Every day we take care of the most important thing that controls our body and thoughts — our brain. This organ is very important in our industry, as it creates ways to solve tasks and transforms them into a finished product. In this article, we combine the experience of maintaining brain health with the latest research results. There is a story about how to make the brain work effectively and keep a clear mind (tomorrow and in 30 years), be ready to make decisions, focus on tasks, and do not get old.
The brain is a unique substance and the most powerful operating center for controlling the processes of our body. Often we pay attention only to the work of the cognitive function of the brain (processes related to mental activity: memory, perception, processing, and analysis of information, decision-making).
At the same time, we expect a lot from the brain and want it to handle cognitive tasks without much effort on our part. But it won’t work that way. If our cognitive abilities weaken most often the reasons lie on the surface — a lack of attention to areas of life that lie within our control. For example, sleep, nutrition, and physical activity.
Why We Are Writing About This?
July 22 — World Brain Day. On this day, we want to remind you that the brain needs our care, and tell you how to do it.
The topic of a healthy lifestyle has long been the most popular trend in the world. Everyone has at least once been interested in how sports, mindful eating, and regular sleep affect the brain and quality of life. We decided to seriously delve into these topics from a scientific point of view to find out the truth of all the rumors related to this area. After the study, we decided to share the data and answer the question: “Can a Person Do Something Else for Their Brain?”.
How To Maintain Brain Health
We highlight three main areas of attention and one additional for activities that are available to everyone to maintain brain and body health:
- Regular sleep
- balanced and varied diet
- regular physical activity
- mindfulness, meditation, rest
In this article, we speak about the brain and body as a whole, without separating one from the other. We don’t share the approach of having food or exercise separately for the brain and the body. The body is a single system that works together and is interconnected. We believe that it is impossible to maintain brain health separately from the body and vice versa.
Well, let’s go, now we will tell you about each area in more detail.
Hundreds of scientific articles have been written and thousands of studies have been conducted on how important sleep is for a person and the brain, but the topic has not yet been exhausted. Many people tend to regularly sacrifice sleep in the hope of compensating for it later, but it’s impossible to get enough sleep for the future. These same people do not associate the deterioration of concentration and well-being with the actual lack of sleep.
Why Is Sleeping Well?
The brain never sleeps, unlike us. In a dream, it works on fixing and analyzing the events of the day and preparing for the new day. Even in sleep, the brain is working on a variety of processes that are necessary for its long-term health:
- Growth hormone production. This hormone has an anabolic effect, which stimulates the formation and renewal of cells, muscles, and tissues; helps to reduce the deposition of subcutaneous fat and its burning, participates; in the regulation of carbohydrate metabolism through the balancing of glucose and insulin levels.
- Transferring memory from temporary storage to permanent storage. The process of learning and memorizing occurs at this moment.
- Cleansing of brain tissue with cerebrospinal fluid, washing out neurotoxins, and protein debris.
- Strengthening our immune system through the formation of protective t-lymphocyte cells.
- Additional bonus. Also, during sleep, the brain helps maintain a healthy intestinal microflora, is engaged in hematopoiesis, processes, and experiences emotions, scrolling through disturbing situations for us several times (this is why we are not afraid of many things that scared us as a child).
What If You Don’t Sleep?
The constant practice of sleep deprivation takes away (or greatly reduces) the ability of the brain to work on all of the above processes daily.
Lack of sleep affects attention and concentration, the ability to think logically and calculate, appearing irritation, fatigue, confusion, disorientation, the ability to digest food is reduced by a third.
Lack of sleep also affects blood glucose and hormone levels, and motor activity can fail (from tremors in the hands to the inability to walk on a treadmill).
These same symptoms characterize Alzheimer’s disease (the most common form of dementia), in which the cognitive abilities of the brain deteriorate mainly in the elderly.
Imagine, lack of sleep causes symptoms of dementia to healthy people!
It is frightening to imagine what happens to the brain and body in the long term in the case of systemic sleep deprivation.
How Much Sleep Do You Need?
According to modern research and recommendations, an adult should sleep 7-9 hours. And in this article, you can see recommendations for sleep time for different ages.
Sleep Hygiene and Recommendations
It is useful for the brain to live in a mode. When it is tuned to a specific time of sleep and wakefulness, within the established circadian rhythm (cyclical fluctuations in the intensity of various biological processes associated with the change of day and night). It is much more effective in preparing for sleep, sleeping, waking up, and distributing energy throughout the day. This largely affects the quality of life and cognitive abilities of the brain.
