STAY ON TOP OF YOUR GAME: It's important to give your brain a workout as well as your body.
STAY ON TOP OF YOUR GAME: It's important to give your brain a workout as well as your body. Thinkstock

Five ways to improve your brain fitness

WITH our increasingly fast paced and complex lives, it's important we know how to balance all our different commitments and responsibilities to truly flourish. We're working harder and longer than ever before, but hard work alone doesn't cut it, we need a new way, a smarter way, to apply what we know, to differentiate ourselves and think differently. We need to be brain fit.

If your brain appears to be functioning perfectly well, you're probably wondering if this really does make any difference and exactly what is brain fitness anyway?

When we are physically fit, we are healthier and function better. Having a fit and healthy brain leads to sharper cognition and improved mental performance.

But this isn't about working your brain into a sweat at the gym; it's about staying at the top of our game and thriving in our increasingly busy and demanding world.

Our brain is massively plastic, meaning we are continually able to form new and strengthen existing synaptic connections between our existing neurons. This means we can always learn new information, encode memory and embed new habits.

How can we build fitter, healthier brains? Well, it turns out mum was right; we need to eat our greens, to play outside with our friends and to go to bed when told.

While brain science has confirmed what we intuitively knew, what matters is installing those brain healthy habits into our day. Here are five simple ways to enjoy the benefits of a healthy brain.

1. Refuel smart

With all the hype around diet, knowing what to eat has become confusing.

We get so hung up on whether we should be avoiding sugar, gluten, carbs, salt, fat or meat it's easy to overlook we need a wide variety of foods for better brain health. Exclusion is not balance. Nutritional experts around the world agree, the answer is to eat real food; fresh, unprocessed is best, and for maintaining our memory and cognition, the Mediterranean style of diet is ideal.

2 Just move it

One reason our brain evolved into the magnificent organ it is today is because we moved - stimulating cerebral blood flow and delivering more nutrients and oxygen.

Exercise also enhances neurogenesis, the generation of about 700 new brain cells every day - now that has to be a plus. While 30 minutes of huffy puffy exercise each day is good, it's no longer enough to maintain our thinking skills. Excessive sitting has been called the new smoking.

The solution is simple; we need to move more. Choose to stand while on the phone or use a stand-up desk. Take the stairs, and for every hour you spend in front of your computer, get up for at least five minutes for a stretch.

3. Still your mind

Taking time out, scheduling an appointment with ourselves for 10-15 minutes each day allows us to check in to see how we are doing. It requires a closed door, a quiet space and time to "just be”. Whether you choose to include some physical exercise, a meditation practice or a beautiful piece of music this is about finding your thinking space to restore clarity and focus.

4. Focus in the way it was intended

Our focused attention is a sprinter, not Tenzing Norgay.

Choose to block your day into chunks of time for focus interspersed with regular brain breaks of 15-20 minutes to recalibrate and re-energise to be ready for the next chunk of focus.

This keeps in tune with our body's natural ultradian rhythm, peaks and troughs of energy every 60-90 minutes.

5. Sleep on it

One of the biggest challenges we often face is getting enough sleep.

Our choice of sleeping partner (including the dog), young children, shift work and work commitments play a big role in determining how much shuteye we get.

We need sleep to consolidate memory, to enhance our understanding, regulate our emotion, undertake essential housekeeping and brain maintenance and take out the brain's trash.

We need seven to eight hours each night so if you're already sleep-deprived add an extra 20 minutes by going to bed earlier, and don't forget to switch off technology several hours before bedtime to avoid the blue light that fools the brain into thinking it's still daytime.

Brain fitness isn't just nice to have, it is a must for better cognition, better memory and for longer lasting brains.

Studies have shown the better we take care of our brain the more neuro-protection we gain versus memory loss and cognitive decline. It's a great reason to create and maintain a fit and healthy brain.

Dr Jenny Brockis is a medical practitioner, speaker and author who specialises in brain health and high performance thinking. Her new book Future Brain: The 12 Keys to Create a High Performance Brain (Wiley) is available online and at all good book stores.

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