Optimize your brain health in four simple steps

Optimize your brain with healthy eating, physical exercise, meditation, and brain training and set yourself up for success.

optimize your brain

Why do you need to Optimize your brain health?

Optimize your brain health. Sounds simple but what does it really mean? And why should you bother?  You’re already smart, so why should you go to the effort of squeezing out that extra bit of brain power when you could be partying with your friends or watching Elementary?

The answer is simple: you can never be smart enough, or sharp enough, not if you want to thrive in our modern world. And all you need to do to optimize your brain, is take four simple steps.

That’s all, four simple steps, to be a smarter, more organized, sharper version of yourself.

You live in a hectic world. A world of information overload. Your job is intense and requires you to work long hours. You’ve got so many calls on your time. Friends, family, strangers, they all want a piece of you. It really does seem like it’s too much bother, three steps? That’s too much effort; just too much.

But that’s also why you need to take control.

You are smart; but so are many of the people around you. Your boss, your co-workers, your friends are probably as smart as you are, and they are all in competition with you, to one degree or another. And who wins in a competition? The person who is fittest? Fastest? Smartest? Or the person who’s better prepared?

Usually, it’s the person who prepares the most and hardest. Natural talent will take you so far along any given road, but when it comes to the last push, any athlete will tell you, the winner is the person who prepared best.

And from here on in, that person is going to be you.

Step 1. Optimize your brain with a healthy diet.

The word diet has become almost synonymous with being unhealthy, but you don’t have to be overweight to be eating a sub-optimal diet.

And you don’t have to starve yourself or eat boring meals to create a brain friendly diet. What you do have to do is cut out all the food items that are hurting your health and replace them with healthy alternatives.

There are a couple of options available:

  • The Mediterranean diet.
  • A Plant based diet.

The Mediterranean diet has been researched and the data is highly positive. Switching over to a Mediterranean diet will improve your health, reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s as well as promote stronger brain function.

A plant-based diet is exactly what it says, a diet where you only eat plants. No dairy, no meat, no fish.

There’s an interesting documentary on Netflix called Game Changers which explores the positive outcomes that come from switching over to a plant-based diet.

Note: Drinking enough pure water (nothing diluted, sweetened or filled with caffeine) is an absolute requirement for a healthy brain. This point can’t be emphasised enough. Depending on your body size and body weight you’ll need anything from 1.5 to 2.5 litres per day. More, if you’re doing strenuous physical exercise.

Bonus tactic: Intermittent fasting is not a diet so much as a tactic that you can incorporate into your lifestyle no matter which diet you decide to opt for.

There are several options.  12:12, 14:10 or 16:8.

What this means is that you fast for either 12, 14 or 16 hours, and restrict eating to a 12, 10, or 8-hour window. You eat as normal during this time.

There is also a tactic known as the 5:2. What this means is that you eat normally for 5 days of the week and fast for 2 of those days. On the 2 days that you fast, you drop your calorie intake to 800 calories.

It sounds drastic and for some it can be too intense and difficult but there’s a lot of research to suggest that this form of intermittent fasting works.

Check out this article on intermittent fasting for more information.

Note: Never undertake any diet or exercise without first getting medical advice from your Doctor.

Couple jogging for health
Fitness couple jogging in the city park

Step 2. Do More Physical Exercise

Any amount of exercise is good for you, whether that be a ten-minute stroll around the block after dinner or a ten-mile run through the hills. But what is the best exercise for boosting your brain?

Science would suggest that a HiiT (High Intensity Interval Training) routine is the best exercise that you can do not only for your brain but for your entire body. And the beauty is that you can fit any HiiT routine into twenty minutes. It’s especially useful when you need to fit it into a busy schedule.

But what is a HiiT routine, exactly? Check out this article for a full breakdown.

But if HiiT isn’t for you, any cardio routine will do, whether that is a brisk walk, jog or game of squash. Any exercise that elevates your heartrate for a sustained period will provide your brain with a boost. 

Note: Never undertake any diet or exercise without first getting medical advice from your Doctor.

Step 3. Optimize your brain with Focussed and Mindful Meditation

Mindful meditation has been getting a lot of positive press lately and for good reason. It works.

Although, it’s a bit like a Ninja Throwing Star. It takes time and effort to master but once you’ve mastered it, your brain will reap the benefits.

And the best part? You can incorporate it easily into your daily life. Starting today.

There are two types of meditation that work well for improving brain health, focused meditation and mindful meditation.