Many years of experience in observing the routine and hygiene of sleep allows us to share with you these recommendations:
- More light during the day. The more light we get in the daytime, the better the quality of sleep. The amount of daylight affects the effectiveness of melatonin production in the evening (a hormone that regulates the circadian rhythm).
- Fresh and humidified air in the bedroom. There is still information in our genes that it is safest to sleep in a cave — it is cool, humid, and dark there.
- Darkness and a temperature of 18-20°C. We sleep better in moderate coolness, without unnecessary light sources.
- Preparing for sleep through relaxation of the brain and body. Training involves reducing the pathogens of attention (including intensive training 3 hours before bedtime). Walking, meditation, reading, and music will be excellent guides to quality sleep.
- Reducing or eliminating the use of smartphones and other “blue” light emitters. Production of melatonin begins as soon as the “blue” light ceases.
- The same rise/fall time. It is good to follow the regime not only on weekdays but also on weekends that facilitate the work of the brain.
- The last meal 2-3 hours before bedtime. It is necessary that the digestive system does its work before sleep and does not shift attention to the digestion of food. Also, according to recent studies, eating carbohydrates before bed significantly reduces or even blocks the production of growth hormone, which plays an important role in the body during sleep.
Personally, regular sleep gives me a lot of useful information about myself. For example, you may know exactly when you concentrate best during the day, when it’s the best time to train, and when you need to let your headrest. This allows us to plan the day more clearly and be more effective. If you suddenly had to break the schedule, you immediately understand that it is better to abandon some plans or postpone them to another day.
The brain has a monstrous appetite. About 20% of the energy consumed by the entire body is used by the brain. To get all the necessary energy to work, the brain needs all the nutrients and vitamins. Its health directly depends on how and what we eat.
The study of various approaches to nutrition, our own experience, and experiments have led us to the following beliefs:
- A balanced diet is a key to the clarity of the mind. A balance of all elements (protein, fat, and carbohydrates) is necessary for the normal distribution and use of energy by the brain and body.
- The brain needs glucose. Contrary to some points of view that the brain is better off getting energy from fat because it is made up of fat (although not completely), glucose is still the brain’s priority source of energy. About 60% of the whole body’s glucose intake at rest is required by the brain to work daily. Only in the case of prolonged fasting, when all the energy is spent from glucose and glycogen (the main form of glucose storage), the brain and body will take energy from fat.
- Blood glucose levels need to be monitored. It is important to pay attention to the consumption of slow carbohydrates (which are broken down into glucose) so that energy is distributed evenly without sudden spikes in insulin. This reduces the likelihood of type 2 diabetes. Frequent high blood glucose levels can affect the brain, causing the impaired function of small vessels, which subsequently causes cognitive impairment.
- Eat more fresh vegetables and fruits, which are powerful sources of vitamins needed for the body and mind. I think that it is better to get all the necessary set of vitamins from a variety of food, fresh vegetables and fruits than to bother with dietary supplements (of course, if the lack of elements is not due to individual characteristics and confirmed by tests).
- Choose quality food. Today, this is not so easy to do. Unfortunately, modern civilization has exchanged the quality of food for the convenience of its transportation and storage time. The advice from the Eat Food. Not too much. Mostly Plants says “don’t eat anything that your grandmother wouldn’t accept as a food”.
Food and Concentration
If we talk about how food or eating behavior affects the ability to concentrate, there are several considerations:
- Starvation/overeating is an effective tool for brain refocus. When we are hungry, the brain begins to focus on finding food. When we overeat, the blood actively flows to the digestive organs, shifting the focus of attention to the digestion of food. Therefore, after a hearty lunch, you want to relax, and not actively concentrate on work. Moderate hunger and satiation can preserve the ability of the brain to concentrate, it is important to be able to feel these states and not to go to extremes.
- Coffee is a good stimulant of concentration. Scientists say to drink pure coffee without milk in moderation if the goal is to concentrate. Cow’s milk or cream takes away some of the focus on digesting lactose, and a large amount of coffee increases anxiety.
Working consciously on your eating habits is a good investment in body and mind health. The development of sensitivity and awareness about their food needs and preferences helps to find the balance in this direction. The body and brain often tell you what they are missing for a better job, the main thing is to learn how to read and distinguish real hunger from an impulsive desire to eat something to eat stress, lack of sleep, or procrastination.
