Is Your Brain Healthy?

There is so much information about how to keep your body healthy, including fad diets, exercise trends, and the like. It is quite normal and acceptable, and even admired to follow these trends with the idea of looking after your body.

What about your brain?

There is an increasing awareness about mental health issues but often the focus is on fixing poor mental health rather than aiming for thriving levels of wellbeing.  As mentioned in a previous blog post, if you consider your brain like a muscle, some of the mystery and fear of the unknown that seems to lie around the brain and psychology is lost in lieu of something more powerful – the ability to care for your brain and be proactive about getting the most out of this precious resource.

Here are some ways that you can keep your brain healthy:

1. Nutrition and exercise
Like muscles, your brain needs fuel from food to function at its best.  This is why if you skip breakfast or lunch you often notice feeling lethargic and find it difficult to concentrate.  You might even notice mood swings or an increased likelihood of snapping at an unfortunate colleague or teammate who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Giving your brain the right fuel is important to maximise brain performance.  Hydration is also essential.  Exercise has a number of brain benefits including improved concentration, improved mood, increased self-esteem, decreased risk of developing mental health issues (e.g., depression, anxiety), increased life satisfaction, increased confidence, improved memory and learning, and increased motivation.

2. Spend time with friends
Set aside time in your calendar to catch up with friends.  There are many brain benefits of social time.  It reduces the experience of depressive symptoms, increases confidence, self-esteem and the experience of positive emotions.  It is important to prioritise and plan social time as it is often pushed out of our calendars to make way for work and other tasks that can easily take over.

3. Stress less
There are a number of stressors in today’s society, particularly in the lives of high performers who are expected to maintain a fast pace and perform at a high standard on a consistent basis.  However, when we are constantly stressed there are consequences for our brains and bodies, including sickness, fatigue, lapses in concentration and emotional overreactions instead of logical decision-making, leading to impaired performance.  During sudden and prolonged stress, our brains can go into fight or flight mode, where the default response is to react rather than respond, often by becoming aggressive, overthinking or alternatively avoiding stressful situations by pretending nothing’s wrong.  Each of these responses can be dangerous in the long-term, particularly if the stress continues or builds.  Find ways to reduce the negative consequences of stress by have good time management plans in place, delegating work if needed, asking for help and support, talking through stress instead of avoiding it and finding outlets in social settings, exercise or other fun activities.

4. Set aside time to plan and set goals
Having a plan and setting goals helps you to connect with your purpose and life meaning, leading to a healthy brain and a happier life.  Aim for 30 minutes a week to review your goals and the steps you took towards what is important to you in the past week and put a plan in place for the week ahead.  This exercise will help you to get closer to living the life that you want instead of mindlessly going through life, missing out on what you want to do.

5. Relax and sleep
Discover what helps you to relax and switch off from your work or sport and make a plan to include it in your weekly schedule.  Some athletes play golf or other sports to relax and switch off, others go for a coffee with friends or on their own, while others spend time with their pets as a way to get away from their sport and training.  Also aim for 7–9 hours sleep most nights of the week for improved brain health and performance.