A Healthy You

 
To be able to think clearly, you really need to be in a very good shape; body, mind and soul.
How you use your body will determine the performance of the brain. So part of the strategy is to learn how to look after yourself and your body.

We all know that the brain controls how the body functions, but at the same time everything and anything that happens inside your body affects the functions of the brain.
How you use your body, how you move, how you breath, what you eat, how you sleep,…etc it all has its effect on how the brain works.
Your brain depends on you to supply it with the nutrients it needs to work efficiently.
It depends on you to get its stamina as well as its rest, its sharpness and its powers.

 
1- Breathing

The way you breathe has a dramatic effect on the brain. It either enables the brain to think clearly, or not to think at all!

“ثلث لطعامك و ثلث لشرابك و ثلث لنفسك”
Breathing should be from the abdomen. You take the air in, into your stomach then up to your lungs!!!

If you watch a sleeping baby breathe, you will find that his/her tummy moves up and down as the baby inhales/exhales. This is how we should all breathe.
Taking the air in directly to your chest has a very negative effect on how your brain functions. It triggers a very harmful chain reaction!

One of the miracle tasks of the brain is regulating the energy consumption of the whole body.
When we are under stress, the brain gives its orders to cut short the circulation of air, no time for the air to go through your abdomen and up to your lungs, you need oxygen and you need it fast! (Note: you get the oxygen faster but in smaller quantities than in the longer circular)

This is the first reaction to stress, cutting short the circulation of air.

Then the brain – to preserve more energy- rearranges the flow of energy in your body, giving more to the parts that have to act during stress (legs, hands, and maybe throat if you need to yell :)) and stops the flow in other parts that does not have to face the urgent situation. Usually your Neo-Cortex (the part that you use to ‘think’) is the very first part to be turned off as it normally consumes over 30% of all of your energy.

The brain then releases (Cortisol) to keep you alert and active; charged up. However, excessive and prolonged Cortisol is harmful to the brain if it stays activated for long; it kills the dendrites (the branches of the brain cells that reach out to other neurons to gather and/or connect information), it also ruptures the brain cells and potentially killing them. Thoughts and emotions become more stiff and simple. Decisions will be difficult and tend to be very traditional and rigid. Creativity will be hard to reach.

Why am I telling you all of this?

When you breathe the air directly in to your lungs, you are constantly giving your brain the message that you are under stress; and your brain will start frantically releasing Cortisol and rearranging the flow of energy, cutting it off from your Neo-Cortex, and you will be unable to THINK!

(Useful tip for those who want to lose the excess weight around their mid-section; the brain stores the excess Cortisol around your abdomen. It works to stockpile your energy there, converting protein into glycogen and begins to store fat. This explains the growing bulge around your belly. Start breathing from your stomach and your brain will stop releasing Cortisol!)

 
2- Healthy Eating Habits

The types of food you eat affect your brain bio-chemistry. Your diet has a major impact on your brain’s ability to function properly; it affects how you pay attention, how you think, your memory formation, your creativity and problem solving ability, just to name a few.

 
Breakfast
Breakfast is indeed the most important meal of the day. It is the fuel of the brain.
Skipping breakfast costs the brain dearly.
Your problem solving ability decreases, your short-term memory is negatively affected as well as your attention and episodic memory. You have low energy and very low concentration.

Also, you are very likely to have mild depression and increased stress reactivity. And your Cortisol level increases causing you more anxiety and stress and you will sure experience a lot of mood swings.

Whereas, consuming a small balanced breakfast increases your problem solving ability, your Arithmetic skills and gives you vigilant attention.
An egg (very critical for memory), whole-grain toast, and juice will give you a head start!

Lunch
For lunch, eat a meal that is higher in protein than in carbohydrates. This will give you mental sharpness and more energy to face the rest of the day and contribute to less of a tired feeling in the afternoon. By consuming a lunch that is high in carbohydrates you decrease you ability to focus and pay attention, you will be unable to concentrate.

Dinner
Your dinner should be the opposite: higher in carbohydrates (complex of course) and lower in protein, to prepare you for bed. Consuming a lot of protein in the evening will deprive you from a good night sleep!

Your meals should be planned and timed, so your brain won’t be fooled to store energy. This will actually encourage your brain to burn undesired fats and wouldn’t mind thinking a lot. (Sometimes if your brain is uncertain when the next meal will be, it will be reluctant to think, in order to save energy for your body!)

You should also have two healthy snacks in between those meals. Again, to boost your energy level and to encourage your brain to burn more fats.

