39: Building A Badass Brain Pt. 2: Seven Ways to Supercharge Your Brain and Optimise Cognitive Function, Focus & Memory


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In the first part of this ‘Building A Badass Brain’ series, I shared how to begin mastering your brain from a more psychological perspective.

If you missed that, I highly recommend you check that out here as it’s been one of the most popular podcast episodes so far.

But today, I want to look at the other side of the coin and consider the more physiological side of brain performance.

So rather than simply looking at our thoughts and why we tend to ‘self-sabotage’ in some areas of our lives, I want to look at how we can rev up our brain and get it functioning and performing at the very highest level.

This means better focus, higher productivity, clearer and quicker thoughts and better decision making as well as the longer term benefit of reducing the risk of brain diseases like Alzheimer’s and dementia.

It’s obviously a pretty big subject.

So to make it easier to consume, I’ve put this article into 10 simple action points you can start doing right now to start improving your brain function.

#1 Improve Your Gut Health

Believe it or not, your brain is intimately connected to your gut.

In fact, the gut has its very own nervous system, known as the enteric nervous system, that has a direct connection to the brain via the vagus nerve.

Now you would be forgiven for thinking that the brain is always the guy in charge and the gut is mostly receiving directions and signals from the brain.

But the opposite is actually true, with the gut more commonly relaying and sending information to the brain up the vagus nerve.

What Does This Mean?

Well, essentially, the gut and gut flora are responsible for synthesising various vital neurotransmitters and sending signals to the brain.

One of these vital neurotransmitters is serotonin, which is a main player in helping us stay in a positive mood and fighting depressive disorders.

Studies suggest that the vast majority of our body’s serotonin is actually produced in the gut and passed up to the brain via the vagus nerve.

So your gut health (or potential lack of gut health) has a monumental role on your serotonin levels, and, therefore, your propensity to feel low, apathetic and depressed. Not good for brain health and performance!

Simply improving your gut health has been shown by several studies to improve brain health, emotional processing and all-round wellbeing. (1, 2, 3)

Action Steps

So a healthy gut, means a healthier balance of good bacteria in there, means a greater ability to synthesise the required neurotransmitters (including serotonin) and the brain is better equipped to do its job and function optimally.

In short, better gut, better brain.

I know this is easier said than done (and is something I will cover in much more depth in a future blog post/podcast), but some strategies you could start implementing right now are:

  • Cutting out ‘usual suspects’ to gut problems, i.e. gluten, dairy, soy and processed foods, for at least a week and judge how you feel. Add them back in one-by-one and see if any give you particular jip.
  • Consuming fermented foods, such as sauerkraut, kefir (if dairy is cool with you), pickled vegetables or kimchi.
  • Consider a good quality probiotic supplement that ideally has a pre-biotic built in there too.
#2 Optimise Your ‘Neuroplasticity’

Your brain has an unbelievable ability to rewire, reorganise and heal itself by building new and different neuro-connections throughout our entire life.

This ability is known as ‘neuroplasticity’.

It’s how we learn new skills, take on new knowledge and entrain new behaviours as well as heal and build new neuro-connections around blockages that occur as a result of trauma and damage.

In this sense, your brain is a bit like a muscle.

If you train it, then you will have a greater ability to utilise ‘neuro-plasticity’.

Improved learning ability, sharper reactions and, should it come to it, an optimised ability to repair and regenerate itself.

Action Steps

This ‘training’ of the brain comes as a direct result of placing it in new situations and environments.

If you spend all day looking at the same scenery, staring into the same computer screen and doing pretty much the same things over and over, then your brain will become ‘weak’.

Just as a muscle would fail to get stronger if you lifted the same weight every day, your brain fails to get stronger if you don’t ‘test’ it with new situations and environments.

You can quite simply train your bran with puzzles and ‘brain games’.

But a greater way to do it is by making a commitment to regularly do something you’ve never done before.

Whether it’s rock climbing, jet-skiing, playing tennis or whatever!

If you consistently seek out the learning of new skills, your brain will reward you!

#3 Fuel Your Brain Right

Your brain is mostly made up of fat and water.

This means providing it with a healthy array of dietary fats as well as staying well hydrated are key components in fuelling it properly.

But let’s go a little deeper than simply saying ‘drink more water, eat more fat’ (because, you know, I like to do that ;) ).

Hydration For Brain Health

First off, it’s imperative that you get enough water for your body size on a daily basis.

It’s not secret that staying hydrated is key for general health as well as cognitive performance (4, 5).

But It’s no good going off the standard, generalised advice of ‘two litres a day’ or ‘eight glasses a day’ if your body requires more or less than that.

So basing your daily water intake off the current size of your body is the most logical way forward.

I like to use the simplicity of drinking half your body weight (lbs) in fl oz every day, which is an equation suggested in Dr Feyredoon Batmanghelidj’s amazing book, Your Body’s Many Cries For Water.

Many of my clients have found this one step to be extremely powerful in making them feel and perform better in as little as 24 hours!

Fats For Brain Health

The brain likes to run on glucose as its primary fuel source.

However, our ‘standard’ high carbohydrate diets have seen occurrences of there being so much glucose available that the brain begins to fail to metabolize glucose effectively, as suggested by a University of Coimbra Centre for Neuroscience and Biology study.

In fact, the evidence linking cognitive impairment to poor glucose regulation is so strong that some researchers have taken to calling Alzheimer’s disease “type 3 diabetes”.

