As a mother of four, I've always tried my college best to make sure my kids understand the importance of taking care of themselves. But holy cow, there is sooo much nagging to do, and when you've got four children like I do, it's hard to keep straight what you've nagged about, to whom, and if it's been laid on sufficiently heavy in each of the necessary categories: brushing teeth, getting enough sleep, drinking enough water, exercising, eating right, etc. There have been many times when I've passed by one of the kids and randomly, and for no particular reason, blurted out a drive-by nag regarding one of those things just to kind of make sure I'm covering bases.
But now, my friends, I'm trading in all of my micro-nags for one, overarching and all-encompassing macro nag: "Have you taken care of your brain today?"
I recently read a book from Dr. Sanjya Gupta called "Keep Sharp: Build A Better Brain at Any Age", which changed the way I think about mental and physical health, not just for my kids but for me as well. The premise of the book is that if you do the things you need to do have a healthy brain, the rest will just naturally follow. According to Gupta, focusing in on that one special, spongy organ in your noggin will actually have a trickle-down effect on a whole host of health issues, a few of which includes anxiety, depression, focus and obesity — four things that plague many children. And as kids everywhere are getting ready to get back to school, I can't help but believe that if we all truly focused more on our kids' brains (and our own), some of those struggles may start to ease up considerably.
Spoiler alert: I'm about to tell you what the book says you need to do in order to create and keep a healthy brain. I doubt Gupta will care — the guys seems genuinely interested in spreading the word.
1. Get 30 minutes of exercise 5 days a week.
He listed way too many ways in which this benefits brains and bodies for me to actually quote it all, but it helps in all four of those areas I mentioned above: anxiety, depression, focus and obesity. This is an easy one to deem credible. Just get up from your desk and get your blood pumping for a bit and see how it helps you literally feel mentally sharper and happier when you come back.
2. Get a good amount of sleep.
Apparently — and parents who've watched the Pixar movie "Inside Out" will get this — it's during the deeper stages of sleep when your brain turns short-term memories into long-term memories, giving you recall ability. (Poor Bing Bong. Maybe Riley just wasn't getting enough sleep.) It's the time when your brain reorganizes and gets ready for the next day so that it can actually absorb new material again.
3. Eat real, whole, nutritious food and less processed, sugary junk.
No earth-shattering tip here, but Gupta does specify say that eating omega-3 fatty acids is always a good thing and that getting vitamins from food, rather than supplements, is much better, since apparently it's still quite difficult for scientists to extract the healthy ingredients from food to turn them into supplements. Also, staying really well hydrated is important. Studies show that if you're even dehydrated by even a few ounces, you will feel that fog start to settle in to your brain.
We all need plenty of time bonding with people we care about. It's an evolutionary thing that started with tribes and protection and safety and is now just something our brains literally need to stay happy and healthy. Socializing and laughing helps produce hormones such as oxytocin, while also decreasing harmful stress hormones.
5. Keep the brain stimulated.
Think games, puzzles, music, video games (it felt weird to say that), exploring new ideas, and just generally learning new things. It's all part of making new brain pathways and brain reserve that we all need maintain good brain health throughout our lives.
I know you all have probably heard each of these individual tips before, but I have to admit, I've always thought of them as separate things to deal with . . . each their own hill to try climb. But when I boil it all down to one thing — brain health — it feels consolidated, like I only have one thing to think about now instead of 20. It's all about the brain.
I found this David Suzuki quote recently that I really liked:
"The human brain had a vast memory storage. It made us curious and very creative. Those were the characteristics that gave us an advantage - curiosity, creativity and memory. And that brain did something very special. It invented an idea called 'the future."