Nice weather brings people out and makes them more active, whether it is riding your bike, returning to outdoor sports such as soccer and football, or getting up on your roof to finally take down the Christmas lights, more activity means more potential for injury.
The brain is personally my favourite organ in the human body…. the way it looks, the way it feels (yes, I have had the privilege to hold many human brains during my school days), and it’s overall complexity are just fascinating! There is so much to learn and still so much to be discovered about the human brain. Therefore, it is important to wear a helmet and take precautionary actions to prevent brain injuries during activities that could increase the risk for one. However, I want to talk about the importance of protecting and taking care of your brain on an every day basis. As a Naturopathic Doctor I like to look at the basic pillars to health no matter what concern my patients have, so when it comes to making sure the brain is functioning properly, here’s how:
Your brain is hungry! The brain uses 20% of the energy produced by the body, that’s a lot of energy consumption for one organ. And your brain never turns off; even while you are sleeping it ensures that the necessary actions are in order to keep you alive. So thank your brain by feeding it good quality nutritious food and often. You know those brain farts you experience when you haven’t eaten in a while? That’s your brain rebelling against you saying ‘if you don’t feed me I’m going on strike!’. So what are your brain’s favourite foods? Good quality carbs such as fruits and vegetables that are loaded with vitamins and nutrients, high quality fats such as omega 3 from fish, nuts such as walnuts and pine nuts, and seeds including sesame and chia.
If you remember biology class you remember that the human brain is approximately 75% water, so not only is your brain hungry it’s thirsty too! One of the symptoms of dehydration is a headache, and not getting enough water can cause brain tissue to shrink and put distress on your executive functions such as planning and the ability to perceive objects and their spatial relationship to other objects; that means tasks such as finding your way back home or recognizing a face become more difficult. So remember to drink half of your body weight (lbs) in ounces of water a day.
Not getting enough sleep can be detrimental to the proper functioning of your brain. A lack of sleep can decrease the ability for the brain to make new memories, and lead to poor concentration and physical performance. Getting the right amount of sleep will allow for all of the neurons to rest and recuperate from a hard days work. So how much sleep should we be getting? It can depend on a lot of factors, one of them being age. Infants require 16 hours a day and adolescents 9. Adults should get 7-8 hours a night and remember to make up those hours if you are sleep deprived from the nights before. Some great tips to help with sleep include making sure the room is dark; maybe invest in some blackout curtains if you live in an area where the sun sets at 11pm like here in Edmonton! Make sure the room is cool; not too hot, not to cold, and keep to a sleep schedule going to bed and waking at the same time every day.
Your brain is similar to your muscles in that if you don’t use it, you lose it. So performing brain games and tasks can greatly benefit your cognition. However those brain games don’t necessarily require you to get off the couch and be physically active. Physical exercise increases heart rate, which increases blood flow to the brain bringing it more oxygen. Overall, physical exercise increases cognitive ability, resists brain shrinkage and promotes neurogenesis – the growth of nerve tissue. So how much exercise do we need? Just 30 minutes a day of vigorous exercise can cause improvements in memory and motor skills…now that sounds easy!
Everyone has it! But what are you doing about it? Being stressed can leave you sleep deprived, decrease your appetite, and make you crave the not so healthy foods…this all acts negatively on your brain. On top of that, the stress hormone cortisol is known to have negative effects on the cognitive functions of your brain such as learning and memory. There is an appropriate amount of stress that is important to life, however in this day-and-age a lot of us have far too much of it. Therefore it is important not to eliminate stress completely but to manage it. Some great tools for doing so include Yoga and Tai Chi, these are also great forms of exercise so you would be benefiting your brain two-fold! Others include meditation, deep breathing and journaling. Ultimately, find what makes YOU feel relaxed!
Kempton MJ, et al. Dehydration affects brain structure and function in healthy adolescents. Hum Brain Mapp. 2011 Jan;32(1):71-9.
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke: http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/brain_basics/understanding_sleep.htm
Riding M, et al. Just 30 minutes of exercise has benefits for the brain. University of Adelaide. 2014.
Waldstein,S and Ellias, M (2015). Resting and Stress-Reactive Cortisol. In Neuropsychology of Cardiovascular Disease (pp. 295-316). New York, NY: Psychology Press