Mental Performance & the 5 Pillars of Health
In the busy world that we live in today that demands our attention for so many different things and is rampant with a million distractions, one of the best gifts we can give ourselves is the gift of OPTIMIZED mental performance!
Imagine having the ability to focus for longer, feel motivated to tackle tasks, be able to perform mental tasks quickly and accurately and feel like your brain is on fire! This is all possible when we take care of the 5 Pillars of Health, as our mental performance is very much dependent on a healthy body to support our brain health.
Here are the top ways in which the 5 pillars influence our brain health and mental performance, together with the best tips to OPTIMIZE them for mental magic!
FUEL and Mental Performance
The old adage, you are what you eat, is particularly true for our brain health. Studies have shown that eating highly processed foods, vegetable oils and sugar literally makes us “dumber”. The main reason is that it causes inflammation in the brain, which wreaks havoc on our thinking and reasoning abilities.
You may have heard of brain fog. Diet can play a major role in brain fog, where you feel like you simply can’t concentrate or think clearly. Because we know that Vitamin B12 supports healthy brain function, a B12 deficiency has been strongly linked to brain fog symptoms. The best sources of vitamin B12 are beef, liver, chicken, fish, shellfish, dairy (particularly yoghurt and cheese) and eggs. If you, therefore, follow a vegan or vegetarian diet, it becomes particularly important to supplement with B12! If you just struggle to get enough B12 in your diet, Ancestral Nourishment’s Beef Liver capsules are an excellent, clean, highly effective supplement for Vitamin B12.
As with all things, how we fuel our bodies is a highly individual endeavour. As an example, while dairy is a great source of Vitamin B12, a dairy intolerance in some people is actually one of the main causes of brain fog. Same thing for peanuts. So, make sure that you don’t have allergies that are actually triggering your brain fog!
Other than Vitamin B12 from whole foods or supplementation, the following foods will help you fuel for purpose, that purpose being top mental performance!
Fatty fish: Omega 3 oils are used to quite literally build brain cells, and given that our brains are largely made up of fat, it makes sense that we need healthy fats like Omega 3’s to support learning and memory.
- Coffee: Yay! The caffeine and antioxidants in coffee (within moderation) boost dopamine and promote alertness and short-term improvements in concentration. There are excellent coffees available now from Four Sigmatic, Vivo and Kimera that now only have pure (non-mouldy) coffee but also options that include nootropics like Lion’s Mane and L-Theanine that further boost the superpowers of coffee because they’re specifically focused on mental performance.
- Turmeric: Curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric, can cross the blood-brain barrier (which keeps out the bad stuff and allows in the good stuff) and has a powerful antioxidant effect on the brain. This benefits memory and helps new brain cells grow, which is kind of spectacular.
- Pumpkin seeds: an excellent source of zinc, magnesium, copper and iron, these little powerhouse seeds are important for brain health due to supporting nerve signalling, memory and learning. More importantly, a deficiency in any of these has been very strongly linked to Alzheimer’s, brain fog and mental fatigue. Bake them for 10 minutes in an oven with sesame seed oil and soy sauce and it’s also one of the tastiest snacks you’ll ever find!
- Broccoli: the vitamin K in broccoli is essential for forming the type of fat that we find in our brain cells.
- Dark chocolate: cocoa contains antioxidants and flavonoids that are well-recognised brain-boosting compounds.
- Eggs: contain choline, which studies link to improved memory and mental functioning.
These are only a few of the best brain-optimizing foods out there. Part of fuelling your brain for mental performance could also include supplementing smartly. Here are a few of the best supplements to consider if you want to look after your brain health and improve your mental performance:
- Lion’s Mane
- PrimeSelf Prime Mind
- Alpha GPC
- PrimeMind Total Focus
- NeurActive Neuromind
- NeuroActive Neuro Day+
Follow the above food and supplement suggestions to enhance the functioning of your brain. When you properly support your brain’s needs, it is able to give you the best performance in return!
MOVEMENT and Mental Performance
Exercising is closely linked to how well our brains perform. A large part of this is the mood-boosting properties of exercise. Something as simple as a 30-minute walk on a daily basis has a tangible impact on our mood, which in turn directly boosts brain performance. Exercise can help boost thinking and memory indirectly by improving one’s mood and reducing stress, depression, and anxiety.
However, it goes much further than the mood-boosting impact. You probably already know that exercising is good for your heart, weight management and strong bones and muscles, but exercising can actually enhance your thinking skills and brain health!
Exercising improves your brain function, memory, thinking and reasoning skills and reduces stress, something which often impedes our ability to think. Some very interesting studies have found that the parts of the brain that control memory and thinking are actually physically larger in people who exercise! And we know that when we age without exercising, we are more prone to cognitive decline as brain size actually shrinks relative to active peers! I think this is the most motivating reason in the world to exercise!
Something interesting that a lot of people also experience is the impact of exercising in the morning or in the afternoon. Many of us will feel more focused and alert and better able to concentrate during the day when we exercise first thing in the morning. This isn’t for everyone and exercise any time of the day is good for mental performance, but it does go to show what a real impact exercise can have on your brain’s immediate performance!
Exercise prevents cognitive decline or impairment because it directly improves blood flow. It’s a no-brainer really: when you increase your heart rate, blood is pumped around your body and oxygen to the brain is increased. The effect lasts for a long time. So, exercise protects you from future brain health decline (studies show particularly protective effects against Alzheimer’s disease), but it also gives you some immediate cognitive pick-me-ups!