Drink plenty of water, because dehydration impairs cognition, motor coordination and mood.

Sugar
Glucose is the fuel of the brain.
Too little blood sugar will make you feel nervous, dizzy and light-headed, fatigued, weak and shaky.  Your ability to think clearly and maintaining balanced emotions will be compromised.  It also negatively affects your attention span, short term memory and your mood stability.

Consuming too much sugar can rupture the brain cell structure. It is correlated with poor memory, poor attention and aggressive behaviour. It increases the risk of depression, anxiety and memory loss.

High sugar intake is bad for your brain and results in significant impairment of your ability to think clearly, maintain even moods and behave effectively in social situations.
Keeping your blood sugar balanced and sustained is critical for your brain to function well.
Depend on fruits and natural juice as a source of glucose.

Coffee
Coffee can give a boost to your cognitive powers, and yes it makes you smarter 🙂
Caffeine can improve cognitive functions, including vigilance, learning, and memory and regulates your mood state.
But be moderate; it also has negative effects when consumed in large amounts. The optimal dose is 200 mg of caffeine (2 cups of coffee tops).
And avoid consuming it late in the evening!

 
Vitamins, Minerals and Amino Acids
You must eat a wide variety of food for more balanced brain chemistry.

The recent trend of healthy dieting that calls for a vegetarian and vegan diet did a lot of harm than good. In the last decade the number of brain disorders has increased dramatically due to these imbalanced eating habits.
A lot of people abandoned ‘Eggs’ for fear of cholesterol. By doing so, they are in high risk of memory problems and Alzheimer’s disease.
Also, avoiding eating lean red meat causes mental slowness and sluggishness, confusion, stammering, low alertness and reaction time, memory problems, slowness, depression, fatigue…etc

You really need to pay attention to what you eat, especially when you are at the final stages of your thinking process; when you have collected all the puzzle pieces and ready to put them together!

 
Make sure you include the following in your diet:
Eggs
Red meat (lean of course), Chicken, Turkey
Walnuts and Almonds
Peaches
Figs
Whole grains
Fish (Salmon if possible)
Apricots
Dairy products (Milk, Cheese, and Yoghurt)
Oats
Peanuts
Lentils
Green vegetables
Brown rice
 Needless to say that the quantity is also important, eating too little will deprive your brain from its energy, eating too much will busy it to regulate the biological tasks of digestion away from the mental tasks of thinking, analysing and drawing conclusions,….etc!

 
3-Exercise

It is well known that exercise is good for your heart. This is true, of course. But it greatly benefits your brain as well.

It doesn’t only break up the stress feedback loop of the brain, and prevent the damaging effects of chronic stress; keeping you calm, positive and energized. It also helps fortifying the infrastructure of the nerve cells by activating the genes that produce specific proteins that protect the cells from damage and disease (Increases the molecular processes that sharpen cognition and memory).

It is amazing how the flow of ideas sky rockets during and after a good exercise!

There is abundant evidence that exercise helps you learn. After you finish the exercise, the blood shifts back to your frontal lobes –the centre of executive functions- and you get increased capacity to focus!

It is worth mentioning here that, even just thinking about exercise activates the same neuronal systems in your brain.  The same parts of the brain are activated during mental practice and actual physical practice! (Great news, huh?!!!!!)

 
4-Pay Attention (Exercise your Brain)

Attention is critical for a healthy brain.
A lot of people suffer from scattered attention and thus, unable to go deeply in their thinking.
The ability to notice, capture and hold a thought in your head, to lock it in and investigate it deeper and wider is determined by your ability to pay attention.
Excessive consumption of television and other media forms affects your attention and working memory, and contribute to brain disorders.

Your ability to concentrate on the task at hand will be compromised and you will have a tendency to do things mindlessly and habitually.
You will be unable to pay attention to your greatness when it starts to unfold in front of your eyes!

Pay attention, focus and concentrate and widen your scope of awareness every time you do a task.
It is a skill, so use the muscles and practice maintaining sustained attention and making complex decisions. This will improve your ability to solve problems and make complicated decisions.

Stay intellectually active. Read non fictional books, engage in constructive discussions, do routine tasks differently, notice new things in familiar places. Meditate.

 
5-Sleeping

A good night sleep is critical for the maintenance of the body and the brain. Sleep boosts your immune system and is important to your overall health.
Sleep loss leads to weight gain. Craving starchy, high-carbohydrate foods, sweets and other high calorie foods is associated with sleep deprivation.

