THE WINTER EDIT
December 14, 2023
Over the last year, we’ve brought you information and academic insight into your brain health. We’ve spoken about our six guiding pillars – sleep, nutrition, gut health, exercise, active mind and healthy life – all of which come together to not only better the physiology of our brains, but to help us stay sharp, feel great and reduce the risk of cognitive decline.
In our Winter Edit, we’ve put together a recap of our six key pillars.
Getting at least 8 hours sleep a night is crucial for both our cognitive and physiological processes. It not only helps us function better, but it improves our overall sense of well being. Loss of sleep is not only associated with high blood pressure, heart disease and Type 2 diabetes, but it has even been linked to obesity and some cancers. Above all, it is also related to an increased risk of dementia and cognitive decline in later life.
Here are the top 5 reasons why getting enough sleep is so important for our brain health:
- Sleep is essential for creating new memories, as it helps us consolidate all the information. During the deep sleep stages, the brain processes and organises the information acquired that day, making it easier to recall and use in the future.
- Adequate sleep is crucial for cognitive function. It is linked to better performance, problem-solving, decision making and creative thinking. This also allows for neuroplasticity to take place, which is the brain’s ability to adapt to new learnings by creating new neural pathways.
- The word ‘detox’ is often used, but in the case of our brains, ‘brain detoxification’ is a real thing, powered by sleep. As we sleep, the glymphatic system in the brain becomes active which helps to remove the waste products and toxins that have accumulated throughout the day.
- Additionally, sleep plays a role in maintaining our long-term brain health. It helps to prevent cognitive decline in later life and associated illnesses such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
- Sleep is key for maintaining a healthy immune system. Not only does this create a well-rested body which is better equipped to fight off infections, but it also supports the gut-brain axis, benefitting our brain health.
As we enter 2024, why not aid your sleep with a little calming treat. Here are our top three picks:
- Neom Perfect Night’s Sleep Magnesium Body Butter
- Phytonectars I AM RESTED calm sleep drink
- Drowsy Damask Rose Silk Sleep Mask
Why should we look after our gut-brain axis this winter?
Did you know that the gut houses 70% of the immune system? It also looks after 95% of the body’s serotonin, a neurotransmitter which helps stabilise the mood while nurturing the gut-brain axis.
Keeping the gut-brain axis healthy is essential, but because we can’t see it, it’s often something we don’t pay much attention to. An unhealthy gut however can lead inflammation and numerous problems which manifest in the rest of the body:
- Fatigue is common, especially when the body is under stress. An overgrowth of bad bacteria can cause the immune system to go into overdrive, meaning that more energy is used and therefore we’re left feeling exhausted.
- Poor sleep is another sign of poor gut health. Because the gut houses 95% of our serotonin, when it’s not at its best both serotonin and melatonin production become dysregulated and can cause sleep disturbances.
- Skin problems including acne and eczema can often present. The gut has a significant impact on the skin and whenever skin issues arise, the gut needs to be addressed. When toxins and bacteria are able to permeate through the tight junctions within the gut-wall, they can cause inflammation and an imbalance in the skin leading to breakouts and problem prone skin. This is known as leaky gut.
If you’re showing signs of an unhealthy gut, then follow these three simple steps as you start your journey towards good gut health:
- Start by limiting your intake of foods high in sugar and refined carbohydrates. This includes junk and processed foods which can damage the gut by feeding the bad bacteria.
- Eat more fibre – think green and clean. Why not try vegetables, fruit, pulses and sprouts. Not only will these foods benefit your gut but they’ll also allow for good digestive health while balancing blood sugar levels.
- Limit your intake of coffee and alcohol. While we all might want to enjoy a tipple over the festive season, be mindful as to how much you consume. Too much alcohol not only leads to the obvious hangover, but it can irritate the lining of the gut and prevent nutrient absorption.
Top tip! You can even look to support your gut through herbs such as slippery elm. Slippery elm contains chemicals that can increase mucous secretions, aiding stomach and intestinal problems.
“Although your brain is only 2% of your body weight, it uses about 20% of the energy you consume per day.” – Professor Jeremy Spencer.
Having a healthy nutritious diet is of key importance to your brain health. Specific nutrients in food, such as omega-3s and flavonoids, have been associated with better brain cell communication and cognitive function. Give yourself permission to start the new year with a brain health treat, and enjoy these delicious brain health brownies, created by nutritionist Clarissa Lenherr.
– 200g of gluten free flour
– 150g ground almonds
– 4 tbsp cacao powder
– 150g coconut sugar
– 1 tsp baking powder
– 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
– 4 tbsp chia seeds
– 100ml extra virgin olive oil
– 160ml unsweetened almond milk
– 90g dark chocolate pieces
– 50g of broken walnuts
– 1.5 tbsp lion’s mane powder – optional
Preheat the oven to 180°C and line a baking tray with baking paper.
Place the chia seeds in a bowl and add 7 tbsp of water – leave to thicken.
In a bowl, mix the cacao, gluten free flour, ground almonds, lion’s mane powder, coconut sugar, bicarb and baking powder until there are no lumps.
Add in the olive oil, almond milk and chia seeds, and mix together.
Add the dark chocolate chips and mix.
Pour into the prepared tin and bake for 15 minutes. Take out and sprinkle on the walnuts then put back in the oven for another 15-20 minutes, until fudgy but a knife comes out clean.
Let your brownies cool for 15 minutes before cutting up.
“The human body is designed for long daily bouts of physical activity. Evolution never intended us to spend hours per day simply sitting.” – Professor James Goodwin.
Staying active and moving the body is a key part of looking after our brain health, and it has never been so important in this day and age. So many of us find ourselves sitting at our desks for long periods of time, or even taking a relaxed sofa day at home. Movement and physical activity can help with problem-solving, learning, thinking and maintaining an emotional balance. It can also improve memory and reduce the risk of cognitive decline including dementia and Alzheimer’s disease in later life.
Head over to @brainhealthnetwork on Instagram to see the 3 exercises you can do now as part of a healthy lifestyle.
Keeping the mind active allows us to continue creating new neural pathways and connections, for research shows that throughout our lives, our brains can actually continue to grow and develop. By challenging our minds and keeping the brain active, we’re able to make better decisions and reduce the risk of cognitive decline in later life.
Here are three ways to keep the brain active:
- What do you see in the optical illusion below?
2. Use the wrong hand
Next time you’re brushing your teeth, try doing so with the other hand. As well as strengthening the connectivity between neurons in the brain, it enhances existing connections. Give it a go, it’s easier said than done!
3. Hunt the Rabbit
“Hunt the rabbit” is a great exercise in activating the brain and creating new neural pathways. With your hands in front of you, allow for one hand to do rabbit ears and let the other hand point at it. Then switch and continue.
With the New Year not too far away, now is the time to start thinking about how you can stay accountable for looking after your brain health each and every day. For 2024, keep a log each week of three things you’ve achieved in looking after your brain health. Send us a DM or tag us in your accomplishments – we’d love to hear and encourage you on your brain health journey.
More to Explore
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