“Premium Fuel” For Your Brain

One of my favorite childhood memories is when my brother and I would go on a ski trip on Easter with my grandmother. There is nothing like skiing all day to increase your appetite. And in the mountains, we would buy some delicious little blueberry pies at a local pastry shop. Of course, now I would only eat a pie if it was made with paleo-friendly ingredients, but did you know that blueberries are one of those foods highly beneficial to the brain? There is a group of foods that are proven to nourish the brain and protect it from oxidative stress. These foods are like “premium fuel” for your brain. Here’s a list of 10 of these awesome brain-boosting foods:

Avocados

Avocados‘ monounsaturated fat helps to support healthy blood flow. Avocados also enhance spatial working memory and attention span.

Blueberries

Blueberries, with their high amount of flavonoids and flavonols, can help protect the brain from oxidative stress. They help lessen the effects of brain aging and can aid with memory.

Bone broth

Bone broth is rich in glycine, an amino acid that can help with improving memory.

Broccoli

Broccoli is high in vitamin K, which is good for cognitive function and memory. 

Dark Chocolate

Dark chocolate is good for focus and concentration. It can boost endorphin levels. The flavonoids in chocolate can help enhance cognitive function.

Eggs

The choline in the eggs helps with boosting the brain and improving memory, especially when it comes to both verbal and visual memory.

Green Leafy Vegetables

Green leafy vegetables are high in vitamin E, which helps lessen the effects of brain aging. They are also a good source of folate, which helps to enhance memory. As a side note, kale, Swiss chard, and romaine lettuce all have nutrients that can help with preventing cognitive impairment and dementia.

Salmon, Sardines, Caviar

Salmon, sardines, and caviar are high in omega-3 fatty acids, which help lessen the effects of brain aging too. Omega-3 fatty acids help strengthen the brain cells’ membranes and the synaptic connections between neurons.

Turmeric

Turmeric (with its active ingredient: curcumin) helps with lowering inflammation, increasing antioxidant levels, enhancing the brain’s oxygen intake, and improving cognitive function.

Walnuts

Walnuts are rich in antioxidants and vitamin E, good against brain aging, beneficial to the neurons. Walnuts are also rich in zinc and magnesium, helping with your mood.

In Summary

Consuming nutrient-dense foods like the ones mentioned above, full of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants is a sure way to better your brain, your mood, your energy levels, and your overall health. I eat each of these on a regular basis, some of them every day. Most of these are simple whole foods, easy to prepare and can make great snacks too. To your brain health!

Until next time!

References

Greenfield, Ben. Boundless : Upgrade Your Brain, Optimize Your Body & Defy Aging. Las Vegas, Victory Belt Publishing Inc, 2020, pp. 82-4.

Kwik, Jim. Limitless. Hay House Inc, 2020, pp. 130–32.

You can also find me on Instagram.

Flow in your Work

Do you ever long to find more flow in your work, this feeling of continuous effortlessness when working on a given task? I do. I love the feeling of being hyper-focused when I am writing, but it doesn’t happen the minute I start typing. Flow follows a curve, and on certain days it can take quite a bit of time, and frustration, to reach this state of being fully in the present moment with what you are doing. But once you reach that state of undisturbed flow, everything feels just right and in sync. According to Jim Kwik in Limitless, “Reports have suggested that flow can make you as much as five times more productive.” So how does it work?