Sleep deprivation compromise attention, new learning and memory. The new stem cells that fired inside your brain during the day grow to become neurons during sleep; giving you the ability to arrive at new insights! Sleep deprivation impairs the ability of these stem cells to grow and become new neurons. Also, sleep is essential for memory formation; the experiences of the day are reactivated and consolidated during sleep.

Both the quality and quantity (how many hours) of sleep are important for a proper functioning of the brain. You should be able to move through all stages of sleep without interruption.

If you complain about the quality of your sleep, some shifts in your life style will certainly help you overcome this problem. Exercising three to six hours before bedtime improves your sleep. Proper diet also enhances the quality of your sleep (consuming too much protein before bedtime is associated with poor sleep). Also, heavy meals in general will negatively affect your sleep. Good light exposure during the day, and soft light a few hours before bedtime will prepare you for a good night’s sleep (avoid using your computer in the late evening- I know fighting temptation is difficult but do it for your brain :)) Poor air quality and warm bedrooms contribute to poor quality sleep, so keep your bedroom cool. Avoid caffeine consumption in the late evening. And dump all nicotine consumption!

As for the quantity, no less than 5 hours and trust me, no more than 8!!!!

Over sleeping will not give you more energy or alertness!

Sleep early and wake up early too; (from 10 am – 3 am is ideal)
From around 10:30-11:00 pm until around 1:00 am, the brain starts to renew its cells and rewire itself, so it is best if you are in the stage of deep sleep when that happens. In deep sleep you produce slow brain waves; ‘delta waves’ which is the best mode for rewiring and learning!

The last two hours of the night, some cosmic changes take place that positively affect your brain and you really need to be awake to get the whole benefits. Those changes facilitate your brain to produce ‘alpha waves’. When you meditate قيام اليل these two hours, your sympathetic part of your autonomic nervous system; which is responsible for the fight or flight response tones down. You will have more control over your feelings, thoughts and behaviour afterwards. And you activate your parasympathetic nervous system; the one responsible for calming you down allowing you a more relaxed state of mind; thus empowering your Neo-Cortex. This increases the efficiency of large groups of neurons that fire together to wire together; allowing your brain to produce very powerful types of focused brain activity. You will find relations between what might have been unrelated; you start to get answers, you can draw conclusions and really really understand!!!

You will experience a lot of ‘Aha’ moments during that time. Do not go back to sleep 🙂

Do Not Go Back To Sleep.

 

6-Positive Feeling, Thinking and Attitude

You may have convinced yourself into believing that ‘Being Positive’ is an area you have no control of. Nothing is more false!

You have total control over how you feel, think and behave.

First, it comes with heightened awareness of how you are actually feeling, thinking and behaving. Then a conscious decision to feel and think and behave the way you want!

‘Negatives’ harm you and your body. ‘Negatives’ damage you and your brain! (Negative feelings, thinking and attitude indeed damage the brain by killing the dendrites and rupturing neurons inside your brain)
Try -and try hard- to get rid of all the ‘negatives’ inside of you; all ugliness and limitations, barriers and restrictions.

Make the choice!

Love your family and friends, embrace and enjoy them. Open your heart to people and to life. Feel gratitude and choose laughter and humour over dullness, enjoyment and excitement over boredom. Choose compassion and empathy over jealousy and menace, and love over hate.

Choose calmness and serenity over anger and anxiety, happiness over sadness.
Think about possibilities not limitations.
Smile!
Choose busyness over idleness, engagement over avoidance. Ambition and curiosity over ‘It is all the same’ and ‘it doesn’t really matter’. Believe you can make a difference.
Behave rightly, help others. Choose to do the good thing.
Clear the way for all your beauty and greatness to bubble up to your awareness.
Love, dream and take action!
It is good for your physical and mental health; it is good for your brain!

 
7- Believe in God

Nothing benefits the brain more than believing in God, thinking about Him and contemplating over the spiritual practices.

God can change the brain; literally.

The more we think about God, the more the neural circuitry and thus, the neural functioning are altered and enhanced in ways that improve physical, mental and emotional health.

Contemplating God will change your brain, but I want to point out that meditating on other grand themes will also change your brain. If you contemplate the Big Bang, or immerse yourself in the study of evolution- or choose to play a musical instrument, for that matter- you will change the neural circuitry in ways that enhance your cognitive health. But religious and spiritual contemplation changes your brain in a profoundly different way because it strengthens a unique neural circuit that specifically enhances social awareness and empathy while subduing destructive feelings and emotions’ How God Changes your Brain, Andrew Newberg and Mark Waldman

Since it is such an important as well as very interesting topic; I rather discuss it separately. Please go to Meditation in Islam.