O = OXYGEN Do you get enough oxygen to your brain throughout your day?
O = OPEN YOUR HEART What is your EQ (Emotional Intelligence) like?
S = STOP SUGAR START SUPPLEMENTS Do you know what your body needs?
T = TIME FOR FUN Do you know the value of planning more fun activities, for your brain and your resilience?
Before you dash off… do you want to improve your memory at the same time, so that you can ask yourself these questions tomorrow, and every day for the next 7 days; then use this trick: Pick up your left hand and mentally label your ‘pinky’ finger B, your ring finger O, your middle finger O, your index finger S, and your thumb T. Start with the ‘pinky promise’ that you’ll focus on getting the right quantity of sleep (at least 7 hours) and quality sleep. Actually if that’s all you do, your brain will love you and you’ll boost your immune system. End off with ‘thumbs up’.
There’s a lot of research substantiating the connection between having fun, and how this gives your immune system an extra ‘kick’ in the right direction.
Waking up refreshed, energised and excited to start your day … does that seem impossible? Or something that you last did when going to Nursery School. There is literally ‘tons’ of research on sleep. The latest and easiest to read and digest is from Matthew Walker (Professor of neuroscience and psychology and the director of the Center for Human Sleep Science at the University of California, Berkeley). His book: ‘Why We Sleep’ is brilliant. Watch his YouTube videos with your family over meal time. Make this a daily topic of discussion in your house, so that you ignite awareness, curiosity and most importantly shift behaviours for yourself and your loved ones.
After all sleep is your personalised Swiss Army Knife, which helps ‘fix’ eating issues, brain-fog, gives you abundant energy for your day to GSD (Get Stuff Done). You need ‘restorative sleep’ to ensure that you are resilient and can bounce forward with dynamism and agility to tackle all life’s challenges and endeavours.
Bio-hacks: Start your day — with a mindset of gratefulness Change your self chatter about sleep. A good night’s sleep for ‘tonight’ starts as you open your ‘peep holes’ in the morning. While you are making your bed (even if you didn’t have the best night’s sleep) say out loud that you are grateful for a good, solid bed (replace your mattress if you haven’t done that in the last 5 — 8 years) ; lovely linen and a superb pillow. I do this, and I ‘tell my bed’ that I can’t wait to be warm, ‘nurtured’ and sleep peacefully (again) tonight.
Your bedroom is ONLY for sex, reading and sleep A few no-no’s : No TV; no mobile phones (put them on flight mode); no laptop and hence no work or even Netflix! Rather read a great novel (forget about your work books), this is far better for your brain.
Your wind-down routine at the end of your day Dedicate the last 60 mins of your day to YOU. I have a few non-negotiables: my 30 min Epsom salts bath with lavender oil (researched by Dr Tara Swart, the Neuroscientist to have a calming effect on your brain) ; reading my novel (great for de-stressing and also enhances creativity) and sometimes soft, gentle music. Don’t watch the news and / or be on any device during this time. Wear blue light blocker glasses, so that your brain starts producing enough melatonin (sleep hormone) to keep you in the deep stages of sleep. This will ensure that you have good quality sleep, which is essential to flush out the daily brain toxins (called beta amyloid). Waking up refreshed and feeling brain-fit is a treat!
Lastly, speak to your significant ‘others’ and mention that in the last hour of your day, you choose not to discuss family, work/school or house maintenance issues etc.
2. OXYGEN – Your Brain Needs This ‘Fuel’
Talking about Alzheimer’s (clearly a fear of mine), there is a lot of research showing that exercise will protect you against this disease. Mental health is a major issue, as a result of behavioural changes (too many to mention) that we have had to make during this pandemic.
We all know that exercise and getting oxygen to your brain is vital for your brain. One of the main benefits is that your brain produces a protein called BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor), which is literally like a fertiliser for your brain. High levels of BDNF plays a huge role in how well we age, how well we learn and perform mentally, and BDNF can even be thought of as a natural antidepressant.
