There’s been a timely focus this week in the media on mental health and keeping your brain in good shape while maneuvering a potentially stressful working life. The conclusions are all the same: while we tend to put an emphasis on our physical health, our mental health gets left to the wayside. Similarly, while many workers undergo physical First Aid training, mental First Aid training is a concept not many of us are familiar with.
As medicine advances, we are learning how to meaning we are living exceedingly longer lives, it’s essential that we take care of our minds just as much as your body. And though the brain is the one organ we still know the least about, there are a few things we know that you can do to ensure your self-perception and outlook are positive and happy ones.
We recently spoke about the foods that you can feed your brain to make it more productive. We’re now going to focus on exercises that work to maintain your mind’s fitness. Unlike a lot of other top tips floating around the internet, these are backed by neuroscience. Quartz gave a round up of their top five tips to keep your brain in peak condition, and we investigated their list below:
#1 Congratulate yourself for small wins
Luckily for us humans, the way our brains understand and processes information can be more important than what the reality of that situation is. This works particularly well in perception we have of our own success. Congratulating yourself often on small victories is better for your brain than holding out to give yourself a pat on the back for one big achievement. “Frequency of success matters more than the size of success,” says B. J. Fogg, director of Persuasive Tech Lab at Stanford University.
In order to “feel successful,” congratulating yourself for small things regularly throughout the day, and also early on in the day, is your best strategy. Driving yourself with a feeling of success will help drive behaviours that will set you up for further successes.
#2 Exercise and keep fit
Research from neurologist Etienne van der Walt shows that being active is the best way to improve your brain health. He spoke to Quartz in an interview earlier in the year, and outlined how exercise increases our heart rate, pumping oxygen to the brain at a much faster rate. This in turn improves your memory, building new neural connections, increasing the number of receptors in your brain and
Even exercising for a mere 20 mins improves the way your brain processes information and stores memories according to a University of Georgia study.
#3 Remember to stretch it!
You remember in high school when you could do calculus with your eyes closed? How about now? No? Unless you’re using parts of your brain you’ve trained, they tend to go into disuse. Similarly to the way you can exercise the muscles in your body, your brain is very important muscle you also need to stretch.
This applies not only to the parts of your brain that you use frequently, but even more so to the parts of your brain you don’t use all that often. How do you stretch the grey matter that floats about in your skull? You put it through exercises, mentally challenge it, and encourage it to grow. Amazing ways to do this is by learning a new task or skill, such as playing an instrument, learning a language or even learning a new sport.
By the time we reach age 25, neuroscientists believe that our brain plasticity that afforded us so much quick learning when we were younger begins to solidify, and it becomes harder to change patterns of thought. But it’s not impossible. As long as you challenge yourself with new tasks, and force your brain to think hard over learning a new skill, you can still reshape your character and your neural composition.
#4 Sit upright
Yes, your mother was right. Apparently sitting with a straight back can really change your life. Posture has a huge role to play in your self-perception and perception of the world around you. Research has shown that changing your posture from slouched to upright and open can increase your energy levels. Posture can even affect your mood, with collapsed postures making it difficult for people to think clearly and channel positive energy.
We recently published this TED talk on posture and how it affects the hormone levels in the brain. Standing in a way that expresses confidence (upright, chest out, etc.) even when you don’t feel so confident, can actually make your brain produce more testosterone and cortisol, giving yourself a “false positive” in away. The effects of this means that you may actually become confident, just by changing the way you stand.
(Now it’s time to go and inform your mother she was right!)
#5 Sleep Alone
It’s hard to deny the benefits of smart phones, with their endless apps and amazing potential for connectivity. It’s a fair call to say that more people spend time with their iPhone than with anything else in their life. In fact, this now indispensable piece of tech has managed to sneak its way into our beds – talk about intimate.
While the scientific community is still researching suspicions that smartphones have an effect on our brains, what we do know is that the white light given off by smart phones is similar to that of daylight which makes us more alert and energised, essentially switching on the brain at a time when you should be switching it off.
While this may not seem so detrimental, over exposure to white light may disrupt sleep patterns, and disruptive sleep has a lot of very serious long term effects on our health. During restful sleep, our brains basically do restoration and maintenance work. When this doesn’t occur, certain neurotoxins can build up, such as beta-amyloid. This nasty neurotoxin has been linked to certain neurological disorders like dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Not getting a peaceful nights rest has also been linked to an increased risk of cancer, obesity, and diabetes. So as innocent as your smartphone seems, put some distance between you and your electronic devices at least 20 minutes before shutting your eyes for the night.
Want to know more about taking care of your brain? We looked into the negative effects of multitasking last week – read about it here.
Did you know what you eat can also impact brain function? This is the food you need to be including in your diet to make you smarter!