What if we told you that the secret to unlocking the power of your brain is simple? You might be pleased to hear that it is possible! Today, we bring you the wisdom of leading neuroscientist Marc Milstein, who has shared some key ideas we should focus on to maximise brain power, backed by the latest studies on the subject. Also, if you're a leader, find out how to support your team to incorporate these into their day and help them improve their brain health and performance.
Get Out In Nature
It’s no secret that nature makes us feel better. But does it impact our stress levels? Well, according to recent research, yes. Marc highlighted how studies over the past couple of years, where arguably there were the most widespread feelings of stress worldwide, corroborated this fact—showing that those who lived close to nature or spent periods during their day in nature showed decreased symptoms of stress.
How to incorporate nature into your everyday
- Take a nature break: pop out to your local park, even for 10 minutes. This outdoor break can help you step away from stress.
- Get a plant: yes, you read that right. “A study that came out in Japan found that just simply staring at a plant on your desk for two minutes, stress levels dropped…it’s a little bit of nature on your desk. Something quick and easy to do,” says Marc.
Eat Brainy Foods
Eat oily fish, blueberries, turmeric and dark chocolate. Perhaps not in the same dish, but these are just some of the ‘brain fit’ foods we’re encouraged to eat. And whilst they do have brain-boosting capabilities, eating for your brain can be way more straightforward than that.
Marc talks about this in a study on the effects of the amount of fruit & vegetables consumed by a mixed group, “The food that we eat ends up in our gut and can cause the release of chemicals that can impact our brain. Some foods release chemicals that can calm our brain down, and others release chemicals that increase stress and the risk of things like anxiety and depression. It’s related to inflammation. If the chemicals released by our gut are inflammatory, they can attack our brains. And attacking the brain increases the risk of a long list of conditions including memory loss, depression and anxiety.”
How to up your fruits and vegetables
- Add a handful to each meal: you’re aiming for around 400g or 1 pound of fruit and vegetables a day. Adding a handful to each meal or snack makes it much more manageable.
- Focus on veggies: often, people find it easier to eat fruits than vegetables. Incorporate vegetables in hidden places, such as smoothies, soups or sauces.
- Eat the rainbow: When buying fruit and vegetables, look to pick up a range of colours - not all greens, for example. Each colour holds its brain-protecting properties and different additional nutrients.
Find Some Mental Space
An often less focused sub-section of brain health - idle time—the in-between times many of us have so little of now in a world of overstimulation. Our moments are filled with scrolling, social media, checking our emails — the list goes on. No longer would we just stand in line at a shop, we're filling the space. But it’s this brain downtime that can be powerful, says Marc, “If you let your brain wander and have some idle time, the studies suggest that you focus better when it’s time to focus”.
But there is a flip side to this. Marc talks about a recent study that gave the group time to record their thoughts. Some wandered into negative thought patterns — this group was called the ruminators. And their stress levels increased with idle time. We are impacting their brain functioning for the rest of the day. This rumination often comes from a lack of awareness of our negative thoughts - and our constant need to fill our minds with distractions. We don't allow ourselves to become aware of our thoughts or find ways of attending to them.
How to wander positively
- Set aside time each day to be alone in your thoughts - whether walking, meditating or journaling: no phones or devices.
- Record where you wander to: catch where you think without judgment and record it in a journal. Over time, you’ll build up the skills to detect the negative thought patterns earlier.
- Create antidotes to regular negative thought patterns: retorts to your mind that can help snap you out of the cycle.
Move Your Body
“Walking is one of the simplest but powerful things we can do to protect our brain. Studies have shown that people who walk for about 30 minutes a day lower their risk of memory loss by a staggering 60% a day.”, says Marc
Studies have shown that when walking, our foot hits the ground and creates a ‘pressure wave’ which sends a signal to the heart and then communicates with the brain. This wave ensures the brain gets enough oxygen to stay healthy. Each brain cell needs oxygen to work; if we’re not delivering, it’s tough to think, be productive and manage our emotions.
Marc also talked about the positive effects of different types of exercise on brain health and stress levels. A recent study found that those who either solely focused on resistance training or mixed it in with their cardio workouts saw the most improvements.
Make walking work for you
- Break it into smaller walks: if you don’t have time for one or two longer walks, just fit it in where you can. Three 10-minute walks. Six 5-minute walks. Whatever works for you.
- Don’t necessarily focus on 10,000 steps: Marc highlights how this number was created by a company that wanted to sell pedometers. As in recent studies, the sweet spot is 6-8K for 60+ and 8-10K for anyone under 60. Past that, there isn’t much of a benefit for overall health for anything over this.
- Add in some resistance training: we’re not saying you have to hit the weights, but incorporating some resistance movement (body weight or weighted) will help your mind and overall health.
Helping your team boost their brain health
So you’ve incorporated some of these brain-boosting concepts into your day, but how do you encourage your team to do the same? Marc posits that it’s all about creating time and space for people to engage in these activities.
Tips for team brain building
- Set time aside as a team to go for a walk if they wish, and refrain from back-to-back meetings all day.
- Create boundaries on times when sending emails is acceptable and reduce the pressure to respond out of hours.
- Offer up places to go to engage with nature.
- Foster community in the office — grouping people with similar schedules to make them feel less isolated.
- Allow your team to do the ‘little things’ daily that help them recharge.
🧠 We hope Marc’s wisdom has motivated you to boost your brain health! These tips were just some of the excerpts from his on-demand PepTalk video, but you can book him to speak to your team to get full access to Marc’s incredible mind. Get in touch with our team to inquire today.