Wellness in Winter: New Ways to Keep Your Mind Sharp
With the coming of winter, it’s increasingly important to maintain wellness so you can ward off those nasty winter bugs that cause cold and flu. Yet, wellness is about more than maintaining our physical selves. In this article, you’ll discover eleven innovative ways to improve your memory and thinking skills, mental wellness, and physical health this winter.
- Eat Healthy
- Up Your Omega-3 Uptake
- Make a “To-Do” List
- Cut Out Cortisol
- Drink Coffee
- Keep a Daily Journal
- Get Enough Sleep
- Use Your Other Hand
- Don’t Multitask
- Drink Green Tea
- Bottom Line
Eat Healthy for Winter Wellness
Learning how to eat healthy for your brain is the first and most fundamental thing you need to do to upskill your cognitive performance. Here are the top ten brain-enhancing foods that you should add to your daily nutritional intake:
- Coconut oil
- Fatty fish
- Green leafy vegetables
- Olive oil
- Cruciferous vegetables (i.e., cauliflower)
- Whole grains
On the flip side, here are five foods that are detrimental to your cognitive development and should be cut out of your life:
- Fried foods
Up Your Omega-3 Intake
Eating more omega-3 fatty acids is one of the best things you can do for your brain health. Studies have shown that omega-3s are able to improve memory and strengthen the structures responsible for fluid intelligence, which is the ability to solve new problems. However, since our bodies don’t produce omega-3, we need to get it from the foods we eat.
Here are five great sources of omega-3 fatty acids:
- Flaxseed oil
Make a “To-Do” List
Creating a “to-do” list is one of the smartest things you can do to boost your brain productivity. By making a daily list of goals, you can sort out your priorities and filter out the non-essentials. Making a “to-do” list can also provide you with some great mental positive reinforcement as you cross each item off the list. Researchers refer to this as a “frequency of progress,” and it can make you feel great about your day. Logging your priorities and progress over the winter and holiday months may be especially beneficial for your wellness, as these months are typically very busy and stressful.
Cut Out Cortisol
Reducing your cortisol levels is an important hack to boosting your brain power. Cortisol is known as the stress hormone; a high level of cortisol is related to a shrinkage of the hippocampus, which is the area of the brain associated with long-term memory.
Exercising and eating brain-healthy foods will reduce your cortisol levels, but so will reducing your stress. Five easy ways to reduce your daily stress are:
- Deal with problems as they arise rather than putting them off.
- Listen to music.
- Slow down.
- Laugh at yourself.
- Go for an evening walk after dinner.
As you probably already know, drinking a cup of coffee at the start of your day can give you the much-needed brain boost you might need some mornings. But here’s why:
- Coffee reduces the production of the neurotransmitter adenosine by binding to its receptors. Adenosine is what makes us feel tired. Consuming caffeine, through coffee in this case, will reduce the adenosine and consequently make you feel more alert and awake.
- Caffeine prevents the brain from reabsorbing dopamine, which is a feel-good hormone. As a result, we feel happy for longer.
Don’t go overboard on your coffee consumption, however. Having more than 400 mg per day can lead to migraines!
Keep a Daily Journal
There are proven benefits to keeping a daily journal, especially for mental wellness in combatting the winter blues. But the benefits are magnified if you do it by hand rather than on your computer. Writing by hand makes both sides of your brain coordinate, boosts memory, and promotes creativity. The brain’s motor cortex is also more actively involved when you are handwriting than when you type. It’s even been shown to help reduce stress, especially if you write positive things, such as five things that you are grateful for.
Helping others makes us feel good about ourselves. It also improves our brains by increasing the release of dopamine, endorphins, and other feel-good chemicals. Research has also shown that volunteering maintains the size of the brain’s memory center, which would otherwise get smaller over time. Volunteers are more likely to work in teams, problem solve, and share knowledge and experiences with others—all of which are good for your brain.
Get Enough Sleep
The importance of sleep for mental health is well established. According to a 2013 study, sleep drives out the toxins that accumulate during the waking hours. Sleep also plays a key part in storing memories. Another study suggests that the more sleep we get, the more creative we are.
The effects of sleep deprivation on the brain are also well known. Our cognition and decision-making ability are severely compromised when we don’t get enough sleep, and we end up in a kind of mental fog. As a result, getting 7–8 hours of continuous sleep is an important part of brain health.
Use Your Other Hand
Unless you are among the 1% of people who are ambidextrous, you will have a dominant hand. Forcing yourself to use your non-dominant hand is a great way to exercise your brain. As you may know, the left side of your brain controls the right side of your body’s functionality. When you switch to the opposite hand, you light up a whole new area of your brain.
An easy place to start switching things up is with your toothbrush. Start brushing your teeth with your non-dominant hand, then go from there.
For decades, multitasking was promoted as a brain-boosting hack. However, more recent research has changed that thinking. In one study, researchers discovered that the brain does not actually have the ability to multitask. Instead, it jumps back and forth between tasks, which lessens the brain’s effectiveness. The brain works much better when it completes tasks sequentially. So, if you’re a multitasker, give it up and focus on doing one thing at a time.
Drink Green Tea
Green tea has been shown to have some powerful cognitive benefits. Its power lies in an amino acid called theanine, which has been shown to increase concentration and decrease fatigue. The best green tea for brain benefits is matcha tea. The machta plant grows shaded from the sun, which increases its theanine level.
Green tea also contains antioxidants and nutrients to promote cognitive functioning.
We’ve given you eleven mental and wellness hacks that you can use all winter to ramp up your brain’s sharpness, ability, and retention. Make these eleven brain boosters habitual, and you’ll be able to experience ongoing cognitive improvements all year long.
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