You'll Benefit Tomorrow by Taking Care of Your Brain Today
by Payton Wagmeister
Your Brain and You
With all the health crazes, cleanses, and 28-day workout challenges that are circulating the internet, it’s easy to forget about the one organ in your body that needs a little TLC, too. The brain. The brain has many functions that control your sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system, fine and gross motor skills, language processing, speech, emotion regulation, the list goes on. It’s the stuff that makes you, YOU.
Cardio is Your Friend
First off, working out is a great method to utilize when striving to become more mentally fit. It not only benefits the body, but also the function of the brain. But what are the best exercises? I’ll give you a hint, “Run Forrest, run!” That’s right, cardio. And also aerobic exercise. Anything that can raise your heart rate for a prolonged period of time has proven to be quite beneficial for the brain. Cardio creates good blood flow, which in turn, carries more oxygen to the brain. This increase assists in the formation of new blood vessels and positive brain cell health. All of this activity is linked to better cognition and memory. There are also other beneficial changes that occur in your brain when enduring, I mean, enjoying a cardio workout. During the actual workout session, your brain gets flooded with endorphins that make you feel good. And if you incorporate cardio into your daily routine, things like boosted mood levels, better sleep, reduced stress, and better self-confidence will develop. These, shall we say byproducts, end up providing you with good mental health. And in this day and age, good mental health can be difficult to achieve.
Tell Yourself You’re Amazing and Believe it
The suggestion to begin working out is not to promote weight loss or the idea that you are not good enough unless you look a certain way. We are already surrounded with endless advertisements for “how to get the perfect body,” “how to look younger now,” and the best ways to achieve great skin fast, and being bombarded with messages of not being good enough can take a toll on an individual’s self-esteem and mental health. But other than exercise, there are small things you can do for yourself that will not only improve your mental health but also give your brain a boost, too. Start simple. Write down your accomplishments and things you are thankful for. I know it sounds cheesy, but it’s good to recognize that you’re pretty amazing. There I said it. Now, tell yourself that and write it down too, just for good measure. The reason for writing it down is for you to see it and believe it. It’s bizarre, but it’s almost like we’re programming our brains into believing it’s true. It’s the same thing with negative affirmations. The more you think about it, the more it must be true. So, instead of putting yourself down, try lifting yourself up. The more you do it, the more positive your outlook becomes.
Sleep on It
Another strategy for establishing positive mental health, if affirmations are not your thing, is sleep. Sleep is a magical thing. It’s practically the equivalent to charging your phone that’s clinging onto 2%. Proper sleep can do wonders for your brain by improving memory, attention, lower stress and increase your mood. But too much, just like too little, is not good for your cranium. The optimal amount of sleep for the average adult is between 7 to 9 hours. You may be thinking that’s a lot, but if you’re thinking that, this may be an indicator that you’re not catching enough zzz’s. Think about the last time you only got a couple hours of sleep. Did you wake up smiling, refreshed and ready to take on the day? If so, I’m jealous. But you probably felt groggy, irritable, slow to react, impatient, moody, and worst of all, tired. When you are unable to get a good nights sleep, this may be an indication/make you more susceptible to depression and anxiety. So, when you get a good nights sleep, your brain functions better, your immune system can fight off germs, you can focus on tasks better, and you actually look better. They call it beauty sleep for a reason. Your overall appearance looks healthier; you’ll have a brighter complexion, less puffy under-eyes, and your hair will look fuller, too. Like I said earlier, sleep is magical. It’s because when you’re more well rested, more oxygen and blood flow occurs, which are influential in how awake or tired we appear. Good sleep is good for you.
I know getting enough sleep can be difficult with work and daily activities, so if consistently getting between 7 to 9 hours a night does not seem very likely for your lifestyle, then learn something new or challenge your brain in some new way. That wasn’t an insult. Learn a new language, learn how to play an instrument, play chess, do something that challenges your brain and breaks up your normal routine. Doing something new gives your brain a rush of dopamine, which is known as a reward chemical. Doing something new also builds new neurons. This is so important. Over time we can lose neurons and connections when we stop stimulating that portion of the brain. We naturally have this thing called apoptosis, which gets rid of the neurons that are not being used. This just naturally happens, breathe, it will be ok. It’s what our brain does to promote healthy development, but what’s not healthy is when more cells and connections die unnecessarily or because of our advancing age. As we get older, our cognitive abilities somewhat decline. Our attention, ability to multitask and mental sharpness, slow down as we age. To combat this natural progression, create and sustain your neural connections. Work out your brain. That’s why novel experiences and learning new things are important to proper brain function and the promotion of a healthy brain.
There’s no Harm in Trying
Some other easy ways to promote a healthy brain include going outside and soaking up some vitamin D, taking a nap (optimal time is no longer than 45 minutes), trying to be more optimistic, focusing on one thing/task at a time (you’ll get things done better and more tasks accomplished if your focus is on one thing and not trying to multitask), and lastly, meditation. You don’t have to be a yogi or spiritual to try your hand at mediation. It not only relaxes you but also can improve your mood.
Your brain, like your body, is important to maintain and keep healthy. Especially since we’re living longer than we’ve ever had before. Keeping the gears turning in the old noggin is vital to a long and healthy life. Treat your brain well, it’s what makes you, you.