Ideally, we would all like to learn new skills faster, be the person at work who remembers every minute detail in meetings and always respond quickly with a witty quip in social settings. Unfortunately, for most of us, we’re our own worst enemies in realizing those goals. Due to a combination of factors, some environmental, but mostly those which we often unknowingly impose upon ourselves, is to blame. Here are our five favorite hacks to build a smarter you.
1. Manage inflammation through diet
Inflammatory foods, which include sugar, white bread and less obviously, milk, are the bane of optimal brain function. These type of foods inhibit proper blood flow, which in an organ like the brain that depends immensely on proper blood flow, is a surefire way to cause significant problems. While we always advocate limiting inflammatory foods in one’s diet, eating anti-inflammatory foods such as blueberries, spinach, turmeric and ginger can help to counteract the inflammatory effects of that glass of champagne we know we’re likely to indulge on in the evening.
2. Embrace dietary hacks – within reason
There are a host of dietary tricks that can have positive effects on brain function. Mileage may vary across them so it should be emphasized that an individual’s genetic makeup and particular set of circumstances may make one more or less effective. A few tricks that we find particularly useful:
- Have some coffee on an empty stomach (leave out the
sugar). It can boost your dopamine levels.
- Ensure you’re getting enough minerals through your diet or supplements. In particular, calcium and magnesium are important in optimizing mental capacity.
- For some, ginkgo biloba can aid in the improvement of brain circulation and memory.
- Get plenty of antioxidants, which act as key catalysts in the production of neurotransmitters in the brain.
- Ensure you get enough Omega 3 fatty acids, either through food or supplementation.
- Avoid big breakfasts that are heavy in carbs and/or sugar. Save the carbs for your dinner or nighttime snack as carbs can actually have a positive impact on your sleep.
3. Buy into meditation
Beyond causing anxiety and feelings of restlessness, stress (and the underlying hormone that causes it, cortisol) can kill brain cells and result in memory loss. Research suggests that meditation assists in lowering stress, improving cerebral blood flow and even heightening concentration and focus. There is no “right” form of meditation. Much like finding the diet that works best for your body, figuring out the form of medidation that provides the greatest level of benefit to the individual requires some degree of trial and error. That being said, meaningful benefits can be accrued in as little as ten minutes a day. While we all lead incredibly busy lives, there are few among us who can honestly say we can’t spare ten minutes each day for something as important as our mental health.
4. The AM is for Exercise
Regular aerobic exercise helps produce new cells within the brain as well as increases the brain’s volume. These areas of the brain are most commonly involved with planning and working memory. Simply put, exercising can have a direct impact on sharpening your mental acuity. Exercise is best done in the morning because that is when cortisol is at its highest level. Cortisol has an inverse relationship with melatonin, a key ingredient for the restful state associated with priming the body for sleep. Therefore, evening exercise can inhibit the kind of deep, restful sleep that is so important for optimal brain function.
5. Sleep holds it all together
While there are many parts of our lives that can be “hacked”, one area where there is almost unanimous agreement that you cannot, is sleep. Simply put, if you’re genetically predisposed to function optimally on eight hours of sleep you will never be able to train yourself to function optimally on an amount materially less than that. Since sleep deprivation is cumulative, even a handful of nights at something less than we are programmed to function on can have a negative consequence for weeks thereafter. While we can undertake certain measures to improve our sleep quality (which in turn can somewhat reduce the aggregate amount of sleep necessary), keep in mind that these are marginal changes. What’s the key takeaway? If you’re tired, sleep. Sleep is necessary for our nervous systems to work as it provides the necessary rest during which our body grows and repairs itself.
To learn more about the customized nutritional solutions that WellPath provides and how they can aid mental focus and emotional wellness, click here.