PHOTOGRAPH BY GETTY IMAGES
Move over, Descartes. Fitness coach Jay Nixon pushes past “I think, therefore I am.”
“Thoughts become things,” he philosophizes. “What we focus on, we get more of. If I want a green car, all of the sudden I start seeing green cars everywhere, because the brain is designed to filter out the things that do not interest us.
“Physically, it’s about getting oxygen to the brain,” he adds. Most people have heard that exercise shuttles oxygen to the brain, but Nixon drives home the “brain-belly connection.” Sugar, gluten, and anything else that inflames the gastrointestinal tract can lead to foggy thinking, he says. Keeping synapses firing involves the triumvirate of exercise, nutrition, and sleep.
Neuropsychologist Roxanna Farinpour calls physical, aerobic exercise “crucial” for brain health. As for mental exercises (“neurobics”) such as challenging crossword puzzles, they stimulate brain activity, but Farinpour emphasizes the importance of social contacts, which not only hone the cognitive skills needed for communication but also reinforce good mental health.
forgiving yourself for mistakes
“The relationship with ourselves is important, but often neglected. We can choose to be an agent in our wellness, and that starts with self-compassion. Sometimes it helps to visualize turning that empathy you have for others inward.”
— Juan Gonzalez, M.D.
PHOTOGRAPH BY JACOB LUND/THE NOUN PROJECT
Berries have high fiber content and low sugar.
“I think nutritional supplements are excellent but should be taken in conjunction with a physician,” Farinpour adds. “Magnesium is good [for brain function], and a lot of people don’t get enough of that mineral in their diet. Also good are omega-3s and B vitamins.
“There’s increasing research and literature that tie gut health to mental health,” she continues. In more than one clinical trial, probiotics improved cognitive function in people with Alzheimer’s disease.
While fitness coach Michael Butler recommends fine-tuning your brain with multitasking exercises that require focus, such as balancing on one leg while using your arms, psychiatrist Juan Gonzalez encourages attention to oxygenation.
“Practice breathing from the belly and focusing on your breath,” he says. “Redirecting our thoughts from a distracted place back to our breath lights up a part of the brain that helps with overall cognitive performance.”
Dietitian and nutritionist Courtney Pogue advises people to consume foods in a variety of colors throughout the week. To power the mind, she particularly mentions blue, red, and purple — “especially berries, which have lower sugar and higher fiber content [than other fruits].”