So what exercise is best? Anything really! But you can keep it simple: 20 minutes of yoga or 15 minutes on a bike or a daily walk will all allow you to tap into the brain-building and brain-enhancing benefits of exercise!
SLEEP and Mental Performance
I don’t think there are any sceptics about the importance of good quality and quantity of sleep. When we don’t sleep enough, we either inhale coffee or attempt a workout just so that our brain gets “switched on”. A tired brain simply doesn’t want to do what you want it to do!
Sleep is so important for the brain and does different things for the brain during REM and deep/NREM sleep. You need enough of both to enhance all your cognitive functions! During each stage, different chemicals in the brain become activated or deactivated to fulfil specific functions.
Without enough sleep, attention and concentration the next day suffers, and these are prerequisites for most learning. Sleep also supports other aspects of learning, including memory, problem-solving, creativity, emotional processing and judgment. Ever lash out or get irritable when you were tired? Your brain is suffering!
There is also a dangerous, longer-term impact of sleep deprivation, be it from purposefully staying up, insomnia or sleep apnea. Multiple studies have linked poor sleep with longer-term cognitive decline, including the development of dementia and Alzheimer’s.
Our little brain neurons work pretty hard for us every single day. It makes sense that they’d be tired from being awake during the day, and sleep is pretty much the only time they get to recuperate. If they’re not rested, just like you, they’re not able to operate properly.
A lack of sleep has been shown to have similar effects to someone who is drunk, like much slower thinking and reaction time. Experts think driving sleepy is even more dangerous than driving drunk.
Finally, memory consolidation isn’t allowed to happen, and research shows that sleep-deprived people could even be forming false memories! Pretty terrifying if you think about it. Or imagine not remembering beautiful memories because your brain never got a chance to fully process them. It’s like losing your camera!
Prioritise sleep to allow your brain to be its best self!
CONNECTION and Mental Performance
A 2017 study in the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine titled “The Connection Prescription: Using the Power of Social Interactions and the Deep Desire for Connectedness to Empower Health and Wellness” speaks to how research in the field emphasises the importance of social connection as a pillar of health and how it contributes to our overall mental health.
As mentioned, stress and poor mood directly affect our concentration and ability to think clearly. People who feel more connected to others and feel like they’re part of society have lower levels of anxiety and depression. When we’re feeling sad, we’re not operating our best from a mental performance standpoint, whereas when we feel connected, we have higher self-esteem and great empathy for others, combined with being more trusting and cooperative. These are all traits that allow us to function at our best in work and personal environments.
Making an effort to spend time with friends and family and pets, and even taking part in social events and gatherings, no matter how small, seems to have a real impact on our mental health, which is crucially important to our mental performance!
ENVIRONMENT and Mental Performance
Various organisations, the WHO included, are currently investigating the impact of exposure to electromagnetic field (EMF) signals, notably from Wi-Fi and other frequencies that we are bombarded with, on our health. In particular, they want to study the concern that EMF may be affecting cognitive performance in humans.
Unfortunately, the problem goes much broader than this. We are constantly exposed to chemicals, pollution, pesticides, fragrances and other toxins in our daily lives. Something as innocuous as the fragrance in your favourite body lotion, the heavy metals in your deodorant (aluminium), or the stuff they spray on your food to make it look beautiful are causing great harm to our mental health.
There are obvious culprits like pesticides, plastics and poisons which we know are bad for us. They’re endocrine disruptors which means they affect our brain health in a very deleterious way. But seemingly innocent products like plastic bottles, tin cans and your washing detergent are causing as much harm.
Studies are looking at the mechanism of how these chemicals are affecting the health of especially children. The changes are subtle and difficult to detect (an IQ point here or there or somewhat quirky behaviour), but studies by the UN and WHO published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism estimate that endocrine disruptors contributed to neuro-behavioural (brain-related) deficits, including autism, costing the EU about EUR 150bn each year in those countries alone!
These everyday household chemicals are a risk to humans of all ages but there is a lot that we can do to mitigate their effects. Buy natural household products (they work!) for anything from your personal care products to your household cleaning products to your food (prioritise organic where possible), avoid plastic as far as possible and drink filtered water (not from plastic) when you can. Switch your wifi off at night. And one of the best things to do when you can’t explain your brain fog is to get screened for heavy metal poisoning!
Finally, living in a house with mould has shown to have very detrimental effects on our brain health particularly, so if you suspect mould, a product like Home Biotic will make a big difference and could help guard against brain fog!
The 5 Pillars and your Mental Performance
We all want a brain that fires on all cylinders that can perform tasks quickly and easily! Losing cognitive abilities shouldn’t be a given as we age or something that we struggle with in our daily lives. It is therefore important to support your overall health by OPTIMIZING the 5 pillars of health to ensure that your brain has all the tools and resources available to truly function as optimally and as wonderfully as we all want!
- Thea is the founder of Neolaia – Biohacking SA and passionate about all things biohacking, functional medicine, holistic and ancestral wellness. She enjoys the occasional triathlon, is fanatic about yoga and the gym and loves n=1 biohacking experiments more than anything else! Learning about the latest in scientific research for health and wellness and applying this knowledge is what makes her happiest!
This information does not serve as medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is for informational purposes only and does not provide a comprehensive explanation of the different compounds. Always consult your doctor first when making any changes to medication or supplementation.