The key to finding an exercise plan that will promote your cognitive health is to find something that builds your aerobic capacity (more oxygen to your brain!), lowers your fat level and is fun. Some of the best exercise systems: aerobics, swimming, martial arts, dance and rowing.
- When exercising, practice good breathing—breathe through your nose and don’t hold your breath during exertion—that’s the time to exhale.
- Do some basic aerobic exercise regularly: walk to work, ride your bike, play a sport, run around and chase your kid—just let yourself get winded, it’s good for you
- Look into Pilates or some other simple set of exercises that will strengthen your “core”—your lower back and abdominal muscles, since these are the muscle groups we rely on most
- Stretch to increase your flexibility—stretch your calves, hamstrings, lower back—make stretching part of your daily wrap-up ritual
The word “relax” has its origin in the Latin word “relaxare” which means “to loosen”. When we engage in relaxation techniques we are in effect loosening tension, releasing tightly held energy and letting go. Relaxation is a way to level out stress and “rest” our minds and bodies.
- Give yourself a cue—tell yourself it’s time to wind down, like slipping into sweat pants or a favorite t-shirt when you get home.
- Sit quietly—sit quietly and calmly for 3-5 minutes.
- Less clutter—clear your world of needless clutter.
- Breathing—give yourself some deep breathing; breathe in for 7 seconds, hold for 7 seconds and exhale for 7 seconds.
- Breathe through your nose and breathe deep—if you do it right, you won’t hyperventilate or be gagging for air.
- Have an end-of-day ritual—have a regular ritual as you prepare for bed, something that you look forward to.
Programers know this phrase well, and it translates to your body too—the fuel you put into your body is reflected in the performance of your body.
A healthy brain diet has four components:
- calorie control
- “good” fats (omega-3s)
- “good” carbs (complex carbs that don’t immediately spike blood sugars)
Cognitive “food pyramid”:
- whole grains
- nuts, fish
- other meat
Your body and your mind need to recharge each night, and sleep is how we do this. Your physical body needs between 5-6 hours of sleep each night to rest and repair itself. This initial sleep is often devoid of much R.E.M. dream sleep, which is what your mind needs to recharge itself. Figure another 2 hours of sleep are needed for dreaming and mental recharging (most dreaming occurs after your first 5-6 hours of sleep), for a total of 7-8 hours of ideal sleep per night.
- Sleep in a darkened room, on a firm and comfortable mattress
- De-stress and “turn off” your mind before you climb into bed (don’t think about your worries or your day to come right before sleep)
- Don’t eat for 90 minutes before bed
- Don’t read in bed—make bed for sleeping only. Read in a comfortable chair, preferably not in the bedroom
- Stick to a regular sleep schedule as much as possible—sleep isn’t something you can “catch up on” on weekends