Written by Sarah Loogman
The brain acts much like muscle – tissue that can called to action for many purposes. This concept of brain plasticity opposes old beliefs in neuroscience that we were born with a set number of neurons and would permanently lose those as we aged. New research, however, shows that you actually can teach an old dog new tricks and you can change your perception by growing your brain. Like the muscles you train at the gym, training the “muscle” between the ears is just as important for health and performance! A healthy mind will adopt learning much more quickly, including the movements and lessons you’re learning in your physical training.
Here are some habits to start practicing to grow your mind:
Get your Z’s
Sleep is one of the most important factors in brain recovery, just as it is for athletic performance and muscle recovery. Sleep helps to solidify our memories and repair tissue damage. Having a regular sleep schedule match your natural rhythms are important, too.
Breathing practice / meditation
Meditation isn’t just for yogis and monks anymore! Elite performers, athletes and entrepreneurs are beginning to speak up about mindfulness and breathing practices and research has showed that meditation can increase the gray matter in the brain. Breath work can help decrease feelings of stress by calming the nervous system and restoring biological functions of the body. In less of a “fight or flight” mode, you are more likely to be connected to subconscious thought. Some research shows that even 80-90% of our decisions or actions are being determined by the subconscious!
Poor eating habits can contribute to the breakdown of all of our tissues – including our brain. Many studies have showed that certain foods can slow our mental decline and one of the most powerful sources is in Omega 3 fatty acids, DHA and EPA. Most Americans have an especially high ratio of Omega 6 (inflammatory) to Omega 3 ratio based on diet so a fish oil supplement can be a great step to restoring balance and increasing brain power.
Learn something new
Engaging in new topics of learning, practicing new skills, or remastering old patterns are all great ways to increase cognitive function and keep the brain at work. Read a book, subscribe to a podcast, download an audiobook, try a new sport, learn a new language, try a new genre of music – the mind likes variety just as much as your body does!
Think training your brain isn’t important or relevant to your athletic performance or fitness pursuits? Think again! Just like training movement recognition, muscle memory, and muscle recruitment, the brain is an intricately woven part of our physical body and we’ve got to learn to “flex” it, too!