This guide was created after a workshop I recently held in India inside of our retreat. I am going be creating a course on how to do all of this (and more importantly, how to make it a weekly habit). If you want early access, sign up here.
Refer to this guide [your toolbox] to heal and strengthen your brain by implementing simple weekly exercises.
These exercises can take as little as 5-10 minutes per day.
Before We Get Started
I’m not a doctor and I must recommend that you consult a doctor for a personalized plan.
That being said, the best thing you can do is become your own doctor in many ways. You are the only one who can truly understand your body, therefore, you are the best person to take care of it.
As you may know, our health care system is not quite optimized to keep your best interest in mind all the time.
Therefore, education and small healthy daily habits are your two most powerful tools to increase your health span and live a healthy, happy, full life.
Why We Should Take Care of Our Brain
Almost everybody knows someone who has been affected by neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s, dementia and Parkinsons’. They are serious and scary diseases that can affect all of us.
Not being able to function normally and enjoy the simple pleasures in life is one of my biggest fears. Things like being present and aware for your kids and grandkids
It’s easy to feel as if these diseases only affect older people, but that’s wrong for two reasons.
- It affects young people too, even people in their 20’s and 30’s — Early-onset dementia and Alzheimer’s disease jumped 200% among commercially insured Americans between the ages of 30 and 64 over a recent five-year period, a new analysis of Blue Cross and Blue Shield health insurer claims shows. Source
- The second reason is, these diseases may show up in the later years more intensely, but they start at a young age. Alzheimer’s, for example, takes years even decades to develop since it’s a slow and gradual decline in neuron strength and quantity and the build-up of things like plaque in the brain. But we’ll get into all the things you can do to build brain strength in a bit.
So, I simply ask that you do yourself and your family a favor and practice some of the things you learn today on a weekly basis. You can read my entire story here if you’d like.
Some quick terminology
Before we get into the exercises, it’s helpful to understand exactly what you will be dong to your brain and how it functions. With deeper understanding comes stronger purpose and intention.
Neuroplasticity, a process now referenced in mainstream society, is the brain’s ability to change in structure, function, and neural organization as a result of experience. These experiences often have one or more stimuli, such as sensory and motor stimuli.
Higher degrees of change has been thought to occur from the integration of multiple stimuli, such as sensory-motor stimuli as opposed to the two in isolation, also in response to a higher amount of novelty, variability, challenges, and motivation.
Variables that affect neuroplasticity are concepts such as “environmental enrichment” and environments consisting of complex stimuli. Borrowing from this concept, “cognitively-enriching environments” refers to environments that impose intellectual demands.
Certain psychological mechanisms such as enjoyment, motivation, and exploration may affect these outcomes, as can levels of practice and relative cognitive and physical demands.
Additional to environmental enrichment, other lifestyle factors positively affect neuroplasticity. These factors include:
- Cognitive Stimulation & Learning
Backward (or negative) neuroplasticity can be induced by sedentary behavior, poor sleep, a lack of novel stimulus, and higher levels of stress. While backward neuroplasticity is not a scientific term, it provides a conceptual understanding of neuroplasticity’s bi-directional nature.
Backward neuroplasticity demonstrates that neuroplasticity is always in flux, but not always positive (even though the term neuroplasticity is often used in positive or permanent contexts).
Positive Neuroplasticity (Increase these)
- Mental stimulation
- Intellectual pursuits
- Social interaction
- Good emotional health
- Physical exercise
- Proper nutrition
- Proper sleep
- Cognitive remediation therapy — rehabilitation treatment offering exercises with an aim at improving attention, memory, language and/or executive functions. The expected result is an indirect positive impact on functional deficits affecting everyday life.
Negative Neuroplasticity (Decrease these)
- Nonstimulating activities
- Social isolation
- Poor emotional health
- Sedentary lifestyle
- Inadequate nutrition
- Inadequate sleep
- Substance abuse
More factors contributing to positive can lead to improvement to cognitive abilities, which will lead to an increase in daily functioning, cognitive reserve and your quality of life.
Exercise and physical activity also aid in synaptogenesis, the formation of new synaptic connections between neurons.
The connections between neurons and that allow neuronal communication through neurotransmitter-induced electrical activity. Neurons have many potential synaptic configurations and can mediate network-level changes in neurons. Astrocytes, a type of glial cell, also play a role in modulating the functional plasticity of synapses.
