What are some ways we can maximize our brain health?
Sleep is an important factor in overall brain health and well-being. It can improve heart health and the immune system, clear skin, and promote weight loss. According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, sleep also:
- Heals and repairs your heart and blood vessels.
- Helps support a healthy balance of the hormones that make you feel hungry (ghrelin) or full (leptin): When you don’t get enough sleep, your level of ghrelin goes up and your level of leptin goes down. This makes you feel hungrier than when you’re well-rested.
- Affects how your body reacts to insulin: Insulin is the hormone that controls your blood glucose (sugar) level. Sleep deficiency results in a higher-than-normal blood sugar level, which may raise your risk of diabetes.
- Supports healthy growth and development: Deep sleep triggers the body to release the hormone that promotes normal growth in children and teens. This hormone also boosts muscle mass and helps repair cells and tissues in children, teens, and adults. Sleep also plays a role in puberty and fertility.
- Affects your body’s ability to fight germs and sickness: Ongoing sleep deficiency can change the way your body’s natural defense against germs and sickness responds. For example, if you’re sleep deficient, you may have trouble fighting common infections.
- Decreases your risk of health problems, including heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity, and stroke. *Nhlbi.nih.gov
Deep sleep also helps to prevent Alzheimer’s disease. Deep “non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep can help the body excrete toxic proteins related to Alzheimer’s. When in NREM the brain creates slow steady electrical waves that act as an internal cleaning mechanism.
Some tips for an improved brain health.
- Hold off on your morning cup of coffee:
There is a process called sleep inertia which makes us very sluggish as soon as we wake up. However this fades quickly if we get up and start moving, maybe in 10 to 30 minutes. If you’re drinking coffee right away, you will start to feel better, not because of the coffee but, because of the natural decline in the sleep inertia. Caffeine takes 20 to 40 minutes to produce its effects.
- Consider intermittent fasting.
Evidence is emerging that we should keep our food intake to a 10 to 12 hour window from the first bite to the last bite. This might mean eating dinner a little earlier than usual or closing the kitchen instead of relying on midnight snacking. A 10 hour window could be 9AM to 7PM, which is close to what most people do anyway. Calories consumed at night are more likely to disrupt metabolic processes and lead to weight gain. Heavy foods at night can cause reflux and possibly interfere with sleep.
- Avoid alcohol late at night.
Alcohol can help you fall asleep, but it decreases the quality of your sleep and can cause shallow sleep and awakenings.
- Create a sustainable routine
Following a regular schedule is important for keeping your circadian rhythm the same every day. You should get plenty of natural light and exercise when the day allows, along with giving yourself time to relax before getting under the covers. One of the biggest mistakes is people not giving themselves enough time to wind down. The busier we are during the day, the more time we need in the evening to wind down and prepare for sleep. Following a healthy sleep routine could mean putting your phone away 30 minutes before bed and reading a good book.
According to various studies, Alzheimer’s Disease is on the rise. In your opinion, what are some of the contributing factors?
Genetics plays an ever-increasing role in determining if you will have a problem. Taking care of your brain as you age is crucial for reducing your risk. A family history of Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia naturally puts you at a higher risk of developing one of these conditions. But this is just one risk factor. There is a good probability there’s a lot you can do to reduce your chances of developing dementia. It’s never too early to start. Lifestyle factors such as what you eat, your exercise habits, your alcohol consumption and your sleep habits have been shown to play a role in the risk of dementia or Alzheimer’s.
Are there foods we can take to assist in optimal brain functioning?
What to eat to keep your mind in tip-top shape is a bit of a no-brainer. What is good for the rest of your body is also good for your brain. Filling your plate with whole foods (more plants than animal sources) and lots of colorful produce goes a long way. Overall dietary patterns that prioritize plant-based foods are linked to better brain function and reduced risk of brain-related diseases. Plant-based foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, and seeds are full of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and healthy fats that will support your brain throughout your life.
Some foods give you an extra boost. Beets are high in nitrates that help increase blood flow to the brain, which means our brain gets what it needs faster.
Beets contain rich pigments called betalains, which give them their color resulting in decreased oxidative stress and inflammation and helps to prevent premature brain aging and neurodegenerative disease.
Pumpkin seeds are packed with zinc. Low levels of zinc have been linked to both neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and mental health conditions such as schizophrenia. Pumpkin seeds are also a good source of B vitamins and magnesium, which play a role in cognition and mood.
Eggs are one of the best sources of choline, a nutrient that plays a positive role in better cognitive function. Egg yolks also contain a carotenoid called lutein, which plays an important role in cognition. It is estimated that most people do not consume enough choline. Most of the beneficial nutrients are found in the yolk, so eat the whole egg.
Olive oil is one of the best fats to keep your brain healthy. Research has linked olive oil consumption to the prevention of both acute and chronic neurological disorders, including Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and stroke. It is rich in monounsaturated fats, which can reduce inflammation and plaque buildup. It has high antioxidant and phenol content that has been proposed to reduce oxidative stress in the brain – thought to be a major contributor to cognitive decline.
It is best to avoid – processed foods, sugar-sweetened beverages, and red meat.
Does environment play a role in brain health? If so, how?
Environment does play a major role in brain health. However, there are simple strategies to aid in brain health.
- Meditation boosts your brainpower from every angle. It helps you de-stress, increases your memory, and improves your ability to focus.
- Use your left hand to stroke creativity. The right side of your brain includes your creativity centers. It also controls the left side of your body. By using your left hand to write or brush your teeth, you can boost activity in the right hemisphere, which can improve your creativity scores by nearly 50 percent. Simply clenching and unclenching your left hand could improve other brain functions, such as verbal and spatial ability.
- Tend a garden to boost your mood. People suffering from depression had significantly improved moods after three months of digging, planting, and watering a garden for several hours a week. Exposure to some microorganisms in soil could trigger the release of serotonin – the feel-good brain chemical.
- Exercise. Sedentary adults who started exercising a few days each week improve their ability to juggle different tasks during the day. Exercise increases blood flow, which helps saturate your brain with the oxygen and nutrients it needs to operate at its best.
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