Healthy Brain, Healthy You
Episode #9 of the course Understanding meditation and the science behind it by Colin Pal
You are beginning to understand the science that’s happening in the brain and body when you sit and meditate. But meditation is just a part of a complex process of promoting and maintaining brain health. To reach a positive effect, you should also implement other healthy habits into your daily routine.
Seven Tips for the Health of Your Brain
Dr. Sarah McKay in her TedX lecture, “Indulge Your Neurobiology,” talks about following healthy habits for the brain that I think everyone should give their attention to:
1. Get a good night’s sleep. It’s a priority, not a luxury. Sleep is the often overlooked and underappreciated foundation of a healthy brain. It impacts our cognitive abilities, mood, memory, immune system, and regulation of hormones.
2. Exercise daily to increase blood flow to your brain. Exercise and movement triggers the release of a protein called Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF), which promotes the growth and survival of neurons in the brain. Meditation and stillness is important, but it’s equally important to create a habit of movement and exercise to build a strong foundation for a healthy brain. This doesn’t mean you have to sign up for the gym or take yoga classes daily (but kudos if you do!). Exercise and movement could be as simple as taking a walk outdoors every day and getting away from your computer and digital devices.
3. Nourish your brain with healthy nutrients. The research suggests a Mediterranean diet helps promote cognition and brain health. This includes mostly plants, some meats like fish, olive oil, and nuts. Wine and coffee (in moderation) is good for the brain too, so you can still enjoy those simple pleasures!
4. Practice meditation daily (duh!). You already know about this one. Long-term stress is damaging to the brain because high levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) inhibits the growth of neurons and reduces the learning and memory abilities of the hippocampus. So, schedule in time every day for meditation, deep breathing, or a relaxing walking meditation.
5. Get social and connect. We’re social beings, and the need to belong and connect with each other is a fundamental part of being human. Socializing, connecting, offering support, and seeking support from friends and family help us regulate stress and strengthen cognitive functions.
6. Constantly challenge yourself and keep your brain mentally active. Remember, neurons that fire together, wire together. So, neurons that no longer fire, no longer live as well. Strive to keep your mind active by creating a habit of challenging yourself every day. Learn something new, watch an educational video, read a new book, or take up a new challenge that pushes your mental and creative boundaries.
7. Create meaning and seeking purpose in your life. Research has shown that people who score high on life’s purpose live longer, happier, and healthier lives. Find that thing that makes your heart sing, gets you out of bed every morning, and puts you into a state of flow often—the thing that’s much bigger than yourself. Then give it your full attention, moment by moment.
Challenge of the Day
Pick one of the strategies above and commit to giving it some attention this week. Next week, pick another or add one on top of the current strategy!
Tomorrow, we dive into the last day and put things into action.
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