New research shows daily lifestyle habits boost your brain

brain health healthy living meditation mindful movement resilience sleep strength training stress-free Sep 05, 2022

Another reason to meditate, workout, and sleep!

If your brain feels like it needs a bit more incentive to focus its attention on important tasks, these three healthy lifestyle habits can help.

Do you feel like you’re more distracted or less productive these days? Does it seem as though your brain sometimes has difficulty focusing on what you’re trying to do in the moment? Maybe it takes more effort to pay attention to one thing when you’re in a busy environment? 

If you answered yes to any of these questions, you’re going to want to read on about this new study.

Optimising your brain’s cognitive performance (e.g., ability to think, learn, and remember) and improving your productivity is possible. In fact, you can start these “brain-boosting” habits today.

A recent study published in the journal Applied Cognitive Psychology found several links between practising daily healthy lifestyle habits and stronger “executive functioning” of the brain. Executive functioning helps your brain to focus where you want it to by filtering out distractions and resisting impulses. It’s a key part of the brain’s attention networks because it helps us prioritise what we’re engaging with at any given time.

The researcher examined dozens of previous studies on the topic—74 to be exact. He looked for links between the ability to use executive functioning to focus attention and whether certain common lifestyle practices may affect this ability to focus. After careful review, the results showed that there were three healthy habits that help improve executive function. Those three habits are meditation, exercise, and sleep. Some of these practices, when done regularly, were found to improve focus and attention in just weeks or even a few days.

Meditation

Regularly meditating was found to be one of the best ways to improve executive function. This was especially true for meditations that encourages the mind to focus its attention on something (e.g., breathing) while trying to let go of other thoughts. 

One of the studies found that by doing only 20 minutes of meditation every day, within only five days people already started reporting improvements in their ability to filter out distractions.

In fact, meditation seemed particularly helpful in older people by delaying age-related cognitive decline.

Exercise

Being physically active is known to improve the health of your body and brain. When it comes to executive functioning, the best forms of exercise are ones that increase your heart rate, cardio exercises like walking and hiking, or snowshoeing in the winter. Exercising at both a moderate or high intensity seemed to improve executive functioning the most.

One study even showed that people who started a higher-intensity program improved their executive functioning within just two weeks.

Sleep

Most of us probably know we should get enough high quality sleep to function well and with plenty of energy. It’s not uncommon to sacrifice some sleep time to do work, socialise, or be entertained. But know that this can impact your executive function.

Some of the cognitive symptoms of insufficient sleep are well-known. When this happens, our brains simply can’t perform as they normally would. For example, we’re slower to react to situations and we’re also more prone to making mistakes.  

DID YOU KNOW?  There seems to be one part of the day where most people have trouble focusing. Some studies showed that both “morning” and “evening” people had lower ability to focus their attention in the middle of the day. 

Getting enough quality sleep is important for your cognitive abilities. And don’t feel too bad if you need to take a “brain break” mid-day—most of us do.

Conclusion

You can improve your ability to think, learn, and remember, improve your productivity, and enhance your ability to resist impulses. At the same time, you can reduce your risk for age-related cognitive decline. All of these can happen when you enhance your brain’s ability to focus attention on the task at hand by improving its ability to filter out distractions–called “executive functioning”). 

While your executive functioning is partly influenced by things you can’t control, like your genes, there are some lifestyle habits that can help you improve it. Your daily practice of meditation, moderate or high intensity exercise, and regularly getting enough sleep can enhance your brain’s ability to focus attention to improve your ability to think, learn, and remember. 

References

McCormick, C. R. (2022). Lifestyle factors and their impact on the networks of attention. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 36(1), 135-53.  https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2022-14811-001  or  https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/epdf/10.1002/acp.3904

https://theconversation.com/how-to-boost-your-attention-and-ability-to-function-with-meditation-exercise-and-sleep-180507

https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/cognitive-health-and-older-adults

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