Do you remember going back to school in the fall and how hard it was to “get back in the swing of things?”  Some of us may feel that way all the time!  In this month’s article, I want to share with you what we can eat, what we can do, and what changes we can make that will improve our brain function and help “get us in gear.”

According to the Huffington Post, brain superfoods that we should incorporate into our diet include walnuts, olive oil, dark berries, fatty fish, coffee, spinach, dark chocolate, avocados, water, wheat germ, eggs, beets, and garlic.  These foods help promote blood flow which, in turn, allows for efficient delivery of oxygen to the brain. They are a great source of omega 3 and have been shown to slow brain aging.  They also stimulate mental activity and improve focus and decision making.

Hear me clearly on this point – it is so very important to feed our brain in the mornings.  It is starved for nutrition after a long night of sleep and has to be fueled up in order to work properly!  A brain-healthy breakfast can be something like a shake with your favorite fruits and vegetables, a pita with scrambled eggs (I love salsa!), or – if the morning traffic report pushes you out the door – even a handful of nuts and berries.

When it comes to improving brain function, one of the healthiest things we can do is – you got it – exercise.  There are benefits to almost any type of exercise, but there are a few that seriously stimulate the two hemispheres of the brain and help them grow and better connect.  If you’re older and haven’t exercised in a while, there’s something for you too.

Try these:

Touching your finger to your nose and alternate hands
Walk in a straight line, heel to toe, and then walk backward heel to toe
Dribble a ball and alternate bouncing the ball from one hand to another.  Practice with your non- dominate hand which will stimulate the brain
Do crossover exercises such as touching your right hand to your left knee and vice versa.
Sit on a stability ball and bounce.  This simple motion will increase blood flow and stimulate brain function
One legged exercise such as standing on one leg and reaching up with alternating hands.

These simple activities will increase your coordination, balance, blood flow, oxygen flow, and improve your cognitive skills.

Did you know that nearly half of all young people ages 12 to 21 do not participate in vigorous physical activity on a regular basis?  Fewer than one-in-four children report getting at least half an hour of any type of daily physical activity and do not attend any school physical education classes.  This is outrageous!

In addition to eating the right foods and doing the right activities, our brains can also benefit greatly from making the right changes such as getting plenty of sleep.  We have to let our bodies and brain recharge and the only way to do that is through a good night’s sleep.  Sleep is a necessity for our nervous system to work properly.  Too little sleep diminishes our ability to concentrate.  It also leads to impaired memory and physical performance and reduces cognitive ability – like the kind needed to do math problems!  Prolonged sleep deprivation can also have a direct effect on our personalities such as producing erratic mood swings.

Deep sleep coincides with the release of growth hormone in children and young adults.  Many of the body’s cells also show increased production and reduced breakdown of proteins during deep sleep. Since proteins are the building blocks needed for cell growth and for the repair of damage from factors like stress and ultraviolet rays, deep sleep may truly be “beauty sleep.”  Activity in parts of the brain that control emotions, decision-making, and social interactions, is drastically reduced during deep sleep.  This suggests that this type of sleep may help people maintain optimal emotional and social functioning while they are awake.

Want a better brain?  Eat right, exercise, and get some snooze.  I feel a nap coming on.