What if we told you that the secret to unlocking the power of your brain really is simple. Pretty cool, right? Well, today we bring you the wisdom of leading neuroscientist Marc Milstein. Who shared some core aspects we should be focusing on to maximise brain power, backed by the latest studies on the subject. Also, if you're a leader, find out how you can support your team to stay incorporating these into their day. Helping them to better their brain health and improve performance across the board.
It’s no secret that nature makes us feel better. But does it actually 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 around the world, corroborated this fact. Showing that those that lived close to nature or spent periods of time 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.
Oily fish, turmeric and dark chocolate. 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 actually be way more simple than that.
Marc talks about this in relation to 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 other foods release chemicals that increase stress, 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 brain. 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 veg 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 veg look to pick up a range of colours - not all greens, for example. Each colour holds its own brain-protecting properties and different additional nutrients.
An often lesser focused on sub-section of brain health - idle time. The in-between times which 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. But it’s actually this brain downtime that can be really powerful says Marc, “If you let your brain wander and have some idle time, the studies suggest that you actually focus better when it’s time to focus”.
But there is a flip side to this. Marc talks about a recent study that made the group to have idle time and record their thoughts. For some, they wandered into negative thought patterns - this group was called the ruminators. And their stress levels increased with idle time. Impacting on their brain functioning for the rest of the day. This rumination often comes from a lack of awareness of our negative thoughts - and our incessant 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.
thoughts with distractions.
How to wander positively
- Set aside time each day: just to be alone in your thoughts - whether that be a walk, meditating or journaling. No phones or devices.
- Record where you wander to: catch where you wander to without judgement and record it in a journal. Over time you’ll build up the skills to catch the negative thought patterns earlier.
- Create antidotes to regular negative thought patterns: retorts to your own mind that can help snap you out of the cycle.
“Walking has been shown to be one of the simplest but one of the most powerful things we can do to protect our brain. In fact, studies have shown that people that 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 what is called a ‘pressure wave’ which sends a signal to the heart then communicates with the brain. This wave ensures that the brain is getting the right amount of oxygen to keep it healthy. Each brain cell needs oxygen to work and if we’re not delivering it’s very hard 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 up into smaller walks: if you don’t have time in your day to go 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. The sweet spot, as in recent studies 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 necessarily have to hit the weights but incorporating some resistance movement (bodyweight or weighted) will not only help your mind but your overall health too
Helping your team to 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.
- Setting time aside as a team to go for a walk if they wish and refraining from back to back meetings all day.
- Creating boundaries on times that it’s acceptable to send emails and reducing the pressure to respond out of hours.
- Offering up places to go to engage with nature.
- Creating community in the office - grouping people with similar schedules together to make them feel less isolated.
- Giving your team the opportunity to do the ‘little things’ every day that help them torecharge.
We hope Marc’s wisdom has given you some motivation to boost your brain health! These tips were just some of the excerpts from his PepTalk on The Weekly, but to get full access to Marc’s incredible mind you can book him or your own PepTalk. Get in touch with our team to inquire today.