3 Ways to Spring Clean Your Brain
Marie Pasinski, M.D.
Neurologist, Massachusetts General Hospital; faculty member, Harvard Medical School; author, 'Beautiful Brain, Beautiful You'
There's something about the ritual of spring cleaning -- whether it's reorganizing your closets and drawers or giving your house a good sweep -- that is both comforting and reinvigorating. Likewise, giving your brain a spring makeover will not only help you think clearer, but it will keep you looking younger and more radiant. The reason is that aside from its other duties, our brain directly impacts our mood and physical appearance. Did you know, for example, that your face mirrors the chemical activity taking place in your brain? This activity produces micro-facial expressions -- those tiny, involuntary reflections of our thoughts that exude from within and give us that healthy glow. In other words, when your brain is at your best, you will look and feel your best.
Here are three ways to give your brain a makeover this spring:
1) Enjoy spring's bounty.
Take advantage of the fresh produce cropping up at your local supermarket this time of year. Studies show that people who consume a diet rich in fruits and vegetables are not only leaner but have sharper memories. Aim for a rainbow of colors in your meals so that your body and brain will reap the benefits of phytonutrients, nature's powerful beautifying agents. These compounds create the distinctive bright colors you see in apples, oranges and red or green peppers.
And speaking of "greens," leafy vegetables such as spinach, lettuce and kale act like a fountain of youth for your body and brain. A long-range Harvard Medical School study of more than 13,000 women found that those who frequently ate green leafy vegetables lowered their mental age in terms of performance by one to two years, compared to those who did not.
2) Go for the glow.
Now that the weather is warmer, go outside and get your heart pumping by engaging in some outdoor activity. Getting your blood flowing will put that rosy glow back in your cheeks, and moderate sunlight will give you that much-needed rush of vitamin D. This increased blood flow rejuvenates our skin, making it smoother and suppler. Physical activity that spikes our heart rate also bathes our brain in a cascade of growth factors that promote the rebirth of brain cells and stronger neural connections. Studies show that aerobic exercise actually increases the size of our brain, which improves our mental capacity. It is the most natural way to improve your mood and self-confidence after months of hibernating from the cold. In fact, regular exercise has been shown to be as effective as antidepressants for mild to moderate depression.
The kind of activity you choose doesn't have to be rigorous, but the more your heart pumps, the better it is for your brain. Try doing something that includes another person so that you get that added brain boost that comes from socializing while you exercise. Try walking, blading, cycling or throwing a Frisbee with some friends. There's romance in the air, so another way to get your heart pumping is to reconnect with your partner or to strike up a new relationship. Keep in mind that your brain is, after all, your most important sex organ.
3) Get your beauty rest.
Once we turn the clocks forward, the days get longer, which often prevents us from getting enough sleep. We tend to stay up later in the evenings, and sunlight wakes us up earlier in the mornings. Light exposure, both natural and artificial, inhibits the release of the sleep hormone melatonin that is known for its powerful antioxidant and beautifying effects.
Minimizing your exposure to light in the evenings is one way to encourage melatonin release. In particular, lights with blue hues that come from fluorescent bulbs, televisions and computer screens should be avoided before you go to bed. Use incandescent, low-wattage bulbs instead that are less stimulating, and put up heavy curtains or shades that will block out incoming light in your bedroom. If that's not enough, consider wearing a sleep mask. The darker the room, the deeper you will sleep, and the more information your brain will retain. Another reason to get your beauty rest is so that growth hormone, which is primarily secreted during the deepest phase of sleep, can repair and rebuild body tissues, including skin, muscle and bone. So my advice is to sleep on it if you want to remain a spring chicken.
Have a beautiful brain day and night!