How the Brain Changes [Main 4]
- Neurogenesis — Continuous generation of new neurons in certain brain regions
- New Synapses — New skills and experience create new neural connections
- Strengthened Synapses — Repetition and practice strengthens neural connections
- Weakened Synapses — Connections in the brain that aren’t used become weaker
What is the Brain
- The human brain has 100 billion neurons, each neuron connected to 10,000 other neurons
- This ridiculous-looking thing is the most complex known object in the universe—three pounds of what experts call “one of the most information-dense, structured, and self-structuring matter known.” All while operating on only 20 watts of power (an equivalently powerful computer runs on 24,000,000 watts).
- Somewhere between pudding and jello.
- If you placed a brain on a table, gravity would make it lose its shape and flatten out a bit, kind of like a jellyfish. We often don’t think of the brain as so smooshy, because it’s normally suspended in water.
Part 2 (the brain) of this article is an amazing walk-through of how the brain works (illustration heavy). https://waitbutwhy.com/2017/04/neuralink.html
Your Brain on Exercise
While there is no one right thing for your brain, exercise is one of the best things you can do for your brain health.
Let’s break this down as simple as possible
Exercise has an immediate effect on you. A single workout releases neurotransmitters like dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine.
Exercise changes the structures and functions of the brain by producing new brain cells, memory, attention, focus, mood.
Okay, what is the least amount of work you need to do for the most impact?
Everyone is different, but my generic answer is…
10-30 minutes of HITT, is the miracle drug that no one can sell. Here is something you can do right now and every other day. He’s goofy, but 2 days in you’ll fall in love with his authenticity.
This only benefits you if you are also sleeping well and eating a healthy diet (holistic!)
To sum up your brain on exercise:
- Increases blood flow to the brain
- Releases hormones
- Delivers oxygen and nutrients
- Improves waste removal.
I’ve included some videos I found to help demonstrate the exercise. They happen to be hilariously goofy. I will be making my own videos, but for now, enjoy the cheese…
- Body scan – from toes to top of the head. Simply observe how you feel. Notice any pain or misalignments. Don’t judge them, simply take note.
- Walk around the room, observe your environment.
- Brain buttons – I found this video that covers most of them….just so happens to also be one of the funniest videos ever, enjoy. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VL4an7UC3wA
- Here is another good one (also cheesy…I can’t wait to make my own) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2o9WvL7__-0
- Walk around the room again, notice any differences from the first time. More aware, more focused, more observant? What do you see, how do you feel.
Connect Left + Right Brain
- Thumb + point exercise. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8nOw_ifezGs
- Itsy bitsy spider (reverse)
- Hand circles (opposite direction, then switch)
- Here are some more hand exercises
Once you get good, start to scan your environment while you do the exercise. Then, start adding body exercises while you do it (lunges, squats)
Novel Experiences / Stimuli Overload
- Use your non-dominant side for
- Brushing teeth
- Computer mouse
- Writing, drawing
- Random word exercise – say random words (in your head or out loud) repeatedly making each word as unrelated to the last as possible. (Ie: cat, tire, roof, alien, upholstery, tadpole). This allows electricity to fire in all different parts of the brain, strengthening and creating new neural pathways.
- Exercises to increase creativity (one of my favorite videos!) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g-YScywp6AU
- Below is a video showing you the future of gyms. You can create your own version of this at home. During our retreat, we used luffas and a partner to emulate.
[Second Brain] Brain-Gut Connection
- 3 Pound, invisible organ inside your large intestine (same weight as the brain) called the microbiome.
- Control as much of our physical and mental functions as the brain.
- 2-way highway from gut to brain, when one is off…
- 90% of your cells are bacteria and 10% are your human cells
- More bacteria than you are human
- CDC (center of disease control) estimates about 47 million antibiotic courses each year are prescribed for infections that don’t need antibiotics in the U.S.
- That’s about 30% of all antibiotics prescribed are not needed
- Also, about 80% of all antibiotics used in the US go to livestock, which many people consume.
- Add to this the western diet often full of sugar, chemicals, toxins, highly processed foods that kill the good bacteria and feed the bad.
- Food starts digesting in the mouth
- Broken down to building blocks and transported by the blood to the body
- Most goes to the brain
- Leaky gut caused by gluten and other harsh foods
- Seep into blood stream
- Builds up plaque
- Leads to brain fog and eventually serious neurodegenerative diseases
How to heal the gut (the source)
Know Your Gut, pick up on patterns, when do you feel best and worst, journal, gut test (recommendations for at home test that are about, Viome $150 https://www.viome.com/products
Remove, drop the anchors slowing you down. Sugar, gluten, highly processed, coffee, dairy, artificial sweeteners, toxins and chemicals, molds, alcohol, also your environment (mold, pollution, negative people, stressful situations, fill your kitchen with healthy foods and plan your day around easy to choose healthy options.
