DIET AND FITNESS HACKS FOR KEEPING YOUR BRAIN ON ITS “A” GAME AT ALL TIMES.
by Maggie Young
Striving to boost your 1-rep max is great, but sharpening your mind is something that deserves as much, if not more, of your attention. Dr. Richard Carmona, M.P.H., F.A.C.S., the author of 30 Days to a Better Brain, knows what it takes to expand the capacity of your mind and maintain it for years to come. Integrating these 10 tips will not only boost brain power, but will improve your complete health profile by way of stress management, diet, and exercise.
1. GO ZEN
“By stimulating your brain just like you stimulate your biceps, triceps, and quads, you continue to send messages to your brain to stay young and maintain those neural networks,” says Carmona. “If you don’t use those, your mind will atrophy just like your biceps would, which means your ability to think is going to diminish as well.”
2. CUT TOXINS
Be aware of toxin culprits such as BPA, pesticides, and heavy metals. Exposure to toxins in foods can interfere with the synthesis, secretion, transport, binding, or elimination of natural hormones in the body. Translation: these chemicals disrupt your hormones, which can diminish brain cells.
3. SOLIDIFY YOUR SLEEP
You should be clocking about seven to nine hours of solid sleep every night. The brain heals and creates new cells through neurogenesis during sleep, so it helps you maintain and strengthen your neural networks. “Your mind is like a computer and it’s on all of the time processing, but just like our computer systems, it needs to be shut down periodically for maintenance,” says Carmona.
4. TRY AN ELIMINATION DIET
If you feel mentally sluggish after eating certain foods, you may be experiencing “brain fog” due to food sensitivities. Common culprits include dairy, gluten, eggs, sugar, and nightshade vegetables such as potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant. If you’re sensitive to them, they could increase inflammation and your ability to think. Try eliminating the common foods for four to six weeks and then gradually adding them back in individually to identify the trigger.
5. DON’T DISCOUNT CARDIO
Suck up the cardio to stay sharp. Aerobic work bumps up the production of three essential growth factors for neurogenesis. These factors, brain-derived neurotropic factor (BDNF), insulin-like growth factors (IGF-1), and endothelial growth factor (VEGF), aid in the growth of new neurons, stimulate cell growth in the brain, minimise inflammation, grow new blood vessels, and slow down cell self-destruction.
6. EAT LEAN PROTEIN AT EVERY MEAL
Protein is chock full of amino acids. Some amino acids, such as tyrosine, cause neurons to produce norepinephrine and dopamine, which are linked with mental alertness. You can reap these benefits from all different protein sources, including grass-fed lean meats, fish, poultry, nut butters, yogurt, cheese, and eggs. –
7. RAMP UP THE RESISTANCE
Working your muscles against resistance, in addition to aerobic work, is part of the exercise equation that enhances stem cell production in the brain and awakens dormant stem cells in the hippocampus, which improves the memory. As an added bonus, learning new lifts requires mental work that builds neural networks.
8. PICK UP A NEW SPORT
This may be the perfect excuse to try out a new sports league. Learning something new adds to your brain’s capacity. “Every step, every new activity, adds to your brain’s capacity to stay cognitively young,” says Carmona. “It’s clear that when you stimulate the brain to make new neural networks it keeps your cognitive ability sharp.”
9. SPICE UP YOUR DISHES
It’s time to upgrade your spice rack. Spices are high in antioxidants, which scavenge for bad stuff in the body and decrease inflammation. Carmona says that excessive inflammation in the body raises oxidative stress, which is detrimental to brain health. Try adding turmeric (curcumin) to decrease the formation of amyloid protein deposits in the brain, which show up in many individuals with Alzheimer’s.
10. HIT THE HIGH INTENSITY
Optimizing your training intensity, whether it’s through lifting weights, hiking, or running, increases your natural production of human growth hormone. This not only grows your biceps, but it stimulates the growth of neurons in your brain. In short, upping your intensity is good for maxing out muscle and mind gains.