Boost Your Brain

5th October 2012

If you're looking to galvanise your grey matter, improve your memory and heighten your focus and concentration – boosting your brain power can be as easy as ABC, writes Julie Penfold

Get Diet Smart

Minimising your sugar intake is key to boosting brain health, says nutritional therapist and naturopath, Susse Wedel. “Keeping your sugar intake low is a major dietary requirement as foods containing white refined sugars and carbohydrates such as bread, pasta and rice can have a negative impact on the brain. It is also important to limit your intake of processed foods and junk options. Studies have shown that people who eat unhealthily and have a nutritionally deficient diet are more likely to have lower IQs and poor memories.”

Keep your brain in tip top health by opting for a healthy diet with a variety of brain-boosting options. Omega 3 is an essential fatty acid and vital brain nutrient that can be found in oily fish such as tuna, salmon, sardines and mackerel. It can also be found in vegetarian-friendly, vitamin E-rich sources such as hemp seeds, flaxseeds, linseeds, almonds and walnuts. Vitamin E is known to be good for the brain as it helps to protect against mental decline, and research suggests that people who eat high amounts of vitamin E foods may lower their long-term dementia risk.

Vitamin E can be found in a range of sources including brazil nuts, hazelnuts, sunflower, pumpkin and sesame seeds, avocados and red and purple berries such as blueberries, raspberries and blackcurrants. Avocados are also renowned as a key brain health fruit as they contribute to healthy blood circulation. Berries are rich in antioxidants and flavonoids which can help to slow decline and are great for helping with memory retention, says Susse.

Wholegrains such as oats, multigrain breads and millet, barley, quinoa and brown rice are all rich sources of B vitamins, another brain health essential. Vegetables are another excellent B vitamin source such as green leafy vegetables including kale, spring green cabbage and chard.

Susse’s top tips for brain boosting drinks are water and green tea, which is high in antioxidants. Caffeine – to which we often turn for a pick-me-up or to help with focus – is a stimulant that temporarily boosts blood flow to the brain. Keep tea and coffee to a moderate intake if possible, though, to avoid becoming reliant on having multiple cups to re-energise once the effects of the last one have worn off. Avoid sugary drinks as these age the brain, says Susse. Alcohol should be kept to a low amount too as it depletes the body of vital nutrients which impact on brain power.

Herbs can also offer brain boosting benefits, adds Susse. “Rhodiola has been shown in studies to be great for improving memory and concentration, particularly when the person is under stress. Rosemary and sage are well known herbs for memory; they can be used as an essential oil and can be massaged onto the temples or scalp to increase blood flow to the head. Studies have shown that regular head massage using essential oils can increase memory functioning.”

Researchers at Northumbria University also found inhaling rosemary can help to improve mental speed and accuracy. Another herb Susse recommends which is more effective for older people is gingko, which is readily available in health stores and helps to increase cerebral blood flow. Ayurvedic medicine also uses the herbs Gotu Kola which is considered to improve memory, alertness and concentration and Brahmi, regarded as a key herb for mental enhancement for medium and long-term memory.

Lifestyle Focus

Whatever your age, following these top tips every day will help to keep your brain in optimum condition. Always ensure you start the day with a good breakfast as this helps balance your blood sugar levels. When you opt to skip breakfast, this sets your body on an erratic course for the rest of the day as you crave unhealthy snacks and caffeine as a result of your blood sugar levels dropping. If you are not eating regularly, you may also experience brain fog and find you become more forgetful and take longer to complete tasks.

Regular exercise is great for your all-round health and can help to improve your memory as it provides oxygen to your brain. US research has revealed that walking or cycling regularly for between six months to a year can improve memory and problem solving skills in older people by 15-20 percent. The research has also shown that exercise can increase the size of some crucial parts of the brain as it can bring improvements in cognition, function and structure. If you’re new to exercise, every little helps. Just a 15 minute daily walk is a great start.

Keeping your brain active is an essential tool for boosting your memory and your ability to focus. Using your mind in a variety of ways will help you find remembering easier too. Keep your brain fired up through reading, learning, exploring, taking up a new activity or tackling a mental exercise such as a quiz or brain training task. Keeping in regular contact with friends and socialising is also beneficial to brain health as it has been shown to improve memory and concentration.

Finally, meditation is something that we can all use, young or old, to dramatically boost our brain health and sharpen our minds. Research has shown that meditation increases the brain’s thickness in areas that deal with attention and the processing of external information.

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