8 Characteristics of Flow

In Limitless, psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi defines flow as having: 

  • Absolute concentration
  • Total focus on goals
  • The sense that time is either speeding up or slowing down
  • A feeling of reward from the experience
  • A sense of effortlessness
  • The experience is challenging, but not overly so
  • Your actions almost seem to be happening on their own
  • You feel comfort with what you are doing

The Four Stages of Flow

In Limitless, author Steven Kotler defines flow as unfolding in four stages:

  • Struggle: Before reaching optimal flow, this is like the warming-up phase when you put things together, brainstorming or otherwise, in order to move forward in the right direction. This is where frustration can take place. Persistence is key.
  • Relaxation: Now that you have a handle on how your work is going to unfold, or how you are going to piece everything together, getting into a relaxed state beforehand is important. Taking a brief walk or doing a breathing exercise can really help.
  • Flow: You are now ready to dive and immerse yourself fully in your project knowing the outline and the main steps to take. You are confident and experience optimal flow. The work can still be challenging, but not excessively so.
  • Consolidation: This is the wrap-up of what you have just accomplished. It’s like a cool-down phase. Review your work, and take a breather or a break if you plan on diving back into more work.

5 Ways to Find Flow 

Jim Kwik highlights the fact that to reach this flow state in your work as much as possible, a few things have to be put in place:

  • Eliminate distractions
  • Give yourself enough time
  • Do something you love
  • Have clear goals 
  • Challenge yourself…a little

Jim Kwik explains that you want to avoid multitasking, stress, fear of failure, and lack of conviction.

  • As stated in my previous post, 8 Ways to Keep your Mind Sharp, multitasking directly impacts your attention and concentration. You really cannot experience a true flow state if you are multitasking. 
  • Stress is going to take you out of the present moment, which will directly conflict with finding your flow. So even if it isn’t easy, do you best to keep stressors at bay. 
  • Fear of failure implies a fear of not reaching perfection, but perfection doesn’t have to be the goal. It is okay to tackle a project just a little outside your comfort zone, as alluded above, but it is important to do so without a fear of failure.
  • Lack of conviction is a stressor too. You have to be confident and believe in the chosen task so you can find your flow. This goes back to the preparation work (brainstorming, mapping things out, etc.) you have to do before diving into optimal flow. If you have gone over everything successfully in the “Struggle” stage, lack of conviction will not be present.

In Summary

To bring more flow into your work, you want to make sure you gather the right conditions, as listed above. To cultivate flow on a regular basis, it is important to keep possible stressors at bay. Flow is an awesome and very rewarding state of mind to experience, whatever your work and undertakings may be.

Until next time!

Reference
Kwik, Jim. Limitless. Hay House Inc, 2020, pp. 169–177.

You can also find me on Instagram.

Use it or Lose it

Have you ever heard the expression “use it or lose it?” When it comes to our brain, cognitive testing shows that this “use it or lose it” saying can clearly unfold after being done with school and when in retirement. Newton Baker said, “The man who graduates today and stops learning tomorrow is uneducated the day after.” But if we keep on being committed to learning new things throughout life and continue to positively stimulate our minds on a daily basis, cognitive decline doesn’t have to happen. All it takes to keep a sharp mind are simple practices – habits to incorporate into our daily life, year after year. Here are some of the suggestions offered in The Neurogenesis Diet and Lifestyle, by Brant Cortright, Ph. D.:

Reading

Whatever your favorites are, implement a daily habit of reading several pages or for a specific period of time. Fiction, nonfiction, poetry, newspaper articles, blogs, magazines, and social media posts are all good options.

Writing

Write to your heart’s content: journaling or letters, emails, texts, stories, memos, poems, articles, blog posts, ads, and marketing materials.

Problem Solving

Problem solving includes doing puzzles, playing board or card games, house repair, work problems or other life challenges to tackle.

Attention and Concentration Exercises

Meditation is a good practice in order to solidify attention and concentration skills. The same goes for any task you choose to focus on for several hours in a row as opposed to multi-tasking or jumping from one thing to another.

Executive Function Tasks

Executive function tasks include organizing, planning, executing, following through, and completing tasks, whether it is at work or at home. These skills still have to be utilized even after retirement, so finding projects to implement no matter what your age is very important.

Discussion Groups

Discussion groups allow you to expand your mental flexibility. This is about learning how to express yourself, how to articulate your thoughts in a concise way while acknowledging and being respectful of others’ viewpoints even if they differ from yours. Being open to new ideas also helps in building constructive dialogue, which can be a useful, lifelong skill.

