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Lifestyle interventions

Your brain is only as good as what it is fueled with and stimulated by.

To give a brain the best chance of performing at its peak, there are several elements which can really aid this. The more healthy the brain is, the more increased the chance of neuroplasticity therapies working.

There are some particular things which can help with brain health. These are outlined below; and if you wanted to find out more about how each of these might help in your individual case, it is best to tailor these to your individual needs via a consultation.

Lifestyle interventions include:

  • Nutrition
  • Hydration
  • Structural (bodywork)
  • Exercise
  • Time outdoors
  • Sleep
  • Your environment
  • Respiration (breathing)
  • Intellectual
  • Social
  • Behaviour

Scroll down for more information on each.

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Nutrition

It is crucial to have our brain fueled with the nutrients it needs to keep it performing well throughout our waking (and sleeping) hours.  Although there are some general tips for a brain-healthy diet (and many of these are in the ANI Diet).

Some easy steps are to avoid an overly processed diet, by making as much as possible of your meals as home cooked/prepared.  This helps you to know exactly what is on your plate.

Avoiding refined sugars and cutting down on many of the ‘beige’ foods (such as chips/fries, biscuits, cakes, crisps/chips, some breads, pasta, etc) is another step some people find helpful.

You may also like to consider having plenty of protein for breakfast, plant-based foods (including leafy greens) at lunch, and any carbohydrates for your evening meal (as they can aid sleep).

Eating foods which are probiotic (containing good bacteria for the gut) and prebiotic (foods which feed probiotic food) can be important, as our gut is responsible for producing many of the building blocks for the feel good neurotransmitters and neuromodulators in our brains.

A large percentage (60%) of our brain tissue is made of fats.  Eating particular types of fats (e.g. olive oil) can really assist with brain function.  Equally, avoiding particular fats (e.g. trans fats, some vegetable oils, etc) which can lead to inflammation is another brain-health step.

With the help of a relevant professional, it may be that various brain-boosting supplements might help you as well.  Again, this is a very individual process, and there is not a one-size fits all protocol.

Overall, the best step you can take is to personalise your diet, via a consultation with a professional qualified in nutrition.  A thorough look at your history, your lifestyle, any symptoms, and perhaps carrying out tests where necessary, will really help to pinpoint your individual needs, and enable a diet to be recommended for you to suit these.

Have a look at our Locate a practitioner page to find a professional who can assist you with this.

Learn More about an ANI Diet Locate a practitioner

Hydration

Our brains consist of between 75-80% water!  To feel in tip top condition, it is advised to keep well hydrated.  This means around 1.6litres for a woman, and 2 litres for a man.  Both of which should result in around going for a wee (urinating) around 6-7 times a day.

Structural

Because movement is crucial to the functioning of the brain, and because it is so important to know where each part of our body is in space to help keep our brain well-calibrated, this means that putting parts of our body in their correct place is a great help to a brain.  For example a twisted spine or uneven hips are going to give inaccurate information to the brain.  Inaccuracies (mis-calibrations) can lead to issues such as clumsiness or discomfort, which can, in turn, lead to issues such as anxiety (due to not feeling confident in our own body).

Therapies such as chiropractic, osteopathy and craniosacral fascial therapy and others, can really help to ‘put things where they belong’, and thus can assist with a better informed (and thus more accurate and confident) brain.

Exercise

There are so many forms of exercise which can help the brain, and it is very interesting that they all do so in quite unique ways:

