My days as a personal trainer, and years spent submersed in a household of doctors and trainers will never let me stop writing about health and physical performance. Health is, and always will be the number one pillar in my life. It doesn’t matter if you’re a millionaire if you’re too sick to get out of bed, and it doesn’t matter if you have the perfect relationship if you lose your mind and can’ remember who they are.
Today, I wanted to write on that big glob of mesh inside our head called the brain. When you have a healthy brain, you will have more energy, less stress, better thoughts, more confidence, less anxiety, better sex, and a better mood. And let’s face it, if you’re all those things, you’ll have more friends too. It’s always nice to have more friends.
Looking at the hard science of the brain we can get a better idea of how to improve our quality of life. There are three chemicals that contribute the most to your wellbeing when they are at the right levels: norepinephrine, dopamine, and oxytocin.
Based on books like Activate Your Brain by Scott Halford, Biology of Belief by Bruce Lipton, and The Edge Effect by Eric Braverman, and on my years living with naturopathic physicians I have learned a lot about those three chemicals and how to get just the right amount in your brain.
I have created 10 of the most effective activities for a happier brain and better life.
We have all heard the recommendation to sleep 7-9 hours per night. Sleep is your hormonal “reset” button and getting the right amount can lead to increased energy and motivation, decreased hunger and cravings, improved physical appearance, increased productivity, better mood, and an increased sex drive.
However, many of us are not able to get those hours every night due to restraints like video games, Netflix, and white cheddar popcorn. Recently, a pesky, out-of-place disc in my back is shooting a lightning rod of pain down my leg & keeping me from sleeping, so I have been capitalizing on power naps to keep my brain functioning properly so I am able to write these awesome blog posts. A short, 15 to 20 minute nap can increase your focus and rejuvenate motor skills. Increase it to 30-minutes, start to get benefits surrounding the brains memory function. Or get real loose with it and take a full-blown 60 to 90 minute nap to make new connections in the brain and have better decision making skills.
For more sleep tips check out http://dannycoleman.net/sleep/
Sprints, or High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), is a great way to get those happy brain chemicals pumping. Sprints have been shown to lower anxiety levels too.
What is a sprint? Easy. Exercise at hard as you can (notice, I didn’t say as fast as you can. It’s about intensity, not speed) for approximately one minute, and then rest (completely stop) for as long as it takes for a full recovery, then repeat 10 times.
A sprint is any kind of exercise you want to do. At Metabolic Effect, we call them Blitzes. You can run, use the elliptical machine, do squats, push-ups, burpees, a bike, whatever! The important thing is 100% effort, and then zero effort. It should take you about 20-30 minutes to knock out a sprint workout.
For more on sprints, check out The Best Ab Exercise EVER That No One Does: http://www.metaboliceffect.com/the-best-ab-exercise-ever-that-no-one-does/
III. Leisure Walks
Leisure walks, especially through nature, have been shown to decrease the stress hormone cortisol and decrease cravings for that white cheddar popcorn. Cortisol isn’t necessarily bad if you’re doing heavy squats or running from a saber-toothed tiger. The issue is that many have have high cortisol while sitting at their desk at work.
Slowly walking (preferably outside) for 30-60 minutes per day is a great way to relax after a long day, start your morning on the right foot (pun intended), or connect with a loved one (See tip #5).
Laughter has been shown to increase the love and bonding hormone oxytocin. This hormone creates feelings of trust, romance, and connectedness with others.
Try watching funny puppies on YouTube Video or call an old friend to reminisce. Every few days me and a friend catch up on the phone and talk in funny accents, tell stories of the past, or bullshit about the present. Is it weird? Of course it’s weird, but I laugh overtime and my mood is always elevated when we hang up the phone.
Connection with others is essential to our wellbeing. I’m talking face to face, uncomfortable eye contact, actually have to respond right away (unlike text) connection.
Neuroscientist Matt Lieberman wrote an entire book about being social and connecting with others. It’s sort of a big deal.
This is why leisure walks with your girlfriend or boyfriend can be so beneficial. It’s both exercise and connection.
Go over and just chill with your best friend, get a workout buddy, play pick-up basketball, talk to a stranger at Starbucks, or reconnect with old friends.
Mindfulness and meditation are huge in the self-development world and most people are familiar with their benefits, but when I talk to my friends the idea is still a little woo-woo or people don’t know what to do.
Let me break it down for ya:
Set your phone timer to 5-minutes, sit down, close your eyes and take deep breaths. The goal is to be in the moment. Focus on your breath and don’t let your mind wonder. Naturally, it will wonder. If it doesn’t, congrats, you’re enlightened. But when it does, simply recognize it, and bring your focus back to your breath. Don’t get frustrated. Often times I’ve meditated for 5 minutes and not once focused on my breath, but you will get better as time goes on.
VII. Box Breathing
Navy SEAL and author Mark Divine uses a method called Box Breathing. When you slow down your breath and expand your lungs, you switch on your parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for relaxation.
This is a great way to calm down when you’re heated in the moment. Here’s how it works:
Do 10 reps of the following —
- Take a deep breath in (4 seconds)
- Hold the breath at the top (4 seconds)
- Exhale slowly (4 seconds)
- Relax (4 seconds) before inhaling once more
The brain loves novelty. It loves to try and see new things. Personally, this is why I try to hike up big-ass-mountains and travel so much (Follow the #DCSummerTour on IG). This newness causes a release of the hormone norepinephrine, which is responsible for focus, engagement, and interest. That’s why a new dating fling is so exciting – it’s all new.
Try things like learning french (check out Duelingo app), taking a different path to work or school, stopping by a different Starbuck in the morning, or hiking up a big-ass-mountain (which could also count as leisure walking).
One of my daily goals is to make somebody else’s day. It doesn’t matter if I know them or if they are a stranger. Doing something for somebody else releases that loveable hormone oxytocin.
I know, novel concept: being nice to others.
My grandmother does something for somebody else every single day and she is one of the most loveable, wonderful people I have ever known. She loves everybody and the feeling is reciprocated from all those she comes in contact with.
X. Set Mini-Goals
The brain craves achievement and completion even in the smallest sense like finishing a book or cleaning the kitchen. Even these little accomplishments release the brain chemical dopamine. Dopamine causes pleasant feelings and the desire to do something again.
Set a mini goal throughout your day like cleaning your closet, or meditating for the entire 5 minutes, and you’ll likely want to meditate again or clean another closet.