Here are a few bio-hacks, so that you don’t need the willpower or discipline to go for an early morning run / cycle every day to get your brain to produce this ‘fertiliser’:
Bio-hacks: 2 MinutesOn A Mini Trampoline Between Your Meetings
There’s great research showing that 2 mins of bouncing is equivalent to a 6 min run, a 10 min walk and a 22 min swim. I have a trampoline on my veranda, outside my office and I make sure that between meetings, I get up and bounce. If I have a day of admin or writing, I set my phone alarm to go off every 75 mins. Getting that fresh oxygenated blood to your brain is essential for critical thinking. If you don’t have a trampoline, then skipping or doing star jumps will do.
Do squats every time you put the kettle on, refill your water bottle, and / or every time you flush the toilet.
Think ‘micro-bursts’of activity during your day. Provide a trigger for your brain …every time you do one of the above activities, do a set of 20, 30 or 50 squats. If you have 8 beverages a day, that could be 400 squats per day. Never mind the peachy ‘bottom’ you’ll get, more importantly you’ll get these quick bursts of extra oxygen to your brain. Sitting is the new smoking: we sit for long periods of time and this is not good for you. Long periods of sitting correlate with poor heart health, inflammation, larger waist sizes and lower levels of HDL cholesterol.
Set Your Alarmto go off 7 mins earlier in the morning
If you have the ‘no time’ mindset, here’s a challenge. Try the above. Hopefully you get up when your alarm goes off. Don’t use that ‘snooze button’… those extra few mins won’t benefit you, your brain or your cognition for the day!
If you put the kettle on, when you get up, go straight to your lounge floor (while the kettle is boiling) and use one of the many free Apps to do 7 mins of exercise (music helps) before you indulge in your first cup of ‘jarva’ for the day. Nobody can steal these 7 mins from you … if you get up early enough. As a last ‘nudge’ remember that exercise enlarges your ‘hippocampus’ … the learning and memory centre in your brain!
3. OPEN YOUR HEART
In other words, find ways to improve your emotional intelligence (EQ). After all, EQ has twice the power of IQ to predict performance. The same way we focus on building physical immunity, we need to develop mental and emotional immunity. In these times of unprecedented and volatile change, we sometimes focus on the setbacks and many problems that we are facing.
These are going to happen.
Try ‘zooming out’ to get a different perspective about what’s happening in your life. We don’t want to deny negative thoughts or emotions. It is however beneficial to observe them, rather than automatically believing that they represent reality. We need to be mindfully aware of our stress levels. When stress becomes chronic, it damages our bodies and our brains. With this in mind, it’s key that we consider ways of decreasing stress each day.
Bio-hacks: Optimismis a force multiplier Being optimistic seems easier for some people. Pessimism can manifest as a personality trait, and some studies show it may be at least partially influenced by genetics. Shawn Achor, who wrote the book ‘The Happiness Advantage’ says (and I agree) that if you say three things that you are grateful for (everyday) for 21 days, even a low level pessimist will become a low level optimist.
This is a 2 min per day investment, which can literally change your vibrational frequency in the world. Here’s how not to forget to do it. Link your gratitude practice to brushing your teeth in the morning, and you’ll never forget! As you put your toothbrush down, say out loud 3 things that you are grateful for. The trick is to think of 3 NEW things every day. They can be tiny. Eg. someone held the door open for you yesterday, in the lashing rain.
Name your emotions to tame them
This simple bio-hack will allow you to use your emotions to inform you, and not overwhelm you. There are no ‘good or bad’ emotions, all are valid and should be welcomed (as you would welcome your various friends into your house.)
The most user-friendly model for identifying, and learning to name the 8 primary emotions (anger, fear, sadness, disgust, surprise, anticipation, trust and joy) is Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions. (Plutchik : professor emeritus at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and adjunct professor at the University of South Florida).
Print out a few of these colourful ‘wheels’ to place on your dining room table, kitchen table and your desk. When you feel a ‘washing machine’ of emotions about to derail you… rather stop, take a deep breath and look at Plutchik’s model. The minute you name your emotion (I often speak out loud to myself) … you are able to calm yourself down, and you’ll feel more centred.
Didn’t your Mother tell you: ‘a problem shared is a problem halved’. Most people have a limited vocabulary of 4 or 5 words to name their emotions. Besides the 32 emotions in the wheel (of varying intensities), there are also another 8 emotions, which are ‘combination’ emotions.
