When you’re thinking about improving your wellness, you might not immediately think of your brain health. But after considering the pounds you’d like to lose, the muscle you’d like the gain, you might then think of clearing out the brain fog and increasing your energy. This is one aspect of wellness that’s crucial for breaking through barriers so you can experience the deepest well-being and improve your mindset.
Your brain health is obviously quite important. But what is brain health, exactly?
Brain Health Defined
Generally speaking, it’s having a brain that’s operating in top condition and performance. The US National Institute of Health defines it as “…the ability to remember, learn, play, concentrate and maintain a clear, active mind.”
If you’ve ever suffered from that foggy feeling, you’ll understand the difference between feeling clear-headed and cloudy. When we struggle with our brains’ performance, we often have a hard time remembering things, feel sleepy or unalert, struggle with coordination, and feel strange or apathetic.
Brain fog can really affect our ability to enjoy our days, use our time effectively, and work toward our goals. A sluggish brain can make us feel incapable, frustrated, and slow. Brain health is critical for quality of life and well-being.
Why Brain Health is Important
Our mind is the power center of our entire bodies. Nothing in your body will work if it’s not triggered by actions, hormones, and other messages from the brain. The brain is connected to your spinal cord, which then branches out into all the nerves throughout your body. Messages originate in the brain and then are sent out through the nerves to various tissues and cells in the body.
If needed, those cells and tissues will provide feedback to the brain. Those messages travel back through the nervous system, up through the spinal column, and back to the brain for interpretation. It’s a beautiful system, as long as everything is in peak working condition.
When messages aren’t transferring correctly, feedback from outside the brain comes back wrong, or disease is actively harming the nervous and brain systems, things start to fall apart. Extreme examples of this can be seen in Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, autoimmune disorders, and so many other issues.
Common everyday issues with the brain can include:
- Brain fog
- Memory issues
- Mental exhaustion
- Issues with paying attention
- Struggling to focus
- Issues with mental organization
- Inability to regulate emotions
- Feeling distant or confused
- Mental health issues (anxiety, depression, etc.)
- Mental disorders (ADHD, bipolar, etc.)
While many of the above symptoms can also be signs of a more serious brain disorder, in a mild state they can also just be a sign of a brain that needs a little help. Everyone struggles with brain fog from time to time. Many of us go through seasons of depression or situations that cause anxiety.
If you suspect that you have a more serious mental issue or something like clinical depression, it’s a good idea to meet with a healthcare professional. For those who just really want to optimize their brain health, read on to find out how to clear the cobwebs and get back to clarity.
How to Assess Your Brain Health
If you’re wondering how well your brain is doing, there are a few things you can consider to help you assess its functioning. There are a few different assessments online to help you find out if you might have more serious brain decline (such as this one), but a general wellness checkup can be a useful place to start.
It can be a good exercise to check in with your brain throughout your day. You might want to keep a little journal to track your observations. After a week or two, you might start to notice some patterns that can help you understand what to adjust in your life.
Think about how your brain feels when you wake up in the morning. Do you feel wide awake and ready to take on the day? Maybe, instead, you stumble into the kitchen to load up on coffee. Once you get to work, is it hard to focus and get started? Or maybe you tend to very slowly find your way toward being able to work efficiently.
Around lunchtime, you might feel wide awake and so hungry. So off you go to enjoy a filling meal, another cup of coffee, and some friendly banter with co-workers. Once you’re back at your desk, you might realize that the clouds have moved in. Do you then stare at your computer screen, wishing you could just curl up on the office couch and pass out for a little while?
Once you make it home, do you have the energy for a workout? Does making dinner and settling in with family feel daunting? Perhaps you unwind with a glass of wine, telling your stress levels to take it down a notch. When your head hits the pillow at around 11 pm, you struggle to fall asleep and all your worries from the day circle around in your mind. Then you wake up again, starting the cycle all over again.
If you’ve got any variation of this cycle happening, your brain could use some help.
Improve Your Brain Health
If you’re ready to tackle the issues you’re facing with your brain, we’ve got a few suggestions to help you get started. Work on one thing at a time so you can create sustainable, life-long changes. Within no time, you’ll start to notice clearer thinking, improved cognitive function, and overall well-being.
1. Take a look at your nutrition.
One major factor in brain health is the food you eat. While we all know that a whole food diet is important for overall health, it’s crucial to understand why it helps our minds function better. Foods full of sugar or simple carbohydrates that turn into sugar tend to raise our blood sugar levels in extreme ways. Soon thereafter, the levels of sugar in the blood drops, leaving us feeling exhausted. Insulin levels skyrocketing all day long is also draining on the body and mind.
Choose foods that digest slowly, creating a slow-burning effect in the body. Your brain can better work with this kind of fuel and you’ll ward off that afternoon slump.
2. Eat brain healthy foods.
Improving your nutrition can help ward off the negative effects of food, but it’s also a good idea to add in foods that directly help your brain function better. These are superpowered foods that offer nutrients your brain loves, including:
- Oily fish (omega-3s)
- Dark chocolate (antioxidants)
- Eggs (B vitamins)
- Berries (antioxidants)
- Turmeric (antioxidants/anti-inflammatory compounds)
- Broccoli (antioxidants/vitamin K)
- Walnuts (omega-3s/vitamin E)
- Green tea (antioxidants/amino acids)
3. Improve your health and lifestyle choices.
Quitting smoking is essential for brain health, especially as it can cause oxidative stress to the brain which is a key player in mental decline. If you drink alcohol, keep your drinking moderate as too much alcohol can lead to issues with cognitive function and overall health issues. Any other substances should be kept to a minimum, as much as possible.
If you have diabetes or heart disease, stay on top of treatment and lifestyle changes. Your brain will benefit from your attention to these issues. You’ll also improve your overall wellness.
4. Get out and exercise.
Exercise is a key part of brain health, but it doesn’t need to be elaborate. Many of us tend to have a “100% or not at all” thinking when it comes to exercise. Sure, it’s nice to be fit and lean, but that’s not the only thing that exercise does for us. It also helps us to have better mental health by elevating our mood and helping our brains to produce endorphins and other feel-good hormones.
So go take a walk, show up for a yoga class, do a quick 10-min. HIIT workout, or take the dog around the block. Anything you do will be good for your brain and add to your self-care routine, even if it’s small.
5. Take up a new challenging hobby.
The brain loves a good challenge. You’ll keep away issues that lead to dementia by always keeping your brain active. Maybe you’ve always wanted to learn a new language and go travel to practice that language. Or perhaps you’ve wanted to play an instrument, but never got around to taking lessons.
Find something that makes your brain hurt just a little (in a good way!) and that brings you joy. Once you’ve mastered that as much as you can, move on to something new. The challenges will keep your brain young, encourage neuroplasticity, and improve your memory and clearheadedness.
Take Care of Your Brain
Our quality of life depends on how well our brain is functioning. Brain health isn’t something to take lightly. When working on your wellness practice, always include ways to improve your brain. Your improved effectiveness at work, happier moods, and ability to connect with others better will make it all worth the work.
If you feel called to support others in improving their brain health and other aspects of wellness, you might be a great fit for our accredited Holistic Health and Wellness Coach certification program. We offer a unique program with robust support and holistic systems. Reach out to talk with an admissions advisor to find out how to get started.