This New Year, it’s time to put your brain first. After all, most of us are paid to use our brains, but few people make them the focus of the way they eat, sleep, exercise or lead their lives.
To boost your mental performance and make sure you are at the top of your cognitive game, try basing your decisions on what is best for your little grey cells.
1. Eat brain food
The brain is energy-hungry and uses between 20 and 30 per cent of our food intake, so make sure you eat to power it up. Avocado, salmon, coconut oil, eggs, melon and seeds all contain omega oils and magnesium, which help to boost brain function and reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Glucose is the breakdown product of a healthy, balanced diet and this is what the brain absorbs from the blood supply to power itself. Extra nutrients in the blood supply to the brain – especially the ones I’ve named here – help to build brain cells and keep neurons in peak condition. When you are stressed, your brain and body need a lot more magnesium, so it’s a good idea to add a supplement to your diet.
2. Have a digital detox
Cold January days can make it tempting to huddle up in front of the TV, but try giving your brain a break from the screen, particularly close to bedtime. The blue-light effect confuses the brain into thinking it is daytime. Darkness triggers the pineal gland to secrete melatonin, which is the hormone that makes us feel sleepy, so too much screen-time can prevent you from drifting off. Certainly, avoid using your phone and watching TV at the same time. The brain isn’t designed to multi-task so your efficiency will be reduced, even if you feel as if you’re getting lots done. When we focus on a job, the blood supply moves to the part of the brain that excels at it. Switching between tasks means that the blood supply is spread around the brain and we do each thing less well. You may have noticed this when you are trying to work and emails keep pinging or people are vying for your attention.
3. Visualise your goals
Create an action board of things you want to achieve this year, particularly focusing on those you might be avoiding out of fear. Anything new is considered a threat by the brain because it goes into ‘survival mode’: the blood supply sticks with the basics rather than opening up to trust, collaboration, risk or creativity. By visualising a scenario in advance, your brain will feel as if it has prior experience when it comes to the real deal. Often, the act of applying for that promotion or meeting someone new is not as bad as our brain makes us feel it might be.
4. Try confidence-boosting exercises
Lots of people make commitments to exercise more in January, but if you find it hard to drag yourself onto the treadmill, try exercising for your brain rather than your body. Sports such as weight training or boxing will help to boost your testosterone levels, which is linked with feelings of confidence. Doing a form of exercise that you actually enjoy will have a more powerful impact on your brain, resulting in the release of the brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a protein that boosts neuronal connections. Regular exercise can even have the same effect as a low dose of anti-depressants by encouraging the turnover of serotonin at mood receptors in the brain.
(For more from Tara Swart, visit taraswart.com.)
From: Harper’s BAZAAR UK