Musical Training

Learning how to play an instrument is a great hobby to take on, no matter what your age! And even if it seems like an impossible task at first, just remember that when we are young, failure does not stop us. We keep trying and practicing until we get it right. Stay patient and persistent!

Education

New learning is key at any age. Taking on a new language is a great example. I enjoy using the Duolingo app to practice Spanish and Italian, two languages I had studied in high school. There are also tons of online courses on any range of topics. Coursera offers many courses, for instance. For learning, the setting can be formal or informal, it doesn’t matter.

In Summary

Keeping a sharp mind as the years go by doesn’t have to be a difficult task. We just need to apply ourselves to implement the above practices, a little bit every day. As Brant Cortright states, “Each brain requires special nourishment, and we must experiment with different activities to find out what works for us, what we enjoy doing, and what our optimal engagement is.”

Until next time!

Reference

Cortright, Ph.D., Brant. The Neurogenesis Diet and Lifestyle: Upgrade Your Brain, Upgrade Your Life. Mill Valley, CA, Psyche Media, 2015, pp. 160, 178–182.

You can also find me on Instagram.

What is the Ketogenic Diet?

The ketogenic diet is a type of low-carb diet in which carb consumption is reduced enough so that the body can start making and utilizing ketones. As mentioned in a previous post, ketones (special energy molecules) are a by-product of body fat that is tapped into if we fast or if we limit our carb intake to a bare minimum. The body’s stored fat and the healthy fats consumed during the day (along with reasonable protein intake) become the main fuel source on a ketogenic diet, as opposed to getting glucose from carbohydrates for energy. Eating keto means eating mostly (well-sourced) meat, fish, eggs, certain vegetables, nuts and seeds, little fruit, and healthy oils.

If you’re wondering what type of meals one may be eating on a ketogenic diet, here are a few examples for breakfast, lunch, and dinner (as described in Keto for Life, by Mark Sisson and Brad Kearns).

Breakfast

  • Fasting with water, tea, or coffee
  • High-fat coffee or other beverage
  • Omelet with pastured eggs, vegetables, cheese, avocado, bacon, salsa
  • Hard-boiled egg bowl with walnuts, sun-dried tomatoes, avocado, and avocado oil-based mayonnaise
  • Full-fat yogurt with nuts, cinnamon, and cacao nibs
  • Bone broth with egg yolks

Lunch

  • Fasting after one of the above breakfast options
  • Salad with vegetables, nuts and seeds, well-sourced protein, and healthy oil dressing
  • Salad made with sauerkraut or kimchi

Dinner

  • Grass-fed beef, bone-in cuts
  • Organ meats 
  • Whole chicken or turkey
  • Wild-caught fish
  • Vegetables (mostly above-ground vegetables like cruciferous and leafy green vegetables, as opposed to starchy tubers): steamed, baked, or pan-fried, with plenty of healthy fats (butter, lard, coconut oil, avocado oil)

In Summary

As you can see, there are options abound on keto too! Limiting carbs doesn’t mean depriving yourself of delicious meals or snacks. For more ideas and recipes, you can visit Mark’s Daily Apple. Eating keto can have many benefits, as stated in Keto Answers, by Dr. Anthony Gustin and Chris Irvin: more energy, improved brain health/function, fat loss, improved insulin sensitivity, lowered inflammation, improved blood sugar control, improved mood, etc. Make sure you check with your physician first if you decide to start eating keto. As mentioned in My Paleo/Primal Eating Habits article, I like to stay in mild ketosis during the day and refeed with some healthy carbs at the end of the day. I enjoy the extra energy I get by eating that way. See what works for you!

Until next time!

References

Gustin, Anthony, and Chris Irvin. Keto Answers : Simplifying Everything You Need to Know about the World’s Most Confusing Diet. Middletown, De, Four Pillar Health, 2019, pp. 3-10.