Moving into a state of ‘ketosis’ (where you either fast or go so low on your carbohydrate intake that you start running on ketones as an alternative to glucose) has been shown by Sherbrooke University in Quebec to improve brain and cognitive function.

Now most people aren’t prepared to eat the restrictive diet required to live in a state of ketosis.

But you can elevate your blood ketone levels even in the absence of severe carbohydrate restriction with regular consumption of medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs).

Several studies have shown that MCTs do elevate blood ketone levels, resulting in improved cognitive performance (6, 7).

MCTs are readily available in coconut oil, but you can also get isolated MCT oils too.

Another Fat to Mention

Omega-3 fats also deserve their own special mention as well as they are integral in supporting brain health.

They play a vital role in building brain cell membranes, reducing brain inflammation and promoting new brain cell formation.

If you’re struggling to do this optimally, then it can play a vital role in diminished cognitive function and performance as well as incidences of depression, anxiety, dementia and other brain disorders.

So ensuring you’re consuming Omega-3 fats regularly is another way of fuelling your brain in the best way possible.

Action Steps

  • Use the equation to work out your daily amount of water required to keep you hydrated.
  • See how you feel with a lower (but not crazy low) carbohydrate diet, and consider a daily dose of coconut oil or MCT oil to encourage ketone body build up in the blood.
  • Get your daily dose of Omega-3 fats via things like walnuts, fatty fish and even a fish/krill oil supplement.
#4 Sleep Your Way to A Better Brain

Of course sleep is important!

As with every other cell in your body, it’s where your brain repairs, regenerates and replenishes itself to come back stronger the next day.

It’s where you ‘connect the dots’ and turn short term memories into long term memories so you can put into long term storage the knowledge you acquire each day.

And it’s also the time when your brain’s own detoxification system, the glymphatic system, has been shown to be 10x more active.

In short, this means if you’re not sleeping right then you are leaving waste products and toxins in and around your brain that it would prefer to not be there, leaving you open to reduced performance and long term damage.

All in all, better sleep means better cognitive performance, energy, learning ability and decision making as well as reducing the risk of mental and brain disorders in the longer term.

I did an entire ‘Sleep Masterclass’ as episode #31 of the podcast with attached blog. Rather than go into all that again here, check that out by clicking here.

#5 Use Brain Healthy Herbs & Spices

Believe it or not, herbs and spices can have amazing benefits for the body.

Now I want to be real about this… a sprinkle of something here and there in between meals of hot dogs and mac and cheese is going to do nothing.

But there are a few things that can have real benefits for the brain as added extras to the foundational principles of healthy eating, hydration, brain training and sleep.

So here are the main ones I want to mention:

  • Turmeric’s active ingredient, curcumin, is a fantastic benefit to the brain with awesome antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties (8, 9). Other compounds in turmeric have been shown to help the brain repair its own cells. Easily found in curry, you can also add turmeric to a salad or your morning eggs.
  • Although not technically a herb or spice, garlic is very powerful condiment or flavouring (or whatever you want to call it) that thins the blood to help prevent blood clots. It contains compounds thought to protect neurons from injury and disease by stimulating the production of chemicals that help cells withstand stress.
  • Several studies have shown the positive effects of sage extract when it comes to brain function and memory, both in health people of all ages and in those who already show symptoms of Alzheimer’s (10, 11, 12, 13).
#6 Exercise For A Healthier Brain

Turns out exercise make you feel and perform better.

Yup, who knew?

Neurogenesis (the growth and development of nervous tissue) has been shown to be induced by exercise, particularly in the hippocampus (14).

This means exercise has a direct positive effect on not just our heart, lungs, muscles, etc., but also our brain health too.

So regular exercise can help maintain and improve cognitive function, memory, productivity, neurological repair and positively affect emotions and conditions like depression and anxiety.

Action Steps

Move in some way on a daily basis!

#7 Meditation For A Better Brain

I’m not going to go on about this too long because, like exercise, the benefits of meditation are now pretty well known.

That’s not to discredit it at all – it is still vitally important.

But I don’t want to go over information that you’ve already heard over and over again.

Studies have now shown that regular meditation actually positively changes the brain in a physical way (15), meaning meditation actually ‘does stuff’ and isn’t all about just being part of the ‘meditation clique’.

However, it other studies have also revealed that meditation directly benefits cognitive function, learning ability, memory processing and emotion regulation (16).

In short, meditation is real and has real benefits for your brain health in the long run as well as your performance and happiness in the shorter term.

Action Step

It can be hard to start meditating if you’ve never done it before.

And once you start it can be hard to keep it up because you may not ‘notice’ the benefits straightaway.

So I recommend just taking 10 minutes each morning before you do anything else to simply sit in silence.

If you’re still struggling, try using Brain.fm (which is what I use) or the Headspace iPhone app.

The Take Away

There are a lot of things we can do to control and master this thing between our ears, whether it be from a more 'mindset' place that I lay out in part one of this blog or the more physiological side here.

In all honesty, however, your brain will respond positively by simply looking after it as you would everything else.

So building a foundation of health from the inside out will truly allow you to set your brain on fire and be the focussed, productive and happy person you want to be.

Take a listen to the podcast episode for this blog post via the player at the top.

Or head over to iTunes and subscribe there for Apple lovers, and over on Stitcher for non-Apple peeps.

Love, Laughter & Light, Mike

P.S. If you haven’t done so already, click here to join my Facebook group and engage with all the other dudes and dudettes in the Enlightened Entrepreneurial Badasses tribe!

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