  • Some e.g. strength training can help change the neurochemistry of the brain.
  • Others, such as a walk can increase the BDNF (brain derived neurotrophic factor) in our brains necessary for growing new connections between neurons.
  • Cardiovascular exercise can help to increase the amount of oxygen in the system, and this is crucial for good brain performance.
  • Balance-related exercise can aid and tone the vestibular system in the brain, and, perhaps surprisingly, there is a correlation between physical balance and emotional balance.
  • Slow and deliberate movement, such as some forms of yoga and Feldenkrais exercises can really aid proprioception, helping the brain to very accurately know where every part of the body is in space has incredible benefits for skills such as maths and organisational tasks.
  • Some exercise involves ‘crossing the vertical midline’, which means an imaginary line running from between your eyebrows to between your big toes, when you are stood upright, which is useful for increasing communication in the brain from one hemisphere to the other (via the corpus colosseum – a rubbery tract running between the two hemispheres), and this, in turn can help with balancing out all sorts of skills and personality traits.
  • Simply walking through nature can have benefits which mimic EMDR therapies – which are designed to reduce the effects of PTSD

So, the roles which exercise has to positively influence the brain are so many!  The timing of exercise is important too (see time outdoors for an example), and one simple brain-health recommendation is to get one hour of exercise outdoors every morning.

Time outdoors

Getting natural sunlight into our eyes is crucial to aiding sleep (which is another vitally important ingredient for a healthy brain).  It is recommended that you gain exposure to 30-60minutes of natural sunlight each morning (as early as possible, any time before 9-10am).  This is a great aid in setting our body clock (circadian rhythm) to aid many of the processes of the brain, including sleep.

Sleep

Prof. Matthew Walker, in his book, Why We Sleep, asserts that sleep is the most important step we can take for both brain health and overall health.  Aiming for 8-9hours of good quality sleep a night is a great idea.  One of the best and easiest ways to track sleep is with an Oura ring – a wearable device which monitors all sorts of bodily activities.

Your environment

The influence our environment has on our brain health is huge. This can relate to whether our home, work or study place is calming or stimulating.  It can also relate to issues such as mould in these places.  Another factor in our daily environment is screen-time (ideally 2 hours or less). The scent of our environment can also have an impact on our brains – see olfactory therapies for more information. What sounds or music we are exposed to can also make a difference. Obviously, exposure to threatening actions or events should be avoided. A good therapist can really help you to get a balance of these things to help your brain lilt between calm and active modes, as required during the day.

Respiration (breathing)

The presence of oxygen is really important in fueling our brains.  Equally, carbon dioxide plays a big role in calibrating breathing and other related functions.

We should only breathe through our mouths when our oxygen demands are really high (such as when running up a hill), thus nose-breathing is to be encouraged for brain-health.

The rate and depth at which we breathe also has a huge impact on the brain.  As we breathe in, we activate areas of our brain which tell us to ‘be alert!’, and as we breathe out we activate areas which tell us to be calm.  Overall this delivers a lovely balance of calm and alert.  However, if someone breathes shallowly or rapidly, this puts the brain into a much more anxious mode.  Breathing exercises such as breathwork (in yoga or meditation) and Buteyko breathing can aid the equilibrium which should be attained via balanced breathing.

Intellectual stimulation

Stimulating the brain with intellectual activities is associated with longevity and staving off conditions such as dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease.  Equally, a young brain, and all our brains need learning experiences to stimulate the process of neuroplasticity: we can only build upon knowledge when we have some in the first place. Life should be full of never ending learning, and this definitely does not always need to come from a book, film or internet. Just speaking with people or learning about your local environment can be just as stimulating an experience.

A suitably qualified professional will be able to advise on what learning or education might suit your individual case.

Social

Many studies, including the Blue Zones studies, have shown that brain health is improved and maintained by connecting positively with others.  Connecting with others can also release positive neurotransmitters.  Encouraging daily social interactions is a great way to keep regions of our brain in good working order.

Behaviour

Certain behaviours are associated with various different neurological disorders.  Although many are a direct reflection of the working of a brain, sometimes changing our behaviours can have a very positive impact on our overall outlook.  This is an area where therapies, such as talking therapies, can have a positive impact. Sometimes, it might be that the environment or who is in it needs to be adapted to change things, and this is another area which a relevant qualified professional may be able to help with.

If you are interested to find out more about any of these therapies, and how to individualise them to you, you may like to start with an individual consultation.