Spring has always been a time to freshen up — wearing brighter colours, losing that winter belly fat, cleaning out your home.
Why not spring-clean your brain while you are at it?
“It is certainly possible to give the brain a tune up,” says Dr. Alan Logan, a naturopath and author of The Brain Diet.
The three cornerstones of better brain health are: good nutrition, regular exercise, and keeping the brain stimulated.
In the realm of nutrition, here are some things to keep in mind. Eat lots of omega-3 fatty acids — which are found in fish, seafood, canola oil, and green leafy vegetables.
They are known to improve mood and cognitive focus. One of the ways they do this is by stimulating the production of a protein in the brain called BDNF, says Dr. Logan. BDNF is responsible for regenerating (or tuning-up) the brain cells. Studies of people with depression have found they have low levels of BDNF.
Another brain-healthy habit is to eat breakfast regularly to help sustain mental energy, says Dr. Logan. Avoid foods that are high in sugar, trans-fats and saturated fats.
Look for whole grains breads and cereals, which provide a steady fuel supply and avoid the ups and downs of the sugar roller coaster.
Exercise is also crucial for brain health. Like good nutrition, exercise turns on BDNF production in the brain.
Dr. John Ratey, a Harvard psychiatrist who wrote Spark, the Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, has found that exercise supercharges the circuits of the brain and sharpens thinking.
If you can, exercise amidst nature, as that has been shown to improve mood even more.
According to Dr. Logan, Canadians are 86 per cent more likely to engage in leisure-time physical activity during the summer months versus the winter.
More sunlight (which means more vitamin D), longer days and more exercise may influence the production of the “feel good” brain chemicals, including serotonin.
The third factor in brain health is mental stimulation. Look for ways of challenging your memory and add a variety of brain challenges to your day.
“Doing games, puzzles or simply learning new tasks — as complex as learning a foreign language or as simple as taking alternate routes to work — helps to improve memory and cognitive centres,” says Dr. Logan.