How to change your lifestyle habits for a healthier, happier you.
When we think of staying healthy, things like maintaining an ideal weight and strong muscles, a strong immune system and a healthy heart come to mind. It wasn't until fairly recently, however, that widespread attention had been given to the connection between physical and mental health. Today, the number of people suffering from mood disorders and neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's Disease (AD) is on the rise.
In fact, according to the National Institutes of Mental Health, 28.8% of the population will suffer from an anxiety-related disorder and 16.5% of the population is likely to experience some form of depressive disorder in their lifetime. Moreover, according to The Alzheimer's Association, one in eight people aged sixty-five and over has AD. AD has been termed as Type 3 Diabetes because the brains of individuals with this disease are deficient in and exhibit resistance to insulin. Individuals with Type 2 Diabetes are also at an increased risk of developing AD.
Despite the fact that some people may be at an increased risk for developing diseases of the brain, one of the best strategies to keep it performing at its peak is to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
Here are five, simple tips for a healthier body and brain:
1. Eat a balanced, whole-foods diet. A diet high in plant foods like vegetables and fruits provides a wealth of vitamins and minerals required to manufacture neurotransmitters and phytochemicals that keep our cells strong and alert, protect our DNA and other cell structures from oxidative damage. Vegetables and fruits can also reduce or prevent inflammation, which is important for healthy brain function. To ensure you're getting a variety of phytochemicals, eat from the colors of the rainbow on a daily basis.
Protein, especially amino acids such tryptophan and tyrosine are necessary for building brain chemicals. These can be found in animal products such as meats, eggs and dairy products as well as nuts, seeds, legumes and whole grains. Lastly, include the right kinds of fats in your diet such as saturated fats found in butter and coconut oil and monounsaturated fats in fatty fish, olive oil, avocados, walnuts and hempseeds. They are essential for maintaining healthy cell membranes which are vital to brain cell signaling.
2. Keep your gut healthy. Not only is it important to keep our intestinal tracts healthy to encourage proper digestion, a healthy immune system, and strong metabolism, but the bidirectional communication between our guts and our brains influences our moods and ensures a healthy stress response. People with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), for example, often suffer from anxiety and poor mood swings. Healing their guts helps to alleviate these conditions.
To keep your gut healthy and running smoothly, eat a balanced, whole foods diet with plenty of fiber and water. Replenish your bacterial flora regularly by eating cultured foods like yogurt, kefir, cultured vegetables, raw sauerkraut or kimchi. A probiotic supplement containing bifidobacterium and acidophilus will help to maintain or repopulate bacteria that may be lost due to a poor diet, stress, toxins or antibiotic use.
3. Cut out the sugar. In addition to acting as a source of empty calories, most sugars cause spikes in insulin that promote fat storage and can eventually lead to Type 2 Diabetes. Sugars also make the body work harder to maintain an alkaline pH, which can contribute to osteoporosis and disrupt the balance of beneficial bacteria in the gut.
Sugar also promotes inflammation and cardiovascular disease, accelerates the aging process, causes swings in energy and mood, as well as irritability and depression. To replace refined sugars, stick with naturally sweetened fruits that provide fiber and nutrients. Naturally sweet root vegetables like sweet potatoes, onions and beets also serve as an effective replacement for sugar. Use spices like cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger which help to regulate blood sugar.
4. Reduce your exposure to toxins. On any given day, we can be exposed to hundreds of toxins including car exhaust, BPA from canned foods, bottled water or cash register receipts. Unfortunately, pesticides and added chemicals in foods, as well as cleaning and personal care products also add toxins to our lives. Over time, they can accumulate in our fat cells, promote inflammation and may play a role in obesity and metabolic syndrome.
To minimize your exposure to toxins, avoid canned or processed foods and bottled water. Purchase organic produce, meats, and dairy products whenever possible and move towards using more natural or organically made soaps, shampoos, moisturizers and makeup. Also, consider periodically carrying out a metabolic detox to remove toxins at the cellular level.
5. Exercise. The same benefits that exercise provides to our bodies are experienced in our brains. Increased insulin sensitivity, decreased inflammation and an increase in oxygen sharpen our thinking, relieve stress and improve our moods. In fact, according to Dr. John Ratey in his book Spark, unlike anti-anxiety or anti-depressant medications, exercise naturally balances all of our brain chemicals, strengthens connections between brain cells.
This encourages the hippocampus, a brain region involved in learning and memory, to produce new brain cells. Include at least thirty minutes of exercise daily with a combination of cardio work, resistance training and stretching. Try yoga, pilates, recreational sports or take a walk. Even house or yard work will produce the benefits.
When combined with an active social life and additional stress reducing techniques, these lifestyle habits will keep our brains healthy and functioning well into old age.