Focussed Meditation

Focussed meditation is done by focussing your attention on a single element. That element can be a candle flame, a spot on the wall, an item of jewellery or your breathing. The main point of focussed meditation is that your attention remains focussed on your chosen element, to the exclusion of everything else.

Learn more about Focussed Meditation.

Mindful Meditation

Mindful meditation on the other hand does not focus on a single element. Instead, you remain aware of everything that is happening around you, your breathing, the way your body is feeling, the sounds of life around you.

If thoughts intrude, you simple pull your attention back to just being aware of everything. To be mindful is to be relaxed, aware, and non-judgemental.

Learn more about Mindful Meditation.

Step 4. Train your Brain.

You might wonder why training your brain is last on this list. And the answer is because it’s more effective if you’ve already incorporated the first three steps into your program.

So, the big question is, what are the most effective brain training exercises?

Exercise 1. Dual N Back.

Dual N Back is the only brain training game that has been proven to aid in boosting your fluid IQ. Combine Dual N Back with cardio or HiiT exercise and meditation for the greatest effect.

There are dozens of free Dual N Back apps available online both for PC and for your mobile phone.

Exercise 2. Mental maths.

Being able to perform mental calculations without having to rely on a calculator has been shown to correlate with higher IQ.

Exercise 3. Learn to play a musical instrument.

Learning to play a musical instrument has been shown to boost IQ. The act of remembering finger positions, notes and timing seems to require more areas of the brain working in tandem.

Exercise 4. Learn a foreign language.

Learning a foreign language forces the brain to step up a gear as you have to remember new grammar rules, vocabulary, pronunciations and etiquette.

Exercise 5. Create a memory palace.

Create a memory palace, more than one preferably, and use them to memorise and recall information that you would normally struggle with.

Never again forget a name or face, date or telephone number.

Exercise 6. Puzzles. Physical and mental.

Puzzles of any type whether they be physical or mental are brilliant for challenging your mental powers.

Clubs like Mensa and Triple 9 are great for challenging their members mental acuities.

Exercise 7. Learn to dance.

Learning to dance is an effective brain training exercise. According to an article on Harvard.edu, research has shown that learning complex new dance routines can boost mental health in the elderly and increase IQ.

Exercise 8. Learn martial arts.

Learning martial arts is like learning to dance. It all about the kinestetic. The more complex the learning, combined with increased blood flow to the brain brings about positive changes in the brain and goes a long way to helping optimize your brain.

Check out this research paper, Martial Arts Training and Cognitive performance in Middle Aged Adults

Exercise 9. Travel.

Our brains love new experiences and what is better than seeing the world. Visit a city like Venice or Prague, and just soak up the sights and sounds.

Go walking in the Cotswolds, or scuba diving off Egypt, or visit every museum in Europe. It doesn’t matter where you go or what you do, the very act of doing something different will stimulate your neural pathways.

Exercise 10. Take up a hobby that is both mental and social.

Hobbies like chess, poker, bridge, backgammon, and scrabble combine mental exertion with social interaction. Join a club and stretch your mind.

The mental exercise you’ll receive from playing these games combined/ with the social interactions with other club members is intensely satisfying emotionally which is a huge boost to mental health.

Exercise 11. Read to learn. Or just learn something.

If you really want to optimize your brain, you must commit to never stop learning. Pick a subject you’d like to master and make it happen. Whether you want to be a pub quiz wizard, a history buff, science geek, or computer nerd, all you have to do is pick your subject and commit to learning. It doesn’t matter what you choose to learn. It’s just important to keep learning.

Learning how to juggle, knit, sew, cook, do DIY are also excellent examples of ways to ignite the neural fires within your mind. And there are thousands of books that will aid you in your quest for information.

It doesn’t matter what you want to learn. It doesn’t even have to come from reading a book. Youtube videos are another great way to learn.

What matters is that you are learning and that your mind is working hard to consume and retain new knowledge.

Exercise 12. Be creative. Write, sculpt, paint, sketch, sing, act, dance, tell jokes, play an instrument.

The very act of creation, regardless of the medium, enhances and extends the neural networks in your brain.

Check out this article on creativity and the brain on Forbes

Conclusion

It’s as easy as 1,2,3, 4 to incorporate these life changing habits into your daily routine. Optimize your brain with healthy eating, physical exercise and meditation, brain training and set yourself up for success.

Resources

Neuroscience at Harvard.edu

Find articles and research about the brain.

Creativity, Brain and Art: Frontiersin.org

An interesting article on Art, Creativity and the Brain.