Lifestyle Changes to Support a Healthy Brain and Overall Well-Being
We all know that our lifestyle has a significant impact upon our health and well-being. At The Perth Brain Centre we provide specific advice about lifestyle that is an essential component of an integrated approach to helping patients with problems affecting brain function.
Of course, everyone can benefit from taking action to improve their lifestyle and some of the advice that we commonly share includes:
Exercise is the most important place to start. Numerous studies have found exercise to be effective in elevating mood and reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety. Exercise also helps to improve attention and concentration.
Exercise stimulates the body to produce serotonin and endorphins, which are chemicals in the brain that reduce stress. Research shows that increasing your body heat may alter neural circuits controlling cognitive function and mood, including those that affect the neurotransmitter serotonin. Increased serotonin will boost your mood, increase relaxation, and alleviate anxiety.
The brain is one of the most metabolically active parts of the body and needs nutrients to function effectively. A poor diet may not provide the nutrients necessary to produce neurotransmitters and may lead to symptoms of stress, anxiety or depression.
Gut health is important factor when examining brain health. It is important to make sure your gut is healthy so you can absorb nutrients from your food. This means paying attention to the health of your intestinal flora by eating non-processed wholefoods and taking supplemental probiotics and eating fermented foods. Research has indicated that the gut microbiota also influences our mental health. In studies on mice it has been found that disruptions of the microbiome of the gut induced mice behaviour that mimics human anxiety, depression and even autism. In some cases, scientists restored more normal behavior by treating their test subjects with certain strains of benign bacteria.
Supplements can be an important part of supporting brain and mental health. Research has shown that Omega 3 fatty acids have been shown to have anti-inflammatory and anti-depressant properties. Other research has indicated that Omega 3s can be helpful in reducing the symptoms of ADHD and improving cognitive skills such as memory.
Sleep has a strong effect on mood and brain health. When we get good quality sleep our neurotransmitters including serotonin are replenished. We need good levels of serotonin to feel calm and manage stress in our day to day lives.
People who don’t get adequate sleep, in length or quality, are more likely to develop major depression than those who sleep through the night. In addition, research shows that sleep-deprived people have a much stronger tendency to classify neutral images as “negative,” so that even everyday items can seem more threatening and contribute to anxiety.
Researchers have demonstrated through studies (also with mice), that while we sleep the space between our brain cells increase to flush out toxins that are built up in our brain while we are awake. This brain plumbing system is called the “glymphatic system”. Getting a good night’s sleep literally ‘cleans’ the brain.
Thoughts and Emotions
Unhelpful thoughts and rumination can upset the body’s hormone balance and deplete the brain chemicals required for feelings of happiness or calm, as well as have a damaging impact on the immune system and other parts of our body. Rumination is the habit of dwelling on negative thoughts and feelings and can have a negative impact on our brain and mental health. The way we view situations has a direct impact on the way we feel, therefore affecting our stress levels.
Certain types of mental training, such as mindfulness, can help us to identify our thoughts and feelings and not get hooked in to them. Mindfulness can help us to feel calmer and more resilient. Other researchers have identified that other helpful attitudes that improve our wellbeing are forgiveness, gratitude, and kindness/self-compassion all which can be developed with practice.
There is a saying that ‘the healing is in the relationship’ and research has shown that when people have strong connections they are more resilient and recover from issues such as depression and anxiety much quicker. For our brain to function at its optimum we need to feel safe in the world and this starts with attachment and connection to others.
So, don’t wait for the New Year to make a fresh start, take action today to improve your lifestyle for a better life tomorrow.