A Brief Look at Brain Health
One of my biggest gripes with the health & wellness industry is its shortsighted obsession with diet and exercise. They combine the latest diet fad with a new exercise gimmick—a machine or a gizmo or an exciting new class—and sell it as the solution for creating health. A few thousand dollars later, you will probably have lost a few pounds but gained it back and maybe injured yourself in the process.
The foods you eat and the movements you do will always matter, but Optimal Health is far bigger than those two pieces. That’s why I love Take Shape For Life and OPTAVIA. They use food as a springboard for teaching people the Habits of Health, which includes the full picture of Optimal Health, from exercise to sleep to our environments.
Our waistlines are important, but we can’t overlook the rest of our health, and one of the most often ignored aspects of our health is our brains. While the wellness industry is praising the newest cleanse or whipping up new motivational posters, they forget to talk about the part of you that is perhaps the most critical. Your brain not only drives your choices and powers the vital processes in your body, but it’s also responsible for creating and keeping the memories of your loved ones. At the end of the day, isn’t that why we care about our health? We want more time with the people we care about.
Brain health is a broad topic worthy of a book in itself. You should read up on Dr. A’s Habits of Health and also check out the work of my good friend Robert Fritz. I’ve learned a lot from him over the years.
To help get you started, though, here are some tips:
- Habits of Health are interconnected, so yes, your weight does affect your brain. As much as we separate our minds from our bodies in casual conversation, they are very much part of the same machine. If you are not eating healthy foods and exercising, the weight you are likely to gain can prematurely age your brain, a problem that is particular pronounced at middle-age and beyond a recent study found.
- Your brain is like a muscle in the sense that it needs exercise. This week I challenged the Optimal Health Community to pick up a new hobby that is intellectually stimulating for just this reason. Smaller activities like reading, listening to educational shows in the car, or even doing basic tasks with your left hand can engage your mind and help you to build critical new neural pathways.
- Habits of Healthy Sleep are another aspect of Optimal Health that is often overlooked. Your brain needs restful sleep to function at its best. Without healthy sleep, your brain will struggle to perform, which can impact everything from your ability to learn, to your appetite regulation, to your emotional health.
- Stress is one of the most powerful forces working against health in the modern world. Our stress response was designed to cope with Stone Age threats. In a world of office politics and mile-long to-do lists, a deluge of stress can cloud our thinking and flood our bodies with fight-or-flight chemicals that if left unchecked can wreak havoc. You need to build stress-reducing behaviors into your daily routine like mindfulness meditation and dedicated “unwinding time.” I wrote a lot about that very topic in my free e-book Stop. Challenge. Choose.
The mind is a complex tool, and as I said before, there is a lot to consider when we start a discussion on brain health, from how we structure our internal thought processes to the people we surround ourselves with. In my experience, however, I’ve found that most people struggle with at least one item on the list above, so start your journey toward a better brain with one of these ideas. From there, talk to your health coach or dive deep into my books for more suggestions.