Welcome to my blog series on how to boost your brain power!
Do you ever experience occasional brain fog? Do you sometimes feel like your brain would be amazing if only you had full access to it? Do you ever have difficulty focusing or getting work done later in the day? If so, the tips I will be revealing in this blog series may be crucial in helping you stay on target with school, work, and life, as well as help your brain age gracefully! And if you are reading this and think, “this is not me, I have an amazing ability to focus even under extreme pressure,” these tips can actually help you boost your brain power as well - even if your brain already exudes awesomeness!
I want to note here that there are many medical conditions that can cause “brain fog” or decreased focus that should not be overlooked. If you experience these symptoms often or have a new onset of these symptoms please come see me or another medical provider to rule out any underlying causes of these symptoms.
Brain Tip #1: Boosting Blood Flow to the Brain with Exercise!
Have you ever wondered how your friend Suzie manages to workout five times per week yet still checks everything off her list? How does she have more than 24 hours in a day? Is it coffee? Does she skimp on her sleep? What if it is actually the other way around? Maybe she is able to accomplish so much because she exercises! Research has shown exercise to be beneficial in many realms of our lives by improving mood, decreasing stress, and improving mental functions.
Why it works:
There are actually many reasons why exercise is beneficial for your brain and your ability to focus. These reasons include the regulation of hormones, improvement of sleep patterns (which in turn helps the brain), and improvement of blood flow to the brain. Studies using animal models have shown that exercise can increase brain-derived neurotrophic factor and other growth factors, improve learning and mental performance, and stimulate neural growth. (Cotman, 2002) Another study found that the hippocampus, an area of the brain that is involved in learning and memory, is more readily responsive to exercise. In particular, it is believed that exercise can help slow the decline of this part of the brain that occurs naturally as we age. (Singh et al, 2012) Multiple studies on children and adolescents have shown a positive relationship between physical activity and academic achievement (though there is some disagreement on how much or what type of exercise is actually beneficial) (Hamilton et al, 2015).
What to do:
The jury is still out on the duration and intensity of exercise needed to see these benefits and more research in this area is needed to give specific recommendations. Everyone is different, so I recommend trying some different methods out in order to see what works for you. I do not recommend jumping straight into intense daily exercise if this is not something your body is accustomed to. I do recommend talking to your doctor about your general health and to see what physical activity will best serve you. Your doctor should check your blood pressure as well as your heart, lung, and musculoskeletal function and may want to runs some labs to check your cholesterol, blood sugar, and other general organ functions. After you have been given the green light to start exercising, try out any or all of these ideas to see which work best for you.
1. Weekly goals:
Moderate to intense regular exercise: Find your best time of day for exercise. Some people swear by getting up and exercising first thing in the morning whereas others like the energy boost from doing it midday or early evening. The key thing is doing what is right for you and your schedule! Aim for 30 minutes of something that makes you break a little sweat. You can break this up into three 10 minute increments and spread them out during the day if that works better for you.
Ideas for getting in some brain boosting exercise 3-5 days per week
Go for a brisk walk while you listen to a podcast, audiobook, or music
Go for a run or bike ride
Do a yoga routine at home or find a class you enjoy
Check out Yoga with Adriene - she has several videos for all levels of yogis - this is a 10 minute one but she offers various times and levels for free on youtube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nnd5Slo02us
Turn on some music and dance
Find a class you like - you may find that you really enjoy zumba or spin classes. There are so many classes out there and most places offer a free trial… so try them out until you find one that gets you excited to workout.
Create an outdoor or at home program that works for you.
For the busy mom that can’t get childcare - try something like FIT4MOM’s Stroller Strides where you can actually have your kiddo with you while you get a killer workout.
Do whatever floats your boat - just move!
2. Daily routines:
Get up every hour and move for 3-5 minutes. As I am sure you know, our bodies are not really designed to sit all day at a desk. If your boss or teacher complains, tell him or her politely that it helps you stay more productive.
Walk down the hall to go to the restroom or get a glass of water.
Get up and do some gentle, full-body stretches.
Do a 3 minute vinyasa flow (yoga).
3. As needed fixes: feeling tired or foggy? Did you hit a mental block on a project or feel like you are lacking creativity and unique ideas for an essay or work proposal?
Take at 10-20 minute reset break: Go for a brisk walk outside for 10-20 minutes. Turn your phone on silent and try not to check it while on the walk. The increase in blood flow along with the lack of distracting notifications will help you be in a better place for brainstorming and planning out your next course of action. In fact, this is exactly what I did before writing this article and was able to be much more efficient with my time when I got back to my computer!
Want more help with boosting brain power and getting rid of fatigue? Make an appointment today - I would love to see you! Also, watch for more blogs like this one in the near future.
Note: This article should not be considered as medical advice. Every person has different physical and mental abilities and should be examined by a medical provider before starting a new exercise program. As stated before, there are many causes of “brain fog” or decreased focus so please see a medical provider to rule out any underlying causes of these symptoms.
Author: Carrie Wine, ND
Cotman, C. (2002). Exercise: A behavioral intervention to enhance brain health and plasticity. Trends in Neurosciences, 25(6), 295-301. doi:10.1016/s0166-2236(02)02143-4
Hamilton, G. F., & Rhodes, J. S. (2015). Exercise Regulation of Cognitive Function and Neuroplasticity in the Healthy and Diseased Brain. Progress in Molecular Biology and Translational Science Molecular and Cellular Regulation of Adaptation to Exercise, 381-406. doi:10.1016/bs.pmbts.2015.07.004
Singh A, Uijtdewilligen L, Twisk JWR, van Mechelen W, Chinapaw MJM. Physical Activity and Performance at School A Systematic Review of the Literature Including a Methodological Quality Assessment. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2012;166(1):49–55. doi:10.1001/archpediatrics.2011.716