By Corey Lewis, CPT, CSCS
We’re in the midst of the most challenging period in our history. With the situation we find ourselves in, many of us have experienced pretty significant disruptions in our daily life. Being stuck at home, with little interaction with others outside of the occasional Zoom meeting, can have detrimental effects on cognitive function, intellectual wellness, and even overall well-being.
The good news is that changing the situation can be easier than you think. Even something as simple as getting enough sleep can help improve brain function. In this post, I’ll cover a few critical tips designed to help you improve and sustain your brain health during this time.
Physical activity is a great way to improve mood and burn calories. However, did you know that it also affects your cognitive function? Regularly working out has been shown to improve memory and thinking skills.
Interestingly, it does this by reducing insulin resistance and by fighting inflammation. Exercise also releases chemicals that help improve the health of brain cells while also growing new blood vessels, thus delivering more oxygen-rich blood to all areas of the brain. Other studies have shown that physical activity can slow or even reduce brain aging and diseases like Alzheimer’s. How much exercise do you need to improve brain health, though? As little as 20 minutes of moderate exercise per day can be sufficient to trigger some benefits. And, with most of the country still working remotely, you should have the flexibility in your schedule to create a strategy that lets you work out more regularly. Whether you prefer morning workouts, an afternoon walk or going for a run in the evening, just try to get moving.
During COVID-19, it’s all too easy to let your routine fade into the background. You’re working from home, right? It’s pretty easy to turn off the video on your virtual meetings so that no one sees that you haven’t showered and shaved, or that your home’s a wreck.
While it might be easy to slide into lassitude, that can eat away at your cognitive function. It’s been shown that routines can help in many ways, including reducing stress levels which, in turn, lead to better mental health and less anxiety. So, what kind of schedule should you set for yourself? The sky’s the limit, but here are a few important tips to guide you.
First, start your schedule early. You don’t need to get up at 4 AM (unless you want to), but plan to give yourself 30 minutes to an hour of free time before you start working. Use that time for self-improvement—meditation, working out, etc.
Going to bed around the same time every night helps train your mind and body. You’ll find that you fall asleep faster and with fewer difficulties. You’ll also sleep better, which is important for stress management.
It can be easy to get so embroiled in work tasks or family that you forget to take time for lunch. Don’t skip it. Carve out at least 30 minutes for lunch, and make this work- and worry-free time. Eat mindfully, engaged in the present moment, and you’ll reduce stress and improve cognitive function.
In a time when social distancing is the norm, this tip might seem at odds with conventional wisdom. Too many people take social distancing orders as a requirement that they isolate themselves completely. Without human interaction, your brain health and function will decline.
So, how do you stay in touch with friends, family, and others? You can get together with people (as long as it’s not a large group) and still stay six feet apart. It’s about physical distance, not social distance.
Make time to be (safely distanced) together with other people. It could be friends. It might be family that doesn’t live in your home. It could be coworkers. Whatever the case, you’ll find plenty of things you can do together without getting too close physically, which will help you maintain that vital human connection.
Stress management techniques can help improve brain health and function in dramatic ways. Chronic stress is a bad thing with lots of negative impacts on our mental health and well-being. To fight back, you can and should use a wide range of strategies.
One of those is to take the right supplements. Options like Alpha Brain are designed specifically to improve memory and focus. You’ll find plenty of other options out there, too. Other strategies can include engaging in daily meditation, cultivating a sense of gratitude in yourself, making time to be creative (art, music, reading/writing, etc.), and so much more.
Getting out in nature can also be a great way to deal with stress that would otherwise negatively affect your cognitive function. The mental health benefits of nature include stress relief, help with depression, anxiety relief, short-term memory improvement, and even an improvement in mental clarity and focus.
The right diet helps support whole-body health. That includes your brain. A diet high in unhealthy fats, added sugar, and unwanted chemicals can exacerbate your situation, leading to decreased mental focus, reduced mood states, and other problems.
With a healthy diet, on the other hand, you provide your body and brain with the nutrients needed for good health and optimum operation. Focus on healthy proteins with lots and lots of fruits and vegetables. Avoid prepackaged, pre-prepared foods, though, as these are usually loaded down with things you don’t want.
In the end, better cognitive function is possible and easier to achieve than you might think. There’s no reason to let COVID-19 lead to you feeling tired, rundown, and mentally disengaged. Kick that muddy-brained feeling out of your life with these simple, effective tips to boosting brain function and health.