How to Improve Your Brain Function

Have you ever walked into a room and forgotten what you had come to do there? Or stared at a page for ages without taking in a single word? How about finding it impossible to learn a new number? Or wracking your brain to come up with a new idea?

Don’t worry! It’s quite normal. But as you age, and the brain shrinks in volume, these incidents might become more frequent. Worse, cognitive disorders like dementia could show up.

Don’t despair yet. You can keep your brain young and healthy. It doesn’t require you to do anything out of the ordinary. It’s enough to make sure you are eating, working out, and doing activities that are suited to you. When we say suited to you, it means something that’s good for your innate metabolic personality – the factor that shapes how you think, learn, remember, focus, and react. What is your innate metabolic personality?

1. Challenge Your Brain Anew

No matter what your innate metabolic personality, that is whether you have a sharp brain, a creative mind, or an elephant’s memory, keep working on your brain. Don’t let it stagnate with familiar, routine, and easy activities. Do new things so that new nerve networks are formed and you keep expanding the limits of your smartness. It could be solving a new kind of puzzle or learning a new language – anything that makes you watch closely, wrack your brains, devise shortcuts or memory aids – as well as activities that coordinated movement of your limbs, like sketching, painting, clay modeling, or dancing.

  • Light and Quick: Since you have a wandering mind and a small attention span, start with a puzzle that begins on a moderately easy note. Build your eye for detail by painting or sketching.
  • Slow and Steady: Prod your brain into thinking up more than one way of solving the puzzle. Dancing is a good activity for you since it will also serve as exercise. Whatever you do, set a deadline.
  • Intense: Learning a new language in a goal-oriented way is up your alley.

2. Eat the Right Foods and Herbs

You are what you eat. If you’ve ever had a brain fog after feasting on a plate of pasta or felt your mood lift after chomping down on chocolates, you know the connection between your food and your mood. But food’s effects range farther than just mood. Several nutrients found in food also have different roles in maintaining brain function.

  • Complex carbs like in starchy fruits and vegetables provide energy to the brain.
  • Omega-3 fats (especially DHA) found in fatty fish and in nuts (ALA) help build brain and nerve cells.
  • Proteins found in wild-caught fish, organic eggs, free-range poultry, and grass-fed dairy help in making neurotransmitters, a special group of nerve chemicals that transmits signals through your body.
  • Antioxidants found in colorful fruits and veggies protect the nerves and brain cells from daily damage.
  • Vitamin B12 found in dairy, eggs, and white button mushrooms maintains nerve health.
  • Vitamin D in sufficient amount keeps off depression.

That apart, chocolate, beverages like coffee and green tea, and certain nootropic (brain-boosting) herbs could help. While planning your diet, choose the brain-healthy foods that suit your metabolic personality. Here’s a short but handy list of foods, spices, and herbs.

  • Light and Quick: salmon, sardines, eggs, pumpkin seeds, turmeric, blueberries, oranges, walnuts, almonds, brahmi, guggulu, nutmeg, black pepper, and devadaru
  • Slow and Steady: eggs, pumpkin seeds, turmeric, broccoli, blueberries, brahmi, guggulu, nutmeg, black pepper, and devadaru
  • Intense: eggs, pumpkin seeds, turmeric, broccoli, almonds, and brahmi

No matter what your innate metabolic personality, avoid smoking. People who smoke have been found to have more age-related decline in brain function than those who don’t.

3. Sleep Well and on Time

This is a no-brainer, if you remember how you feel after pulling an all-nighter. Lack of sleep can make you feel fuzzy, unfocused, slow, and forgetful. Sadly, oversleeping too can affect you in much the same way. Since metabolic imbalance often causes sleep problems, start with balancing them by following a proper routine.

  • Light and Quick: Since you tend to have fragmented sleep, eat an early well-cooked dinner, engage in calming activities in the evening, and hit the bed by 9.30 pm.
  • Slow and Steady: Since you are naturally lethargic, eat light, stay physically active through the day, and hit the bed a little after 10 pm.
  • Intense: Since you tend to be a scanty sleeper, eat an early but moderately heavy dinner, meditate before bed, and sleep by 10 pm.

Here’s a more detailed sleep routine suited to you.

4. Stay Active with Exercise and Yoga

Exercise helps your brain in more ways than one. By improving blood circulation, it sends more oxygen and nutrients to your brain cells. It also lowers stress and anxiety by releasing mood-lifting chemicals.

Studies have found that areas of the brain that control thinking and memory have greater volume (which means more efficient) in people who exercise. Exercise is especially good for you if you have a predominantly slow and steady metabolic personality since an imbalance makes you prone to depression. But if you are a light and quick or an intense type, rein in your enthusiasm and steer clear of over-exercising.

