5 Strategies to Spring Clean Your Brain
After a 6-month long, Canadian winter, shrouded in grey clouds and endless snow, I’m ready to throw open the windows and bask in the sweet air and warm sunlight…and get down to the business of spring cleaning.
Spring cleaning isn’t just about clearing out the grimy dust and dirt tracked in by snowy boots; it’s also about inviting in a new, energized vibrancy to your mind and spirit.
Spring cleaning is not just good for the look of your house; it’s also a powerful strategy that improves the health of your brain, which ultimately governs your mood.
Winter was particularly tough this year, and being held-up inside day in and day out really taxes the mood. The winter blues (also known as Seasonal Affective Disorder) hits many Northerns quit hard, and it’s all because of how winter affects the brain. The low level of sunlight hinders the body’s ability to produce vitamin D, serotonin, cortisol, and melatonin in the brain: substances that directly affect mood.
So, as the spring sun starts to shine, I like to help my body, and particularly my brain, to re-calibrate and re-energize. And, here are 5 strategies that I use to help spring clean my brain.
5 Strategies to Spring Clean Your Brain:
1. Purge Purge Purge! Clear your space to clear your mind.
Did you know that clutter affects your ability to concentrate and to process information quickly? The more clutter you have in your environment, the less your brain can focus. Clutter also disrupts cortisol levels in your body, leading to an increased experience of stress and depression.
So, the first strategy to spring clean your brain is to purge, purge, purge! And, I know what you’re thinking…”I can’t get rid of my stuff!” I used to think the exact same way.
I’ve been holding onto books, packed in boxes, for decades. I’ve had a fantasy that I would one day have a library in my own home: a shrine to books, which are one of my favorite things. I can’t imagine my life without books.
But, I recently realized that all of those boxes of books are actually weighing me down. In reality, I’m never going to re-read the books that I have. And, it’s stressful and upsetting to look at the mountain of books that I have, just sitting there…lifeless and without purpose.
So, last week, I decided to start purging. And, let me tell you…it’s liberating! Fifty books hit the curb last weekend, and within a half hour, someone came walking by and took them all! And, I felt freer. My mood felt lighter. And, my first phase of spring cleaning to help my brain was in progress.
This weekend, another 100 books will hit the curb, and I’m already feeling the excitement of how great it feels to purge. Liberation baby! Out with the old, and in with the new.
2. Kick the one-trick-pony, and boost that brain:
Your brain is plastic. That means that the connections within your brain have the capability to rewire themselves. But this only happens when you experience or learn something new. Your brain will not change in anyway if you keep doing the same, well-learned things over and over again.
Your brain needs novelty. Your brain needs to experience newness and surprise.
And, your effort for learning something new rewards your brain with the capacity to maintain clear focus, lasting memory, and sustained vitality as you age. If you want to keep your brain young and healthy, you have to keep learning new things and seeking out new experiences.
A stagnant life will give you a stagnant brain.
So, this spring pick out 3 new things that you want to learn or experience. Get out there, and sign-up for that dance class; say yes to learning a new language; or, grab a friend and train for your first 5 km fun-run.
Just get out there. Stop doing your same old boring routine. Switch it up; stimulate your brain; and, boost your knowledge and lasting memories.
3. Scrub-up from the inside out:
The average western diet is saturated in sugar, preservatives, artificial sweeteners, salt, pesticides, dyes, and hydrogenated oils. We are being bombarded by a nutrient deficient chemical soup, and our brains are suffering because of it.
Did you know that there are over 3,000 food additives?
This spring, choose a chunk of time (perhaps 4-weeks) to step away from food additives, and invite foods in that feed your brain, like: oily fish, blueberries, dark green vegetables, avocados, nuts, seeds, and water.
Give your brain a break by feeding it clean, chemical-free food.
4. Remember to Breathe: The 15-minute mind makeover.
Taking time to sit in silence and concentrate on your breath may sound boring, but meditation does wonders for enhancing brain health and decreasing anxiety and depression. Practicing meditation, even for one-week, significantly alters brain activity.
How long do you have to meditate? Research shows that 30-minutes a day for 8-weeks enhances brain volume in areas associated with memory, stress, and empathy, but as little as 15-minutes per day can also provide benefit.
How do you meditate? Well, it’s best to start out simply:
• Sit up-right on a cushion, or lay comfortably on a rug.
• Focus your attention on your breath entering and exiting your nose.
• When a thought enters your mind, just let it go, and return to focusing on your breath.
• Be gentle with yourself. Don’t become attached or frustrated to your thoughts. Just simply return to the breath.
• Start with 15-minutes per day, and work up to 30-minutes.
5. Move that body! Bust a move for your brain.
There is a lot to be said about shaking your booty and getting your sweat on. Regular, moderate intensity exercise not only reduces depression and anxiety, it also improves memory and thinking skills, and promotes new blood vessel growth and cell longevity in the brain.
Want to live longer, get more done, think clearly, and boost your mood? Well, get out there and get moving!
How much exercise is necessary? Well, you need to hit between 120-150 minutes per week. That’s two 1-hour walks per week, or 30-minutes of exercise on most days of the week.
For me, exercise is the best part of my day. I do 30-40 minutes of moderate to intense exercise, 5 days a week. I’m hooked on doing Tracy Anderson’s Glutecentric exercise DVDs. I crank the music, and follow along with Tracy. It’s the sweatiest workout I have ever done, and I’ve gotten the best physical results than any other program. And, at the same time, I’m boosting my brain health, and cleaning out the winter cobwebs.