Paws And Unwind 2022
Create your Brain Boost Toolkit with the tips below, and pick your first habit:
- Focus on brain superfoods rich in powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds that can promote proper brain function, improve memory and mood, and protect against cognitive decline: blueberries, broccoli, citrus fruits, coffee, dark chocolate, eggs, fatty fish, green tea, nuts, spices and herbs.
- Read the nutrition food labels every time you buy packaged or processed foods. The longer the list, the more likely it has things that are not necessary, such as added sugar, vegetable oils, colorants, and preservatives.
- Try to cook homemade meals more often. When you cook your meals from scratch with ingredients you know, you have more control of what you eat.
- Hydrate! When our cells aren’t getting the water they need, they lose their ability to function optimally, impairing cognitive function. As a result, your brain has to work harder to perform the same tasks. Start your day with two big glasses of water, and drink about half of your body’s weight in ounces of water for optimal hydration every day.
- Stay active during the day. The current Physical Activity Guidelines from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommend 150 minutes of moderate activity a week to increase overall health. Do a combination of cardio and strength training with programs that target different muscle groups with different intensity levels when at the gym, and try to move every day throughout the day as our bodily functions work best when we’re active (walk. play with your kids, go hiking, bike, dance, do Pilates, or play sports)
- Don’t sit for too long. Sitting for long periods has a negative effect on our metabolism and our mobility. One way to avoid sitting for too long can be having walking meetings whenever possible.
- Play with your pets (or go take wonderful walks or runs with your dog)
- Move at work. Having a standing desk can be helpful, but you should also try to move during the day. If you work at an office, park your car away from the office building and walk, take the stairs instead of the elevator, move away from your desk for your lunch break (possibly outside), and take advantage of small breaks to stretch and move.
In the day:
- Get plenty of sunlight starting in the morning (possibly within 30 minutes of waking up). Getting outside to walk or work out, or even having your breakfast outdoors – weather permitting – would be ideal.
- Stop consuming caffeine by 2-3pm (it has a half-life of 6-8 hours) and stop exercising about 4 hours before bedtime to avoid sleep disruption.
In the night:
- Dim the lights, set a curfew for the use of electronic devices at least 1 hour before bedtime (exposure to blue light blocks the release of melatonin), and create a bedtime routine (with meditation, breathing exercises, calming music, yoga, prayer, journaling, reading, taking a bath) to teach your brain to slow down. DO NOT watch the news, engage on social media, pay bills, or discuss work matters before bedtime as they can increase stress levels.
- Create the perfect environment in your bedroom by looking at these three factors:
- Temperature (between 65-75 degrees F);
- Light (cover all LED screens and use dark drapes to block the outdoor lights from your window);
- Noise (use earplugs if you live in a busy area, or a white noise background app or machine).
- Breathe! Taking a quick pause and just breathing can do wonders for our stress response. When we pay attention to our breathing, our brain takes notice and tells the body to relax because it means that there’s nothing to worry about, so we can switch from our sympathetic state to the parasympathetic state.
- Practice yoga. Yoga brings together physical and mental disciplines that may help you achieve peacefulness of body and mind. Yoga has many styles, forms, and intensities, and Hatha Yoga may be a good choice for stress management.
- Take a break from the digital world once in a while, maybe during the weekend. Silence is good for our brain. We are not machines. Unlike our devices, we can only recharge when we’re unplugged, and we disconnect.
- Change your mindset. Stop listening to your inner critic and avoid negative influences as much as possible. Instead, focus on a positive outlook to allow for growth and expansion. Remember, you can choose what to focus on and what to work on; you can focus on positive thoughts, or on negative thoughts.
- Carve out “me time” for a meaningful hobby to get inspired (painting, drawing, writing, crafting, gardening, learning something new like a language or an instrument, there are so many choices!)
- Journal, especially if you’re going through some challenging times. Negative thoughts lose their intensity and urgency when you write them down, and the sooner you process and let go of the negative, the less it will affect your happiness and well-being. Also, journaling about gratitude, finding the time to recognize someone or things you’re grateful for, helps boost self-esteem and confidence.
- Engage in positive, energizing, and supportive social connections such as hanging out with friends and family. When we’re in good company we’re happier and feel better. If you can’t be together in person, try to catch up over the phone, in a video chat, or even with a text message.
- Meditation and/or mindfulness. Meditation increases activity in the brain’s frontal lobes (the rational brain) for better focus and attention, and at the same time it reduces activity in the amygdala (which is our fear and anxiety center). You might think that mindfulness and meditation are the same thing, but they’re quite different. Meditation is a practice to train attention and awareness, and it can include a mindfulness component, while mindfulness is a way of living to help us stay focused on the present moment so that we get more clarity about our choices and decisions.
- Plan ahead at the end of each day. Spend the last ten minutes of each day preparing for the next one. That way, you know exactly what you need to work on the following day without trying to figure it out and you’re not missing important tasks that you were not able to complete the day before.
- Schedule everything. A zero-based calendar can be very effective to optimize your schedule and stay organized. Block time for everything, not only work: “me” time, fitness time, “family and friends” time, time for meals, time for breaks, and “buffer” time between meetings, to reflect, plan, and for the unexpected.
- Stop multitasking. You might think that you’re doing more than one thing at the same time, but you’re actually forcing your brain to quickly switch between tasks, taking more energy and effort, and the results will be mediocre. Instead, work on one task at a time, so you can give undivided attention, be more focused, and be more efficient.
- Implement short breaks. Our body and brain are not designed to stay seated and concentrate for hours. Take small breaks to rest and recharge, like a “reset” button. Your breaks can be as little as 5 minutes every hour, preferably 15 to 30 minutes after long periods of deep work. Instead of checking your phone or your email, get up from your chair and:
- Hydrate, stretch, do some light exercise
- Go outside and take a short walk
- Engage with colleagues and team members
BONUS – Brain Exercises
A healthy brain can remain fully capable for the majority of a person’s life span, as long as we give it the necessary stimuli to keep the mechanisms and processes actively engaged.
- Switch up. Switch the hand that is most often used to do daily activities to build and strengthen new neural pathways. You can use your non-dominant hand to brush your teeth, control the mouse, comb your hair, put on socks, use the remote control, etc.
- Change up. Change regular routines to stimulate new neural pathways with new experiences. Examples: Taking a different route when you drive to work or running errands; Getting out of bed on the other side; Changing workout routines.
- Recall. Whenever you make a list – grocery items, things to do, or anything else that comes to mind – try to memorize it. An hour or so later, see how many items you can recall. Make the list as challenging as possible for the greatest mental stimulation.
- Draw from memory. After returning home from visiting a new place, try to draw a map of the area. Repeat this exercise each time you go somewhere new.