Back to School with Brain-Healthy Habits
With the back-to-school season approaching, as a parent you may find yourself caught up in the rush, juggling tasks like gathering school supplies and ensuring packed lunches are prepared ahead of time. Amidst this flurry, it's easy to unintentionally neglect your own health. However, making time for yourself is crucial, especially when it comes to maintaining brain health during this busy season. Transitioning back to school after a break can present unique challenges, but prioritizing brain health can make a significant difference in how you manage challenges that arise.
In this article, we'll dive into brain-boosting tips that fit your lifestyle and eating habits, aiming to give you and your family what you need to thrive during this busy season. Whether it's forming good routines or making mindful dietary choices, we're here to help you find ways to keep on track with your brain health journey.
Establishing a Brain-Healthy Routine
You may notice a rollercoaster of emotions during the back-to-school season. Kids are adjusting to new teachers, routines and classmates, while you are likely managing work, the morning rush and after-school activities and sports. Stress can creep in unexpectedly for everyone in the family. However, it’s vital to carve out moments for stress management, as studies have revealed that chronic stress over time can negatively impact memory in older adults.1 Engaging in stress management practices can provide a sense of balance and calm, allowing you to effectively navigate challenges.
Here are some effective strategies to consider:
Deep Breathing and Meditation: Taking a few moments each day to practice deep breathing or meditation can work wonders for your stress levels. Deep, slow breaths trigger the relaxation response, calming the nervous system and promoting a sense of tranquility.2
Engage in Regular Exercise: Regular exercise acts as a potent stress-reliever while benefiting brain health. It reduces inflammation, enhances blood flow to the brain, and lowers stress hormones and can increase brain volume. Studies highlight its positive impact on improving memory function in adults, emphasizing the importance of consistent engagement.3 Even a 30-minute walk with a friend merges physical activity and social interaction, offering profound brain benefits.
Stay in Touch with Friends and Family: During daily responsibilities, cherishing moments with loved ones offers solace and motivation. When faced with stress, these interactions become a shield against isolation, fostering belonging and emotional well-being. Daily connections with friends or family stimulate the brain, enhancing attention and memory, with studies linking social activity to reduced cognitive decline.4 Heartfelt conversations or joyful laughs with understanding friends remind us of our robust support network.
Quality Sleep Each Night
Equally vital is prioritizing consistent, quality sleep each night. Recent research is delving into the relationship between diet, behavior, and sleep patterns, revealing strong connections between poor sleep and neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease.5 Sleep serves as a vital restorative process for the brain, allowing it to clear toxins and consolidate memories.6 While you may want to nap to try and make up for lost sleep from the night to provide a quick energy boost, naps could be harming your nighttime sleep and overall brain health. In fact, a study found that longer and more frequent daytime naps were associated with higher risk of Alzheimer's/dementia.7 However, this doesn’t apply to young kids as they do need naps, and you might even notice that younger kids (kindergarten age) will start napping again during this period as they adjust to longer school days, more stimulation, and the stresses of being at school. Achieving better sleep duration and quality for yourself is attainable through simple tactics, which might help avert sleep disorders and negate the need for medication. Refine your sleep abilities over time, and incorporate these practices:
- Take into account your sleep setting – ensure its tranquil, pleasantly cool, devoid of light, and provides comfort. Reflect on upgrading your bedding or mattress to ensure you can easily relax once you’re in bed.
- Ensure you’re setting yourself into sleep mode - refrain from intense physical activity, snacking, bright lights, and screen exposure for at least an hour prior to sleep.
- Steer clear of caffeine, alcohol, and other stimulants in the hours leading up to sleep - these substances can disrupt your body's natural sleep cycle and prevent you from getting the restful sleep you need. Instead, opt for soothing caffeine free herbal teas to help relax your body and prepare it for a peaceful night's rest.
