Written by Dr. Allison Brager
Brain power is important. As a neuroscientist, I have researched the brain inside and out. The ability to optimize your brain power will effect every aspect of your life.
Did you know that the brain is the only organ in the human body that works 24 hours a day.
That's right, the brain works all day long AND all night long.
That being said, the brain is without a doubt the most neglected organ of general health and fitness, yet it is the central driver of both mental and physical performance.
In this post, I am going to outline simple ways that you can optimize your mental and physical performances simply by optimizing brain health.
Tips for Increasing Brain Power
The best way to optimize brain health is a multi-faceted approach. Below are some helpful tips on how you can increase your brain power.
• Eat Fat To Help Increase Brain Health
Mediterranean diets, which promote the consumption of fish and healthy oils - typically high in Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids - help to keep the brain healthy.
A balance between Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids is recommended. Most Western diets offer too much Omega-6 and not enough Omega-3. Hunter-gatherer tribes were projected to have a 2:1 ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3 fatty acid consumption, and not a 16:1 ratio, which is more typical of Western diets.
Embrace your inner caveman, and aim to intake more Omega-3 fatty acids. This involves eating more fish in your diet, or alternatively, taking a high quality fish oil supplement.
• Exercise To Increase Brain Health
Exercise enables your body to better adapt to stress. Although exercise is physiologically stressful, it's more of a healthy stress response. Exercise primes and re-wires your brain, immune, and endocrine systems in order to better adapt and respond to environmental stress. In my book Meathead: Unraveling the Athletic Brain, I discuss many positively functional and structural changes in the brain that take place with routine exercise.
As an example, exercise increases the production of neural growth factors. Neural growth factors contribute to repair and maintenance of the central nervous system. The two most common growth factors studied in the realm of exercise physiology are nerve growth factor (NGF) and brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). Exercise ramps up the production of NGF and BDNF, ramping up the speed of communication between nerve cells in the brain and fine-tuning the level of communication.
• Sleep And Brain Health
The body recovers by repairing itself and replenishing fuel sources with sleep. Sleep has always been thought to be "by the brain, for the brain, and of the brain," and this is absolutely true.
Sleep leads to brain readiness. Sleep prepares us for responding quickly and accurately to people, events, and facts. Sleep helps to clear waste products that build up across a stressful day. It also helps us to encode and form new memories, and sleep allows nerve cells to take turns going "offline" for a bit.
I often tell coaches, athletes, and soldiers that we have no excuse not to sleep at least 10 hours a night because Lebron James, Roger Federer, and other huge global celebrities do, and I can guarantee that their days are way more productive than most of ours.
• Meditation and Brain Health
Meditation-based exercises much like yoga or tai chi effectively calm individuals, behaviorally and physiologically. Behaviorally, researchers have found that subjects who engage in meditation-based exercises evolved to become less reactive to negative stimuli generating embarrassment or shame. Physiologically, meditation induces a sleep-like state, allowing us to further reap the benefits of sleep: rejuvenation, replenishment, and restoration.
Natural Supplements For Brain Health:
Recent findings show that supplementing with these essential nutrients can help make the brain more efficient.
Half of the US population is magnesium-deficient. This nutrient is vital because it is the gatekeeper of nerve cell communication. Some nerve cells have magnesium plugs that determine the extent of communication. Because communication ramps up, in general, with any type of running and strength & conditioning training, it is imperative for athletes and regular people alike to keep up with magnesium supplementation. Utzy's U-Mag is a lemonade flavored Magnesium drink mix without sugar, give it a try!
Similar to magnesium, an active lifestyle requires iron replacement or maintenance. If you can just envision all the blood flow ensuing in the brain, just imagine what a little bit more iron in your diet can do. You can also supplement Iron through a high quality Multi-Nutrient.
3. Vitamin D
This nutrient interacts with the endocrine system, regulating more than 200 genes throughout the body; the central dogma of biology. Healthy genes that "fit," make for a healthy and happy brain and body. It is inexpensive and easy to take. Consider Utzy's Natural D3 5,000 product available here.
Dr. Allison Brager has a PhD in physiology. She is author of Meathead: Unraveling the Athletic Brain, which debunks the myth of the "dumb jock" and serves as a manual for optimizing athletic performance through neuroscience. She is a former college athlete and Crossfit Games team athlete, and is still active in track and field: pole vault and hurdles.