Did you wake up on the first day of the new year ready to atone for the year before? I did. And millions of others around the world were making the same fresh start to their diets and physical routines.
But these are only two of the seven areas that can improve your brain health, build your resilience to disease and fortify your immune system, leading to a greater sense of overall wellbeing.
We may be familiar with the physical benefits of movement and exercise but compelling evidence shows that it also improves memory and cognition. A study published in the journal Neurology demonstrated that physical activity can slow brain aging by 10 years.
To get started, biohacker, human body and brain performance coach, Ben Greenfield recommends 20-30 minutes of fasted aerobic exercise a day.
Other ways to move your body: animal locomotion, strength training, yoga and myofascial release work. Most importantly, and after years of training, coaching and teaching, my best advice is for you to do something you love.
We all know that we should cut sugar and limit processed foods. But did you know that eating a plant-rich anti-inflammatory diet can help reduce symptoms of depression and improve brain health.
Recent findings demonstrated a significant drop in depression after eating a Mediterranean-style diet for over three weeks. Participants reported lower levels of anxiety and stress too. The Mediterranean diet is also linked to a reduced incidence of cancer, as well as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases.
“Sleep is the beginning to our biological day,” says Dr. Satchin Panda, scientist and author of Circadian Code. And yet an estimated 164 million Americans struggle to get enough. Dr. Panda suggests that the average person requires no less than 7 hours.
If you are struggling with sleep, you might want to try resetting your circadian clock. First, establish a 12 hour eating window, with your last meal at least two hours before bedtime. Next, add exercise and movement to your daytime routine. Take in plenty of sunlight during the day and if you need it, take a nap. Dr. Panda, recommends 150 minutes a week of moderate exercise during the day to maintain a healthy circadian rhythm.
At night, try restorative yoga, cool the bed or room temperature and add room darkening shades. Be sure to cut out technology as those lights stimulate the brain. Many experts recommend installing dimmer lights to help you begin to wind down. Lastly, mindful breathing practices and/or a progressive body scan will help you relax the body for bed.
Mindfulness encompasses both informal daily attention practices (ie walking, eating and breathing techniques) and formal mindfulness or meditation practice. In mindfulness, we are focused and attending to the task at hand. Lack of attention leads to disconnection, disorder and eventually disease.
If you are new to meditation, start with 2 minutes a day, just sitting and observing the breath. Quit the multi-tasking too. Allow yourself to do one activity with clarity and focus before starting the next. Wash the dishes to wash the dishes.
Research shows that meditation helps enhance learning and memory, lowers stress hormone levels by decreasing the cell size of the amygdala and can improve the quality of one’s life, general wellness and ability to fight disease. It can also help you live longer and helps activate the insula, a brain region that is said to be a key player in self-awareness and empathy.
Building your emotional intelligence means that you can recognize emotion in others, be empathetic and connect socially, and harness your own emotions. This practices helps us to become better at self soothing and regulating our nervous system.
Start honing your emotional intelligence by learning about your own response to stress. Try journaling pleasant and unpleasant events. Document feelings and sensations in your body during those events. With friends and coworkers, practice noticing their emotions and being an active listener.
We are social beings who desire connection. It is vital that we improve our emotional intelligence to enhance our relationships with others to strengthen our wellbeing.
Science has long said that being married helps you live longer and reduce stress. But a healthy relationship is key.
Sue Johnson, clinical psychologist and author of Hold Me Tight: Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Loves, says that secret to loving relationships is emotional responsiveness.
People want to seen, heard and understood. When we synchronize emotionally, we connect and we tune in. When that doesn’t happen, the divide becomes deeper. People feel as though they are moving further apart.
So to build your connection muscles. Express small acts of appreciation daily. Give more hugs. The physical act of cuddling reduces stress for the recipient and the giver. Hugs can improve your immune system, reduce blood pressure, release oxytocin, reduce perception of pain, among other things.
Family therapist Virginia Satir said, “We need 4 hugs a day for survival. We need 8 hugs a day for maintenance. We need 12 hugs a day for growth.” And for the maximum health benefit, hug for at least 20 seconds.
Aristotle once said that the essence of life is “to serve others and do good.” Research shows that volunteering helps you feel more socially connected, reduces occurrence of loneliness and depression, and lowers blood pressure and helps you live longer.
It only takes service of 100-200 hours a year to reap the physical benefits. That’s 3 hours max a week!
Experts agree, the intention behind the service should be altruistic. A 2012 study in the journal Health Psychology found those who volunteered lived longer, but only if their intentions were to help others—not to make themselves feel better.
Fortifying these seven areas doesn’t make you immune to outside threats, but it makes us more resilient in the face of them. Here’s to live longer and happier lives.