  • Light and Quick: You need a light exercise routine that helps you stay grounded, warm, and steady. Anything rhythmic is good for you. Try yoga, walking, and medium-paced dancing. Also do strength training exercises to build up stamina. Yoga asanas such as forward bend and child’s pose that compress or work the lower abdomen are good for you. Keep varying your exercise routine because you get bored quickly.
  • Slow and Steady: You need to get moving. Any fast-paced cardio exercise that gets your heart rate up and makes you sweat is a good choice. Try brisk walking, running, aerobics, and dancing. While you have sturdy bones, habitual inactivity can affect your muscles. So also focus on strengthening exercises. Fast-paced sun salutations are good to keep you going.
  • Intense: You need to avoid anything that makes you feel hot. Don’t work out to your maximum capability or in the sun. Rather than hitting the gym, engage in friendly sports. Try water sports as well. Yoga asanas like cobra pose and camel pose that extend your navel and solar plexus area are helpful for you.

5. Practice Deep Breathing and Meditation

You probably already take a few deep breaths before you plunge into a challenging situation. Some of you may also take a few minutes off, close the eyes, and try to clear the mind when too many thoughts run through your mind. In short, you have already experienced the benefits of controlled breathing (pranayama) and meditation. Modern science is catching up. Studies suggest that if meditation improves your memory, learning, and concentration and reduces stress, fear, and anxiety. Controlled breathing too can activate different areas of your brain and make you more alert or more relaxed. Needless to say, not all types of meditation and pranayama are suitable for you. Choose those that balance you. Otherwise, you’ll either force yourself into a joyless routine or give up pretty soon, or worse, aggravate your anxiety or lethargy.

  • Light and Quick: Meditation helps release your anxiety, fills you with a sense of peace, calm, and balance, and strengthens your immunity. So far so good, but the challenge is that you find it difficult to sit still. Take a slow walk to use up some of your nervous energy before you meditate. When you sit, use a back support and keep yourself warm. Start with alternate nostril breathing (nadi shodhana) which is rhythmic and soothing. You can do this anytime you feel stressed. If you are doing this as a nighttime routine before bed, or have some time in hand, move on to meditation. Focus on images of lakes, oceans, mountains, and fire. You may need to chant a mantra or use an affirmation to keep your senses engaged. Don’t force your restless mind to stop wandering. Simply bring it back to the image or the mantra when you become aware of it wandering.
  • Slow and Steady: Meditation helps relieve you of your excessive emotional attachments and lethargy. But the challenge is that it also makes you sleepy. Do some light exercises before you sit down to keep yourself alert and energetic. Do not take a back rest. Alternate meditation with bellows breath (bhastrika) to keep the energy flowing and to get rid of congestion. If you focus on an image, let it be of fire, wind, or a clear sky. Walking meditation is also good to work off your lethargy. As you walk, focus on the movement of your feet and the sensation on the sole of your feet.
  • Intense: Meditation helps you release your anger and aggression and improve digestion. But your challenge is that you typically use the time for meditation to plan, organize, or problem-solve, and meditation itself becomes a time-bound project. Take a cold bath before you sit down to meditate. Practice the cooling breath (sheetali) before you meditate. As you start meditating, take even breaths and focus on images of lakes, forests, or a blue sky.

6. Work on Your Weaknesses

When it comes to brain function and mental health, each metabolic personality has some strong and some weak points. But when you are not in balance, your weaknesses become more pronounced. For instance, when not in balance, those with a light and quick personality will forget things more easily.

The way out is to engage in activities that keep you in balance and mitigate some of your weaknesses.

  • Light and Quick: Since memory is a weak point, start with improving your observation skills. Observe a few features (say 5) of everyone you meet or some details on the road you are traveling. Gradually, observe more and try to recall more. Mental maths can also help you focus and remember better.
  • Slow and Steady: Motivation is a weak point for you, so start by setting small achievable goals and work your way up. Set deadlines. Give yourself rewards.
  • Intense: Imbalance aggravates irritability and jealousy in you. So work on being less competitive and try to stay nonjudgmental. Calming activities like meditation and reading funny books are helpful. Avoid anything that is emotionally draining.

7. Be Mindful of Your Mind

When not in balance, everyone becomes disposed toward certain mental health issues, which further affect their brain health. For instance, people with a slow and steady metabolic personality are prone to depression, while those with light and quick and intense personalities are prone to burnouts and anxiety. So it’s essential that you catch the early signs and get yourself back on track.

