Aging. It happens to all of us. And many of us believe that aging includes a decline in cognitive abilities. But no matter what your age, if you are someone who leads a sedentary lifestyle, has a poor diet and poor sleep habits, your brain is most likely NOT performing at its full potential.
At home, that may look like forgetting where you put your keys, not really hearing what someone said to you, being disorganized or not being motivated to work on your household budget.
At work, that may look like not being productive, not participating in meeting discussions or being clear about what is being said, poor time management, being disorganized and not communicating effectively.
Your lifestyle impacts your home and work life!
The good news is, there are steps you can take to ensure that your brain is working at its optimal level and minimize the effects of aging. In fact, at any age, you can stimulate your intelligence and have better brain health by achieving two things:
1) Balancing neurotransmitters — When your neurotransmitters are working effectively, your brain’s ability to communicate information between neurons is enhanced. Your neurotransmitters speed up with certain brain compounds (dopamine and acetylcholine) and slow down with others (gaba and serotonin). Like everything in life, it’s all about balance! Too much speed means the brain won’t quiet down enough for sleep – and going too slow means it won’t function well for work and executive functioning.
2) Increasing neurons — That’s right! Your brain is actually able to develop new neural circuits throughout your entire life. This is called neurogenesis and it occurs mainly in two areas of the brain: the hippocampus and the lateral subventricular zone.
While I offer several steps for improved brain health in my book “Smarter Next Year”, the two steps that are most effective are these:
SLEEP. Sleep, sleep, sleep. It can’t be said enough. Sleep is a super power. Sleep is when the body produces melatonin, a hormone that helps regulate sleep cycles and has been shown to lower the risk of neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Good sleep is also very effective at combating stress and anxiety – both of which can cause structural degeneration and impaired functioning of the hippocampus, which plays a major role in learning and memory.
Take these simple steps to help increase your super power of sleep:
1) Wake at the same time every day and go to sleep at the same time every night — to help you create and maintain this routine, set three alarm clocks: Your wake-up clock (6 am); your sleep alarm (count 8 hours back); and your preparatory alarm (30 minutes before sleep alarm).
2) Have a standard pre-sleep regime. When you figure out what your bedtime routine is, make it a habit. Maybe it’s meditation, music or reading.
3) No screens at bedtime! All devices should be shut off 30 minutes before getting into bed.
4) Set your room temperature between 60 to 66 F / 15 to 18 C. This is optimal for good sleep.
EXERCISE. There is only one modality that increases and balances all 200 of the known neurotransmitters and that is vigorous physical exercise. VIGOROUS means just that — aerobic, anaerobic and strength activities performed at your optimal heart rate. While activities that improve your flexibility, balance, tone and coordination are beneficial, they do not affect your brain growth factor.
To determine your optimal heart rate level, do this simple calculation: take 180 minus your age.
That’s it! That number is what you should aim to maintain for a minum of 30 minutes each day in order to achieve those amazing neural effects.
If you’re someone who already has a regular workout routine, congratulations! Keep it up! If you’re someone who has a harder time getting motivated to exercise, I offer these tips:
- Make activities varied and FUN — if the exercise is something you dread doing, chances are you’ll quit and discourage yourself from trying again.
- Hire a professional trainer to help you get an effective routine established — most trainers can get you on track after only a few sessions; you’re worth the investment!
- Schedule the time — statistics show that you are less likely to blow off your exercise time if you put it in your schedule just as you would going to a doctor or dentist appointment.
- Do it with friends or in a group — having a buddy system increases the joy and accountability, and it usually makes the time go by faster, too!
- Clothing/equipment should be good quality — avoid the risk of injury or being uncomfortable, especially when it comes to shoes and helmets.
If you do nothing else to improve your brain health, DO get better SLEEP and EXERCISE. Your brain will be glad you did.
You’ll find a lot more powerful information and tools about better brain health in the Corporate Integrative Health Coach training program. To learn more, request our CIHC information package (below) or email us at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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