Sunday, Oct 2022
Health & Beauty Reveal Magazines
Health & Beauty Reveal Magazines

Our brains do a lot for us. They help us focus, solve problems, remember important information and make tough choices. Yet when mental fog rolls in, being productive can feel like an impossible task.

Canadians know they can train their bodies through healthy eating and regular exercise. But can we train our pandemic-affected brains, too?

Naturopathic doctor Marc Conteduca, who runs a brain training program at Niagara Health and Rehab Centre (NHRC), says that with hard work, it’s possible.[i]

“For many years, we didn't think that it was possible to improve brain function or regrow nerve cells or have this thing called neuroplasticity,” he says. “But now, we’re seeing that we can do those things.”

It’s welcome news for those dealing with what researchers are calling pandemic brain — brain inflammation caused by the chronic stress of living through a pandemic. Pandemic brain manifests as fatigue, brain fog and even mood changes in non-COVID-infected people.[ii]

Last year, more than 50 per cent of Canadians reported that COVID-19 had increased their stress or anxiety levels.[iii]Chronic stress can affect the parts of the brain that manage concentration, decision-making and even memory. It can make learning more difficult, and the people who experience it more anxious.[iv]

Want to get your pre-pandemic brain back? Here are three things you can do to boost brain function. 

 

Get Some Sleep (Without Your Phone)

Sleep helps keep your brain sharp — but most of us don’t get enough of it. According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, 1 in 2 adults have trouble going to sleep or staying asleep.[v]

“You need to prioritize sleep in the same way that you prioritize your exercise and nutrition plan,” says Conteduca.

Not getting enough sleep can affect your ability to learn, create new memories and concentrate. A lack of sleep doesn’t just affect your brain — poor sleep, or no sleep, can also increase your risk of cardiovascular disease, obesity and depression. [vi]

While every person has different requirements when it comes to sleep, experts suggest aiming for seven to nine hours per night. If you have trouble sleeping, try exercising regularly, quitting caffeine in the afternoon, and sticking to a routine bedtime.

Keeping your cell phone out of the bedroom can also improve sleep. In a 2020 study, researchers found that keeping cell phones near the pillow and scrolling for at least 30 minutes before bed with the lights off was associated with poor sleep quality.[vii] Other studies have shown phone use could affect working memory.[viii]  Consider banning blue-light emitting screens an hour before bed and charging your phone outside the bedroom.

 

Get Outside and Exercise

Exercising and spending time outside doesn’t just feel good — it can also help your brain function better. Research suggests that even short trips outside can change brain structure to improve concentration, mood and working memory.[ix]

While mindless exercise — day-to-day physical activity like walking up stairs — can build better health in the long run, nothing beats mindful physical exercise when it comes to boosting cognition.

“That neuromuscular, or brain to muscle connection, is very important,” says Conteduca. “What we’re finding is that intentional and purposeful exercise matters.”

Try setting aside a time to walk or run outdoors, join a yoga class, or engage in exercise you truly enjoy. Make outdoor morning or lunchtime walks a part of your daily routine. Cognitive learning also depends on repetition, so commit to lifestyle changes for at least one month if you want to see improvement.

 

Eat Healthy Fats

Food is fuel for the brain, which is why scientists say failing to fuel up can negatively affect brain function.

Understanding how food affects the brain is a different beast because it’s a relationship that scientists didn’t begin exploring until recently, says nutritional scientist and University of Toronto Associate Professor Richard Bazinet, who researches the link between the two.[x]

“Your brain only makes up about two per cent of your body weight, depending on how much you weigh, but it's using 10 to 20 per cent of your brain energy,” says Bazinet. “So, you’ve got to feed that thing.”

Bazinet says the brain is about 50 per cent fat, and that two fats — docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and arachidonic acid (ARA) — are especially important for cognition. The brain can’t make these fats on its own, so eating foods high in DHA and ARA can provide it with these essential fatty acids. Sources of these fats include seafood, fish oil, dairy and eggs.

As for the rest of your diet, Bazinet says that “largely, the foods that people think are good for their heart seem to be good for their brain.”

Incorporate whole, or non-processed, foods into your diet and give plant-based foods a try. Research also suggests that adding berries, such as blueberries and raspberries, to your diet can improve memory and boost brain function.[xi]

[i] https://nhrcentre.com/team/marc-conteduca/

[ii] https://www.news-medical.net/news/20210929/Research-finds-increases-in-pandemic-brain-after-COVID-19-lockdowns.aspx#:~:text=According%20to%20new%20research%20from,known%20as%20%22pandemic%20brain.%22

[iii] https://www.ipsos.com/en-ca/covid-continues-take-heavy-toll-canadians-mental-health

[iv] https://www.uottawa.ca/gazette/en/news/understanding-and-countering-effects-stress-your-brain-and-your-mental-health#:~:text=Under%20prolonged%20stress%2C%20this%20region,problem%20solving%2C%20concentration%20and%20planning.

[v] https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/publications/healthy-living/canadian-adults-getting-enough-sleep-infographic.html

[vi] https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/Patient-Caregiver-Education/Understanding-Sleep#:~:text=Sleep%20is%20important%20to%20a,up%20while%20you%20are%20awake.

[vii] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7320888/

[viii] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7425970/

[ix] https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2021/07/210715103025.htm

[x] https://nutrisci.med.utoronto.ca/faculty/richard-bazinet

[xi] https://njaes.rutgers.edu/sshw/message/message.php?p=Health&m=350

 

Back To Top