Replace, nourishing foods and water as well as exercise, maybe something like probiotics and prebiotics, things like kefir and sauerkraut and kombucha as well as appropriate supplementation
Repair, “The human body has quite a bit of resiliency if we unleash it.” the problem is, we simply get in the way. Let your body do what it needs to do by giving it space and time it need. Intermittent fasting and 3-5 day fasts. My problem was I never gave myself more than a week of space before putting toxins in.
What and What not to eat
The easiest thing to start with is simply avoiding what we know to be bad.
- Fast food
- Highly processed foods
- Sugary foods
- Junk foods
- Before you eat anything, ask yourself if it will nourish your body or harm it, you will almost always know the truth. Then act accordingly.
If we have any addictions like sugar, which is highly addictive, heal this addiction by:
- Become conscious and connected
- Be present when you eat
- Listen to your body before and after you
- Think about how you will feel afterward etc
- You can still consume it, but aim to consume less of it, that’s it.
- Cold turkey almost never works. You are undoing very powerful forces of nature. Habits and grooves in the brain that can highjack your entire system if you give them a chance. We must be patient in undoing those connections.
- Take your time and aim for slow and steady progress and momentum.
- If one day you slip up, don’t judge yourself, just notice it and go back to your progress. You’re human after all.
Change your environment
- In so many ways, we are our environment. When the pantry is stocked with healthy food, you’re way more likely to eat healthy and avoid unhealthy food.
- For example, when I was really cracking down on my diet and my wallet, I took my weekly budget in cash and took only what I needed per day to work. This almost completely eliminated the possibility that I eat bad or spend more money than I needed.
- I would stock the fridge with nourishing foods that I loved so it was a clear go-to for lunch.
- Once the habit is strong, I can start bringing my wallet with me.
- Replace your favorite unhealthy snacks with healthier ones. There is always a healthy alternative.
- If your thing is ice cream, try frozen bananas with 100% cocoa beans on top. Or try frozen mangos, my favorite thing ever.
- If your thing is pasta, try spaghetti squash.
- Try replacing your craving with water or a flavored sparkling water drink that you love, maybe kombucha.
- Also, try replacing your sugar cravings with 50 lunges or squats.
- Get creative.
- Slowly replace unhealthy foods an drinks with healthy ones.
- Do this for long enough and you will break the craving altogether.
- This may not take longer than a few days or a week for some people.
My Top 11 Brain foods
- Coconut oil
- Green leafy veggies
- Chia seeds
- Kidney beans
- Dark chocolate (the darker the better)
- Water! Of course
The Brain Smoothie
- Green leafy veggies
- Chia seeds
- Coconut oil
- Optional: peanut butter, almond yogurt, ice, dark chocolate
There is no one ideal plate, but it will always include veggies.
- Periodic fasting can improve brain function and increase healthspan
- We are seeing evidence of regeneration in the brain, neural stem cells being activated in certain regions of the brain, helping it produce new functional neurons
- Reduces inflammation
- If you run off sugar, the carbs come in fuel the system but then get stored in the form of glycogen in the liver for up to 24 hours.
- Overnight fast isn’t long enough to deplete the stored sugar. Need to break that cycle.
- 2-3 days of fasting, the brain can begin to go into ketogenic mode, using fat as a source of energy since sugar is stored in the liver for up to 12 hours
- Avoid processed foods
- Avoid added sugars
- Avoid trans fats, veg oil, soybean oil, canola oil
- Artificial sweeteners, aspartame, sucralose, and Saccharin
- Whole food plant-based diet
- Leafy greens (kale)
- Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower
- Blueberries (brain berries)
- Brain healthy fats
- Olive oil
- Periodic fasting (2-3 days every couple month at a min)
- Intermittent fasting
The Top Solutions
The standard (aim to make these your non-negotiables)
- Quality and quantity sleep, uninterrupted by light
- A balanced and healthy diet
- Dropping the anchors (sugar, gluten, dairy, alcohol, stress, anxiety, negative people, mold, pollution,
- Get in nature weekly
- Daily movement, ideally you are sweating almost every day
- Social connection
Pick 3 Practices to implement regularly (you wrote down 3 during the workshop)
- Strength training
- Aerobic exercises
- HIIT training
- Brain exercises above
- Tai Chi & Qigong
- Intermittent and long-term (3-5 day) fasts
That concludes the Brain Gym Workshop, thank you so much for showing up powerfully to learn about your brain and how you can thrive.
If you have any questions, reach out here.