Our attitude toward health has never been more holistic—it seems like Western culture is finally syncing with its Eastern neighbours, as our approach focuses more and more on prevention rather than cures. It also means that rather than simply looking after our immune systems, we're now employing a more 360-degree approach to wellness, covering everything from our guts, our hearts and more recently, our brains.
"Health doesn't mean the absence of illness anymore," states neuropsychologist Dr. Amy Serin. "Nowadays people are looking for more ways to feel satisfied, more joyful, more mindful and basically to experience their daily life differently." And she's undoubtedly witnessed a massive change in the way we view brain health. "I think that there's a new emerging neuroscience that's making its way into the mainstream, covering everything from brain-training games and software to brain stimulation devices," she explains. "And this has us all thinking about how we can improve our own brain functioning."
It's a thought that has crossed our minds countless times too, and so we asked Dr. Serin (who's also the co-founder and chief science officer of a pretty insane stress-relieving device—more on that later) to share four easy ways to care for our brains every single day.
Eat more omega-3s
We all know that the things we ingest through our diet have a big impact on the functioning of our bodies—so is there anything we might be missing? "When it comes to supplementing the diet, I wouldn't recommend a one-size-fits-all approach," reveals Dr. Serin. "But if I were to make a general recommendation, most of us fail to get the right ratio of essential fatty acids."
Basically, we're ingesting too many omega-6s (which you find in flaxseed, nuts and pumpkin seeds) and not enough omega-3s (found in cold water high-fat fish, dark leafy greens and avocado). "The fatty sheath that coats neurons is called myelin, and the smooth transition of electrical signals is dependent on that sheath being made of the right compositions of fats. If you have too many omega-6s, it sends the body and the brain into inflammation, which means brain function is far from optimised," explains Dr. Serin.
You can get more of those healthy omega-3s through uncooked olive, grape-seed and avocado oils, and coconut oil is thought to have a beneficial effect on brain health too. But just because an oil is plant-based doesn't mean it's healthy—lots of oils, such as corn oils, are high in omega-6s, so we need to control our intake of those.
First and foremost, get more sleep
Before even considering any form of brain training, Dr. Serin wants us to take things back to basics. "Brain training can range from a puzzle app on your phone all the way up to neuro feedback and neuro modulation exercises that we do in our clinics, but I think we tend to complicate things a little," she explains. "The most important thing that people can do to optimise their brain health is to get enough sleep." And while we all know how hard that is, it makes sense that a tired brain just isn't ever going to work to its full capacity. "Meditation, yoga, exercise and learning some kind of novel skill are all important, but sleep and healthy behaviours are the base of the pyramid—you need to start there."
Try progressive muscle relaxation
Need some help in the sleep department? We've got plenty of advice here, but Dr. Serin has some words of wisdom too. "For a lot of people breathing can help when trying to sleep but if you're really stressed out, it's often the last thing you think of, and you actually can't even get those deep breaths in if your nervous system is too active," says Dr. Serin. We've all been there, right?
But, there is an answer: progressive muscle relaxation. "What you do is tense up all your muscles while you inhale, hold it for a moment and release as you exhale. You can start with your toes and add on muscle groups until your entire body is tensed. The whole process will take between five and 10 minutes," Dr. Serin suggests.
Try the Touch Point device
Like a FitBit for the brain, the Touch Point (£122) is a two-part wearable tech device that helps the brain deal with stress—Dr. Serin is the neuropsychologists behind its inception and development.
"Stress turns on like a light switch and turns off more like a dimmer switch—i.e., much more slowly," explains Dr. Serin. "But we've found a way to turn it off more instantly with these devices. They provide a sensory over-ride, giving off static micro vibrations that integrate themselves into the network inside the brain that decides what to do in stressful situations."
Sounds good, right? "It's not a conscious network—you don't even know it's happening—but when you wear the Touch Points, they can actively pull your brain out of a stressful state. Our data shows that it removes 70% off stress in 30 seconds," says Dr. Serin.
Plus, they can help you go on feeling less stressed throughout the day, says Dr. Serin: "Once you've lowered your stress and enter a calmer state, your baseline is lower, so as you go about your day, you're less likely to get irritated or stressed out."
So, when it comes to brain health, it's pretty apparent that we needn't make things complicated. Just be cautious of stress, and employ these tactics to help control it.