Friday, October 30, 2020

Garbage In Garbage Out: How Food Affects Our Brain Function


I’ve had several reminders recently about the close connection between what we eat and how well our brain functions (or not).  The most recent:  I ate plenty today, so I was not hungry.  But my brain was definitely tired around 3 pm today, even though I’d tried all my usually restart techniques (had a snack, took a walk, did a short mindfulness practice, worked a word puzzle).  I ate a handful of nuts, and presto, about 15 minutes later I was ready to attack the to-do list again.  That little combination of protein and healthy fat was the kickstart my brain needed to re-engage.


The topic of this blog entry is not likely to be news to many of you.  We all know that eating a diet high in processed food, sugars, carbs and saturated fats is unhealthy for us.  But maybe we don’t think there are significant ramifications beyond that unsightly blob of belly fat.  Think again.


Our brain uses as much as 20 percent of the body’s energy.  So, it makes sense that the fuel we give our body to create energy (food) can have a direct impact on how well our brain functions.


A recent study concluded that higher levels of body fat in individuals 65 and older suggested a higher risk of cognitive impairment.  By contrast, greater muscle mass in the same age group suggested that these individuals were more protected from cognitive aging.   Of course, the difference between obesity and greater muscle mass is not merely a function of what an individual eats, but a bad diet is a strong predictor of obesity.


Studies have shown that high sugar intake causes the brain’s memory functions to deteriorate, and may increase the risk of dementia.  Other studies show the opposite, that a reduction in sugar intake can support improved brain function.


The food-brain function connection is certainly a long-term relationship.  The healthier you eat over the years, the better and longer your brain will work for you.  But there is also a more immediate food-brain function connection.  This article suggests a menu filled with protein, healthy fats and snacks to eat the day before and the day of a big test, to give your brain the energy it needs to do its best work.


Interested in learning more about which foods are actually good for you, and should improve your cognitive function?  This chart will tell you everything you want to know.  I think I’ll add some blueberries and dark chocolate to my handful of nuts when I hit tomorrow afternoon’s slump!





Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Free Resource for Our Blog Readers to Empower Your Mind to Learn


Last month, we introduced a new resource that can set you up for success as a learner.   This resource remains available for free for our blog readers for the next ~60 days.  If you haven’t accessed the EMindful website yet, let me tell you a little bit about what you’ll find there.


First, you’ll fill out a 4-question survey to establish a baseline of how you emotionally cope with stressful situations.  Next, you’ll indicate your familiarity with mindfulness (in 3 simple steps).  After that short-and-sweet get-to-know-you introduction, the website’s many resources are revealed.


EMindful’s resources fall into 38 categories, including stress, Covid-19, sleep, relationships, anxiety, focus, happiness, performance and effectiveness, communication.  I selected these three:  resilience, leadership, wellbeing.  Fascinating material, providing relevant and practical strategies.


Exploration of the website starts with a 2-minute video called “What is Mindfulness?”  I would give a summary, but I think you should watch it for yourself!  A tour of the website reveals that there are many live programs, with a daily schedule of guided mindfulness practices.   


There are many live programs (multi- and single session) on topics such as weight balance for life; stress less, live more; social eating and holiday weight loss (a single session happening next week on 10/29).  If you don’t want to be tied to someone else’s teaching schedule, there are also on-demand programs on topics such as enhancing performance, emotional intelligence, avoiding burnout, purposeful decision-making.


So, how will these mindfulness resources help someone become a better learner?  I have an example of something that just happened today.  One of my ESL (English as a second language) students came to our one-on-one session today emotionally upset about events happening in her home country (far from here) that she cannot change.  She was so distracted that she couldn’t concentrate on her schoolwork.  Luckily, she is familiar with mindfulness and we were able to use some mindfulness strategies to re-focus her brain away from the emotional drama and toward today’s lesson plan.


I encourage you to visit the EMindful website today to make the most out of the remaining free trial period we’ve arranged for our readership.

Saturday, October 10, 2020

Improve Your Brain Function With Riddles, Puzzles, and Games


Yes, your brain is plastic; it changes, it grows, it shrinks, it works better, or worse, all depending on what it is up to at the time.


The acquisition of knowledge, all kinds of knowledge, builds the structure of a child’s brain.  The more the child learns, the more it is able to learn.  This process continues all the way through life, though at a slower pace for grown-ups.  Actually, for some of them it may go in reverse, like for Alzheimer sufferers.  That’s why it is truly a staying-alive necessity to exercise one’s mind and keep on learning.  For most adults this needs to be a conscious effort, for otherwise the brain will shrink and its performance will be diminished.  


This becomes most important at the onset of aging and further on into old age, for otherwise decline is going to be rapid and possibly irreversible.


So, what are the easiest ways to keep your mind active, flexible, plastic, and functioning well?  Well, here are a few ways:  Riddles, Puzzles, and Computer Games


Wikipedia in defining Brain Training, points out that puzzles are one of the main categories of mind games for self -improvement.


Here is an article on “10 Best Free Online Puzzle Games” that was published in March  2020 by Cianna Garrison.


Learning is a process that does not judge what you are learning, as long as you are acquiring new information. So never mind if you are a beginner or an expert, as long as you are exercising your brain.


While challenging your brain functions, try having fun with it.  For example:


Whenever I have a free moment or am stuck in a waiting line, I am using “Jigsaw Puzzle,” available from the App Store. It has free daily puzzles you can use. Depending on the difficulty level of your choice, you can choose the number of puzzle pieces.  It surely keeps your mind working, happily.  


You can do a google search for riddles, puzzles, and games which are free or may cost little.  Amazon has a wealth of books on the subject, including “Which is not true?” (ideal for quiz lovers) by Nayden Kostov, which is free for Kindle users in Prime, otherwise $9.49 in paperback.


Have fun!


Guest blogger, Meredani Straube, worked 15 years as Finance & Administration Officer for Deloitte & Touche.  She is now the Director for Finance and Human Resources of the Straube Group companies.