4 Back to School Brain-Boosting Tips from a Neuroscientist
Back-to-school. Even for those who aren’t students or teachers, work tends to slow down in the summertime and things get a little more relaxed in the office. And then all of a sudden, we go from 0 to 100 real quick come September. Deadlines, due dates, meetings, proposals…it’s a lot for our brains to readjust to.
One way to recover from this summer brain drain is to ensure our brain health is in check. Here’s a few brain tips for students and non-students alike heading into September!
Feed Your Brain
Nutrition is key. What we eat doesn’t just affect our waistline—our food affects the chemical environment our brain sits in, which influences how we feel, think and act. Brain areas that control our mood and energy levels are highly influenced by our dietary intake.
It’s recommended to avoid high-sugar and high-salt foods as these can be toxic for the brain. Processed fast-foods are typical culprits. High-sugar foods cause a spike in our insulin (a hormone that responds to sugar) and while this immediately increases our alertness and cognitive abilities, it’s short-lived as insulin quickly crashes and we feel drained.
Look for healthy snacks that allow for sustained energy instead like Genuine Health Fermented Protein Bars—these are full of satiating protein while still being sweet enough to curb that sweet tooth away from unhealthy baked goods. Suzie’s Good Fat Bars also provide lots of energy and are high in healthy fats that are great for your brain.
Also invest time in making your own breakfast and pack a lunch to avoid the temptation of eating something brain draining on your lunch break. No one should be having a donut break and expect to work productively after! Try making a smoothie to take on the go and add brain-boosting nutrients like chia seeds, avocado, walnuts, or frozen wild blueberries!
Protect Your Brain
The best way to modulate stress is to prepare for it before it even happens! Increasing antioxidants in our diet and taking an omega-3 fatty-acid supplement may help buffer the effects of stress. Adaptogens have also shown to help modulate the effects of stress—try adding ashwagandha to your next smoothie!
Another way to help protect your brain from stress is through a practice of mindfulness. Try a simple 5-minute meditation practice in the morning after your wake-up or mid-day on your lunch break. Apps like Headspace are awesome for learning how to meditate. A practice of mindfulness has incredible benefits on your brain health and can help you focus throughout your work day.
Move Your Brain
When our day is jammed packed with classes, meetings, and appointments, sometimes the last thing we want to do it go to the gym. But exercise has a powerful positive impact on our brain. Exercise actually helps grow the brain areas responsible for memory and learning, and can and can improve our productivity, reaction time, energy and overall mood.
If you can’t get to a gym or a yoga studio, just try walking for twenty minutes after work (try getting off the subway a stop early!) or before bed every night. Any form of physical activity can significantly improve your brain health.
Rest Your Brain
When our brain is go-go-go all day long, we need to recover. Memories and lessons learned during the day need to be consolidated in our sleep. This allows the brain to re-wire and is necessary for information to be retained.
If you need a little help getting a good night sleep, try taking a magnesium supplement before bed and minimizing blue light exposure from your phones, tablets, and smart TV at least one hour before bed.
Unfortunately, there is no “limitless” pill that exists but with a little extra self-care, you can feel confident knowing you have all the brain power you need to start school or work again in the fall. Just remember:
- Fuel your brain with nutrition (that means low-sugar, unprocessed foods!);
- Protect your brain (try a few supplements and a mindfulness practice);
- Move your brain every day; and
- Rest your brain with lots of sleep!
Now let’s go put that grey-matter to work! You got this!
Julia Hamer is neuroscientist at St. Michael’s Hospital, a lecturer at the University of Toronto, a keynote speaker and a leader in the fitness, health & wellness community. As a former professional athlete for Team Canada beach volleyball, Julia brings a wealth of knowledge in high performance living and uses brain science to help educate, inspire and motivate others into living an optimal and fulfilling life.