Starting to Feel Burnt Out? Take a Break

Energy and attention are a limited resource. And when you have to invest them in too many things for a long period of time, burnouts are inevitable. Take a break! Sleep, catch up with your hobbies, book yourself a short vacation, and say bye to electronic media. Eat what you like – just make sure they are not all refined carbs and sugar and you are eating some amount of fresh fruits, veggies, healthy fats, and protein to regain your health. Experiment with herbs and spices for an antioxidant boost. If you think you need something for stress, have adaptogenic (rejuvenating) herbs like brahmi, jatamansi, and kapikacchu.

Feeling Blue and Dark Inside? Stay Purposefully Active

It’s not at all bad to feel depressed once in a while. It only shows you are human and have that beautiful human quality called “empathy.” Having depression, however, is a different thing. It could last months and make major changes in your brain – for instance, it shrinks up areas of the brain involved with memory and emotional response. It’s essential for you to recognize your tendency for depression and its early signs. Depression is more common in people with a slow and steady metabolic personality. Some of the early signs are:

  • Extreme mood swings: You may be fine one moment and weeping the next, often without any direct trigger. You may also feel sad all the time.
  • Lack of motivation or interest: You wake up in the morning and look forward to nothing, not even things or people you liked before. Nothing matters.
  • Slowness and lethargy: You just cannot push yourself enough to get anything done. Even tiny everyday tasks take a long time.
  • Fatigue: Everything wears you out, even your daily routine. All you want is to sit quietly or sleep. Yet, sleep doesn’t relieve you of the tiredness.
  • Feeling of guilt, shame, or worthlessness: You feel you are just not good enough or you are not doing enough. You may even contemplate suicide.

Apart from these, you could also notice a change in your appetite, digestion, sleep, and dream.

Severe clinical depression may require medication. But there are things you could do to help yourself.

  • Look for the root cause and address it as well as you can.
  • Exercise. It releases mood-boosting hormones. It could also tire you and keep off negative thoughts. Meditate and practice mindfulness.
  • Eat foods containing omega-3 fats and proteins. Add spices like black pepper and nutmeg.
  • Have herbs like ashwagandha, brahmi, jatamansi, and shankhapushpi.
  • Stay off caffeine and alcohol.
  • Take some time off and go for a vacation.

Always Worried? Fix Yourself a Routine

Anxiety is not always a bad thing. It can often be the push you need to get things done well and on time. Your body knows how to adapt to a stress to an extent. The extent, however, depends on your metabolic personality. It is what determines whether you get angry, restless, or depressed when faced with stress.

Feeling anxious before a major event is quite natural for someone with a light and quick metabolic personality. This is known as state anxiety, and it can be controlled with regular meditation, deep breathing, and calming activities.

However, feeling anxious all the time (something called trait anxiety) about important events as well as matters that might seem trivial to most people is an anomaly. When this is experienced for at least 6 months, it is diagnosed as generalized anxiety disorder. You experience symptoms like:

  • Nausea
  • Sweating
  • Palpitation
  • Dizziness
  • Lightheadedness
  • Fatigue
  • Lack of concentration
  • Racing thoughts or unclear thoughts
  • Trembling

Anxiety makes it difficult for you to perform daily activities. These in turn make your anxiety worse. So first, you need to fix a routine without being too tough on yourself.

  • Try yoga asanas like bridge pose, camel pose, cat pose, and bow pose.
  • Go jogging or running.
  • Practice alternate nostril breathing.
  • Meditate. It’ll get easier.
  • Eat at regular intervals and try herbs like ashwagandha, bay leaf, and brahmi.
  • Sleep at a regular time every night. Practice the sleep hygiene mentioned above for delayed and interrupted sleep.

However, if you find it difficult to cope with daily activities without fearing failure or a catastrophe at each stage, or you have physical symptoms like palpitation, nausea, sweating, and indigestion, it’s best to seek medical intervention.

Seek Help When It Gets Severe

Time and physical distance from whatever’s stressing you out can play a major role in bringing your mental health and brain function back to balance. But sometimes, you may not have the luxury of either. In such cases, you would need to seek medical help to manage your symptoms. Such conditions include:

  • Panic disorder, a form of anxiety disorder that, in addition to the aforementioned symptoms of anxiety, can cause shortness of breath, choking, chest pain, confusion, numbness and tingling in the limbs, and fear of death
  • Obsessive compulsive disorder, another type of anxiety disorder that can hamper your relationships and daily functioning
  • Bipolar disorder, a condition where you alternate between a manic phase (marked by excessive excitement, euphoria, and confidence along with recklessness) and a depressive phase