My favourite being: Joy + Trust = Love
4. STOP SUGAR, START SUPPLEMENTS
Living through the COVID pandemic we all should be hyper-vigilant about boosting our immune system, and lowering the levels of inflammation in our body. If you love sugar, so does cancer, diabetes and a whole host of other diseases. Too much sugar makes most illnesses worse by causing spikes in blood sugar. We all need to kick that sugar habit. Zero tolerance. Find other ways to treat yourself and your cherubs / children.
Bio-hacks: Forgetabout artificial sweeteners Yes, we know that Stevia and Xylitol are more natural, but they keep you on that sugar craving ‘loop’. If you stop sugar or sweeteners in your tea or coffee, you’ll soon love and relish the different flavours of your hot drinks.
Keep sliced fruitin your fridge
Here’s a great study to substantiate this bio-hack. There were two groups, and each group had two bowls in front of them. Group A: had sliced apple right in front of them, and then buttered, salted popcorn on the other side of the table. The opposite was true for Group B. Each group just had to stretch a little further (requiring extra effort) to reach the bowl that was further away.
The result: Group A ate 33% less calories than Group B. The simple lesson – make life a little easier for yourself. Less friction. Prepare healthy snacks at night to leave in your fridge for the next day. Place them at eye level and make them look visually appealing! It goes without saying to eat as close to nature as possible. Try not eat food that was made in a factory, or at least read the ingredient list!
Our soil is not as rich in nutrients, as it used to be when grandma was growing her veggies.
I use pill boxes and prep my vitamins for two weeks at a time. As a minimum per day I take: Vit C: 1000 mg | Zinc : 20-40 mg | Vit D : 600 IU | Omega 3: 250-500 mg | Magnesium: 310-420 mg
The easiest bio-hack of all … Drink more water How much? One 250ml glass for every 10kg that you weigh. Your brain dehydrates overnight – so make sure that your first ‘drink’ of the day is water / herbal tea and not caffeine (tea or coffee) as the latter dehydrates your brain. Keep a 2l water bottle on your desk- in arm’s reach is best. Feeling hungry, first drink water … you may well just be thirsty.
5. TIME FOR FUN
This is not just a ‘place holder’ or convenient because we’ve used our fingers and now we need ‘info’ for our thumb. This is literally a ‘thumbs up’ for your brain, your immunity and your resilience. Having fun and being excited about learning, gives your brain a terrific boost! It increases the brain’s neuron activity and the production of Oxytocin (pleasure hormone), Dopamine (reward, motivation, learning, senses, thinking hormone), and Norepinephrine (energising, attention hormone) which improves learning and memory. Martin Seligman, the father of positive psychology is busy doing more research in these pandemic times.
Listening to him on the Podcast: ‘Speaking of Psychology’ (American Psychological Association: 20 Jan 2021) was another affirmation of the relevance of his PERMA model. Simple and profound. PERMA = Positive emotion (& learned optimism); Engagement (e.g. be ‘at one’ with the music you listen to); Relationships (pursue good ones); Meaning and Purpose (pursue something larger than you) and Achievement (which speaks for itself).
Bio-hacks: Random Acts of Kindness As Martin Seligman says this is highly beneficial and the ‘return’ for you boosts all the happiness brain chemicals spoken about above. You know plenty of ways to do this. As a reminder – drop off a meal with an elderly person; carry tins of food in your car for beggars in the road etc. Challenge yourself to do a small ‘something’ once per week.
Nominate a ‘Fun Master’ in your home, each week
Quiz nights; fun ‘mini’ sports events; cook-athon (healthy food please); funky hat dinners; 70s or 80s music nights (dance like nobody is watching); high tea event (& dress up) …the list is endless.
Treat yourself to ‘nature’
This is phenomenally good for your health. Nature exposure has been linked to a host of brain benefits including improved cognition and better mood. Don’t let the pandemic hold you back: if you are able to get outside — just 20 minutes outdoors or even sitting on the grass can help you reboot. Lie down and stare at the clouds, breathe deeply and make animal shapes out of the cloud formations. If you’re unable to get outside (due to restrictions, weather, or other reasons), consider bringing the outside in! In a recent study, indoor plants were linked to increased positive emotions, and reduced negative feelings.