitated, hence disrupting our sleep.
So stay away from alcohol and caffeine late at night, just before bedtime.
Even though for many people alcohol may not cause any problems whatsoever, if you have a tendency to problems with sleep, alcohol consumption will make your problem worse.
What you want to do is eat foods that will help you with sleep and handling stress. That means eating good protein like turkey or lean chicken, salmon, avocadoes, nuts like almonds or walnuts, and apricots (which soothe your muscles). In general, choose and follow a well balanced diet.
In addition to quality foods, eating regular meals is important as well. You want your blood sugar levels stable so that you don’t have to deal with mood swings and energy highs and lows throughout the day.
And one more thing, don’t eat too late at night.
Depending on your schedule and daily routine, take your evening meal between 5 and 7PM, but no later than 8PM. Not only will you avoid the “bulge”, you’ll also avoid disruption in your sleep because your stomach is too full and you’re still digesting.
Have a good night!