Sisson, Mark, and Brad Kearns. Keto for Life:  Reset Your Biological Clock in 21 Days and Optimize Your Diet for Longevity. New York, Random House, 2019, p. 72, 82.

You can also find me on Instagram.

How Easy Staying in Shape can be

Moving and exercising enough shouldn’t feel like yet another challenging goal to put on your to-do-list. Our ancestors were doing basic functional movements (squat, crawl, walk, run, jump, climb, carry, throw, etc.) when going about their daily activities. Our lifestyle has changed tremendously over the centuries, especially in the last 100 years, but this doesn’t mean that we cannot throw in a few stretches and bodyweight exercises (for instance) as simple 1-2-minute-breaks throughout the day every day. The Primal Blueprint Fitness Pyramid highlights how easy staying in shape can be without going overboard on any type of fitness activity. Moving frequently, exercising your muscles and getting your heart rate up occasionally is all you have to do.

Move Frequently

The base of the Primal Blueprint Fitness Pyramid is comprised of three types of activities:

  • Flexibility/mobility, such as with Pilates, yoga, tai chi, gymnastics, dancing, and dynamic rolling/stretching/therapy work
  • Cardio workouts at your target heart rate (Cycle, hike, walk/jog, water activities) – Your target heart rate is a simple calculation: 180 BPM – your age
  • More general daily movement to avoid prolonged inactivity

As mentioned in my post, Why Everyday Movement is Non-Negotiable, when we have to sit for long periods of time, such as when working at a computer, we want to get up, stretch, and walk a little bit every 30 minutes or so. The same goes if we are at a standing workstation. Enough movement throughout the day is necessary for proper blood flow to be delivered to the different muscles we use, which means more oxygen and nutrients, along with “waste removal.” In short, moving throughout the day (along with other variables) ensures proper cellular health.

We also want to add a few cardio sessions done at a comfortable heart rate. No chronic cardio here. Whatever fits your schedule the best. Cycling, swimming, running, or even just walking are all good options, whatever your energy levels of the day make you feel like doing.

When it comes to working on improving flexibility and mobility, there are a plethora of options, as listed above. Yoga is my favorite, but I also do some basic stretches every day and some tai chi exercises. Having a foam roller handy is helpful too in order to massage muscles and break up knots.

Lift Heavy Things

To lift heavy things refers to strength training: brief, intense resistance exercises. It doesn’t have to be more than twice a week for 10-30 minutes at a time. In this category, you find basic bodyweight exercises like the 4 Primal Essential Movements (planks, pushups, squats, and pullups). Keeping things simple and not too demanding is a sure way to build a habit in a concise way. I like to do planks, squats, and bridges on a regular basis. You can also use free weights and resistant bands.

Sprint

Every 7 to 10 days, if you are 100% energized, you can do several 8-20 second bursts, during a cycling or running session, for instance. There is no need to do more than that. These short all-out sprints are a great addition to moving frequently and lifting heavy things on occasion for optimal primal fitness.

In Summary

The Primal Blueprint Fitness Pyramid highlights what should be at the core of an individual’s movement regimen in order to be fit in the most down-to-earth way. It is modeled after the ways our ancestors moved in everyday life. Simplicity is key. Moving frequently, lifting heavy things occasionally, and sprinting when you are fully rested is all you have to do. Including time for recovery, which includes adequate sleep and relaxation is mandatory. And it is also good to include play, which refers to any spontaneous outdoor physical activity like running around with your kids outside, or your dog. Being and staying fit is not a difficult goal to attain. The main thing to keep in mind is not to be in any specific position for a prolonged period of time. As they say, “The best position is the next one you will be in.”

Until next time!

Reference
Sisson, Mark. The New Primal Blueprint : Reprogram Your Genes for Effortless Weight Loss, Vibrant Health, and Boundless Energy. Oxnard, Ca, Primal Blueprint Publishing, 2017, pp. 314–369.

You can also find me on Instagram.