I snuck into a new (and AWESOME!) Harvard course called “The Psychology of Eating (Culinary Psychology)”. Well, to be honest, I didn’t officially sneak in, my wife is finishing up her master's, and she was attending class via zoom. I couldn’t help but listen in. The professors repeatedly taught how food can affect us in so many different ways. I agreed wholeheartedly as my lunch of Thai food with rice was causing a downturn in my energy and quickly sending me into a sleep coma.
The Harvard class reminded me of all the small choices and events in our lives that can make a drastic difference in our day. I decided to share (or maybe remind you) of six evidence-based ways to change your brain for a good day.
1. Be Kind, Altruistic, and Helpful: Anytime we give of ourselves, it increases our sense of meaning in life; it promotes and improves our happiness, health, and wellbeing. Helping others can reduce depression and anxiety and help us look at positive aspects of our lives. To be happy, it helps if we make others happy.
2. Exercise: I’m not saying you need to join the gym or find a trainer. I’m saying all you have to do is MOVE! Twenty minutes of exercise has been linked to better physical and mental health, improved cardiovascular health, and reduced depression. It helps with cognitive performance and provides resilience against many neurodegenerative disorders. Choose your favorite way to get moving and do it every day. You will notice the differences in less than a week.
3. Eat Well: The Harvard class teaches there are many reasons we eat. (I don’t eat ice cream every night at 8:30 pm just because I am hungry!). Good nutrition can substantially influence the development and health of our brain structure and function. Nutrition provides the proper building blocks for the brain to create and maintain connections. Evidence has shown that long-term lack of nutrients can lead to structural and functional damage to the brain.
4. Keep Socially Connected: Social connection with others is key to your mental health. Loneliness and social isolation can be worse on your health than daily smoking! Recent research shows that due to Covid, social isolation and loneliness are recognized as a critical public health issue. Call a friend, go on a nice socially-distanced walk with a neighbor, connect with others at least once a day!
5. Learn Something New: My favorite topic! I am a big supporter of being a life-long learner. Learning is good for your brain and creates new neuro-pathways during novel experiences, such as learning a new skill or hobby. Learning not only utilizes new areas of your brain but also rewires your brain. Learning also releases feel-good hormones that make you happy and help you see yourself as a person who is developing and progressing.
6. Get Enough Sleep: I know you have heard this a million times. Research is providing more and more data on how sleep is the essential component of human life. The relationship between good brain health and the process of sleeping is an important one. During sleep, your brain reorganizes and recharges itself and removes toxic by-products. It also moves your short-term memories into long-term memories, which maintain cognitive and emotional function. A good night's rest also influences your immune system. If you want to have more energy, be happier, experience an increase in your wellbeing, and increase your creativity and ability to think, go to bed and get some rest!
I know you have most likely heard this advice before; a good “research reminder” is always helpful to assist you with getting back on the path to good brain health.
*This is based on an article from one of my new favorite websites, TheConversation.com, a website that has academic rigor with journalistic flair.
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