It is proved that physical activity affects the quality of brain activity. Thus, a person who regularly exercises (no matter how the activity itself and changes in activity are important) will be more stress-resistant and less susceptible to stress caused by information overload or processing.
As soon as a person stops exercising regularly, it notices changes in the brain’s ability to concentrate, as well as in general health — there is laziness, fatigue, rapid fatigue, the body begins to whine, and the brain asks this whining to quench with something “delicious”.
Connection of Regular Activity with the Brain
Regular physical activity improves cognitive processes and affects long-term memory, learning ability, logic, ability to solve problems and quickly navigate unfamiliar situations, and can also serve as a prevention from neurodegenerative brain disorders.
These conclusions are based on the results of brain research:
- Regular aerobic physical activity has a positive effect on the cardiorespiratory and cardiovascular systems, normalizes blood sugar and insulin levels, and also represents a non-pharmacological strategy for delaying physiological aging and pathological brain degeneration. These conclusions were made by the authors of a study on the relationship between Physical Activity and Brain Health.
- Physical activity affects directly the molecular mechanisms of the brain: it stimulates the formation of neurons, increases their resistance to damage and stress. This, in turn, can prevent age-related brain shrinkage. A strong link between physical activity and the health of the Central nervous system, including the brain, is indicated by the results of clinical studies, which showed that six months of regular aerobic exercise led to an increase in brain volume in older people compared to the control group.
Having regular activity in life has a positive effect on the brain for two global reasons — activity can help slow down brain aging and improve mental health and memory.
It is important to clarify that physical activity does not always involve athletic exercise. This should include all the actual activity that we do during the day, all movement and interaction with the external environment. For example, you might miss a workout in the evening if you walked up and down the four floors of the office a lot during the day.
You don’t have to buy a gym membership to bring more movement to your life. You can simply work on your habits to increase your extra-training activity and movement during the day: prefer stairs to elevators, walk, don’t stay in one place for more than 30 minutes, do warm-ups to allow blood to fill the tissues, muscles, and brain. The main thing in this question is to form a habit of physical activity.
Earlier in the article, we speak about a conscious approach to physical activity/nutrition and generally mentioned it as an important conceptual component of any process. Awareness becomes an important area of development for a person, and it can be developed in many ways. The most popular method is considered to be meditation. The proven effects of meditation include:
- Reducing anxiety and near-depressive states.
- Reducing the main indicators of chronic stress (including high blood pressure).
- Increased cortical thickness in areas of the brain associated with attention, memory, and emotion management.
Other effects of meditation can be studied here.
Mindfulness ≠ Meditation
There are other ways to develop awareness in life besides meditation. We recommend to single out one way that extends to many areas — focused performance of daily tasks:
- Conscious meal inspired by the technique of “raisin meditation”. When you have the time and desire, you can pay special attention to the taste, temperature, shape, and texture of food;
- Conscious walking. During individual walks, our brain can just hover in thought or think carefully about something, and you can also try to pay special attention to what surrounds you: nature, trees, houses, Windows, people. You do not need to make value judgments and go into thoughts about a particular subject. Just observe and be aware of what is around you at the moment.
- Conscious rest. Unfortunately, in our time, the concept of “doing nothing” is not very welcome — you need to work at work, develop outside of work. This is a very crude dichotomy imposed by capitalist society, which leads to the fact that people do not learn to rest. Sometimes you need to let the brain not focus on something specific and freely wander in your thoughts, combining this with bodily rest. By the way, the unfocused brain mode encourages creative thinking and decision-making.
It is important to understand that the goal of mindfulness is not to constantly focus on the positive and reduce stress, but to focus on the current moment, understanding your physical needs, and accepting emotional problems.
Take Care of Your Brain, and It Will Take Care of You
You need to keep in mind regular sleep, a balanced diet, and regular physical activity for your brain and body to be healthy. And additionally train and relax the brain, improving cognitive abilities through increased awareness.
We would like to say something about balance. When bringing any habits to life it is important to maintain sanity, to refuse to be categorical and to develop the main areas of attention evenly relative to each other. An organism is a collection of different systems that work in an interconnected and interdependent way.
Also, we can control all these things. They require an adequate amount of time, and we can always find time for them without becoming fanatics or sacrificing other areas of life that are important to us.
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