Enjoyed Balanced Brain-Healthy Meals
Finally, ensuring that you enjoy balanced meals is vital for sustaining energy levels and promoting health. It's important to incorporate a variety of nutrients into each meal to support optimal brain function. Center your attention on the Mediterranean diet, where a wealth of studies highlight its potential to enhance brain health, including memory and cognitive performance, while diminishing the risk of conditions such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, and other forms of dementia.8 By combining foods rich in brain-boosting nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids, flavonoids, and magnesium, parents can create meals that fuel both body and mind.
Here’s a few actionable suggestions to help you stay on track with eating right for your brain health and overall vitality:
- Start by stocking up on foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, like salmon, chia seeds, and walnuts. These can be easily added to salads, oatmeal, or yogurt. Berries, with their anthocyanins, make fantastic smoothie additions or standalone snacks.
- Don't forget leafy greens, which are packed with vitamins and minerals, like lutein and zeaxanthin, that support brain health. Incorporate them into sandwiches, wraps, or even slip them into muffins.
- Meal prepping on weekends or using slow cookers can also save time during busy weekdays.
Don't let snack choices veer you off course. The convenience of reaching for a bag of chips or a box of cookies can sometimes be tempting.
- Instead, prepare a batch of veggie sticks and pair them with hummus or yogurt-based dips.
- Mixed nuts, seeds, and dried fruits can be portioned into grab-and-go containers for quick snacking.
- Hard-boiled eggs, dried seaweed, and whole-grain crackers also make satisfying options.
- Having a well-stocked snack drawer or designated snack shelf in the fridge can help everyone in the family make wholesome choices when hunger strikes.
For even more tips and recipes, along with some Mediterranean diet meal plans, download our FREE guide: Learn to Eat the Mediterranean Way.
By incorporating these actionable suggestions into your lifestyle, you can create a solid foundation for nourishing your brain even through the busy school year and juggling a million tasks.
We all have moments where our healthy eating goals might slip through the cracks. This is precisely why we created RELEVATE to align with the potent brain-protective nutrition found in the Mediterranean/MIND diets. Our systematic development of RELEVATE involved analyzing a proprietary database containing over 2000 observational, clinical, biological, and nutritional studies. This comprehensive approach allowed us to pinpoint 17 nutrients and vitamins crucial for nurturing memory and brain health, both now and in the future. Discover more about RELEVATE by visiting here.
- Peavy, G. M., Ph, D., Salmon, D. P., et al., Effects of chronic stress on memory decline in cognitively normal and mildly impaired older adults. Am. J. Psychiatry, 2009, 166, 1384–1391.
- Zaccaro, Andrea et al. “How Breath-Control Can Change Your Life: A Systematic Review on Psycho-Physiological Correlates of Slow Breathing.” Frontiers in human neuroscience vol. 12 353. 7 Sep. 2018, doi:10.3389/fnhum.2018.00353
- Loprinzi, P. D., Frith, E., Edwards, M. K., Sng, E., and Ashpole, N., The Effects of Exercise on Memory Function Among Young to Middle-Aged Adults: Systematic Review and Recommendations for Future Research. Am. J. Heal. Promot., 2018, 32, 691–704.
- James, B. D., Wilson, R. S., Barnes, L. L., and Bennett, D. A., Late-Life Social Activity and Cognitive Decline in Old Age. J Int Neuropsychol Soc., 2011, 711–716.
- OM, B., M, B., J, M., O, U.-B., YV, S., Y, W., S, S., AR, B., Y, W., D, M., & WM, A. (2017). Sleep, Cognitive impairment, and Alzheimer’s disease: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Sleep, 40(1). https://doi.org/10.1093/SLEEP/ZSW032
- Sleep: What It Is, Why It’s Important, Stages, REM & NREM. (n.d.). Retrieved August 8, 2023, from https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/12148-sleep-basics
- Li, P, Gao, L, Yu, L, et al. Daytime napping and Alzheimer's dementia: A potential bidirectional relationship. Alzheimer's Dement. 2023; 19: 158– 168. https://doi.org/10.1002/alz.12636
- Morris, M. C., Evans, D. A., Tangney, C. C., Bienias, J. L. & Wilson, R. S. Associations of vegetable and fruit consumption with age-related cognitive change. Neurology 67, 1370–1376 (2006).