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Science Reveals What Happens To Your Brain When You Do What Fits Your Values

Science Reveals What Happens To Your Brain When You Do What Fits Your Values

When do you feel energized the most? After a sufficient sleep? After taking a break from work? Or simply doing things you like the most? The answer might vary but it is quite sure that you won’t feel energized when you’re doing things you don’t like at all.

Our bodies send us different signals when we do things we like or dislike. The feeling of being energized and that of being fatigued are not only the result affected by our emotions. What we do actually changes our brains.

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Our brains naturally filter out what doesn’t fit our values

In our brains, the reticular-activating system constantly filters out information according to our hierarchy of values.[1] To put it simply, our brains filter out the information we value less and what remains is the information that fits our values.

Let’s take an example here. Imagine you are a composer and you are watching a movie with a friend who is a fashion designer. What interests you the most might not be the plot of the movie but the score of it. While the fashion designer who is watching the exactly same movie as you do tend to ignore the score and other features of it but focus on the costume design. You two have different values implanted in brains so you filter out different information that seems unimportant to you.

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Chemicals give us different tastes of life

What we love to do is determined by our values. This explains why not every artist value the same thing. Some value the power of words so they enjoy being novelists; some value the power of image so they become photographers.

But the fact that we are more energized in doing things we like is more closely related to the chemicals released by our brains. Serotonin and dopamine are the neurochemicals produced in our brains when we are taking part in activities that support our values. They are involved in well-being, appetite regulation, pleasurable reward, and motivation. They are like candies which give us the feeling of joy and sweetness.

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What if it is the other way round? When we are doing things we perceive as a threat to our values, our brains produce a higher level of cortisol and substance P. They are chemicals related to stress and pain. Unlike serotonin and dopamine, cortisol and substance P are like bitter herbs which give us the bitter taste, but they won’t help maintain your good health like what bitter herbs do. That’s why you feel demotivated and fatigued when you do things against your values.

You and I should follow what our brains love to do

To promote our mental health, it is better for us to do whatever that is compatible with our values. Either doing the jobs you like or learning something you like. This helps our brains grow faster and better.

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‘Love what you do and do what you love’ might sound a bit cliché but it is so true. This is beneficial to our mental health as proved by science. Passionate dream chasers dedicate most of their time to the things they value and spend less time on things that are less important. Just like what Emma Stone, the Oscar-winning actress, does along her road to Oscar. So determined was she that she dropped out of high school and went for a career in acting, which she valued much more. Probably when she acts, her brain releases those chemicals which make her feel the pleasure and motivate her. And that’s why we can see her wearing a big smile on the Oscar night.

What we can do is to follow our hearts and do whatever we like. That’s what our brains tell us to do.

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Sheba Leung

Translator. Sport lover. Traveler.

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Last Updated on August 8, 2019

How to Improve Your Brain Memory Naturally: Foods to Eat And Skip

How to Improve Your Brain Memory Naturally: Foods to Eat And Skip

Staying focused and maintaining high performance in a hectic work rhythm leads to stress and mental exhaustion. So how to improve brain memory naturally?

The good news is that the negative effects of increased cognitive efforts can be prevented: brain foods, combined with healthy sleep regime and exercise, improve memory, concentration, and intellect.

What’s more, cutting many foods that we consider “generally harmful” out of the diet improves brain function and reduces brain health risks.

How does food improve brain health? Research proves that specific elements contained in the food positively influence molecular systems and support cognitive function.[1] Here’s how:

  • Amino acids support neurotransmitters, endogenous chemicals that transmit signals between nerve cells. This helps keep the brain sharp.
  • Glucose is the main source of energy for human brain. Almost all energy that the brain consumes is derived from glucose.
  • Fatty acids strengthen nerve cells. They bring essential nutrients into brain cells and keep harmful toxins out.
  • Antioxidants protect brain cells by inhibiting oxidization, reducing its negative effects, and removing oxidizing agents from the body.

Knowing what substances are good for brain health, it’s easier to choose a diet that improves memory, maintains brain health and protects it from damage factors. Many foods are known to have positive effects on cognitive health, so anyone can choose their favorite ones to include in their daily diet.

10 Foods That Improve Your Brain

1. Nuts and Seeds

Nuts, such as walnuts and almonds, contain fatty Omega-3 acids that the brain needs for its healthy function, and antioxidant vitamin E that protects nerve cells and reduces brain health risks.

Whole grain, beans, and seeds – sunflower, pumpkin and others – are also a great source of amino acids and zinc that improve memory and contribute mental clarity.

Nutritionists recommend consuming nuts and seeds as a healthy snack – a handful of them is enough to satisfy midday hunger and to cover your daily requirement of brain-supporting substances.

2. Salmon and Other Fatty Fish

Salmon is another source of omega-3 fatty acids that maintain brain health. Essential fatty acids contained in fatty fish, such as tuna, herring and sardines, have a protective effect on brain in the aging process by reducing the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

In a shorter-term perspective, they show positive effects on cognitive-behavioral health: they significantly reduce the risk and the symptoms of depression, ADHD, and anxiety.

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3. Dark Green Vegetables

Rich in antioxidants and vitamin C, green leafy vegetables are known for their positive effects on general well-being and sharpness of mind.

Additionally, such veggies as broccoli, avocado, or kale are powerful cancer fighters. They contain vitamin K that fights lack of concentration, prevents Alzheimer’s disease, and works as an anti-aging substance.

Spinach, kale, and chard also contain brain-boosting vitamins B and iron that helps transfer oxygen to the brain.

4. Dark Chocolate

We often assume that healthy food is not tasty and our favorite sweets are unhealthy, but that’s not quite true.

Combining the useful with the pleasant is possible when it comes to chocolate – and the darker the better: the best choice is 70% cocoa and more. Dark chocolate is rich in flavonoids that stimulate blood flow to the brain, and such elements as iron, manganese, copper, and magnesium that boost energy and support many body functions.

Consuming cocoa improves cognitive function , reduces stress, and protects mental health.

5. Tomatoes

Tomatoes are packed with carotenoids that safeguard fat in the body. As brain is mainly made of fat, this function is especially important for it.

Tomatoes are a great source of two carotenoid types: lycopene and beta-carotene. They are powerful antioxidants that protect brain cells from free-radical damage, regulate cell growth, have anti-aging effects, and improve memory.

6. Eggs

Many of us mostly consume eggs as a source of proteins, but they have much more value for our health. They contain choline that regulates enzymes essential for mental health.

Eggs are a safe way to consume cholesterol that strengthens brain cells and structures. Apart from that, eggs are packed with antioxidants and healthy fats that nurture and protect the brain.

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7. Berries

Berries are a great source of vitamins that help our body function properly. They contain vitamins C and K, antioxidants, fiber, and many other important nutrients.

Dark berries, such as blackberries, blueberries, and cherries, are a source of flavonoids that improve brain health and boost memory.

And while fresh berries are usually a seasonal treat, dried and frozen ones are also rich in healthy nutrients and can be consumed throughout the entire year.

8.Green tea

Green tea has been being used as a medicine throughout the centuries.[2] The list of its benefits for health and well-being is very long – but we’ll focus here on its positive effects on brain. It is extremely rich in antioxidants that protect brain from harmful free radicals and reduce the risk of cancer.

In 1494, Japanese scientists identified in green tea an amino acid called L-theanine. It promotes relaxation and facilitates sleep, helping maintain concentration, regulating emotions, and boosting cognitive abilities.

9. Sage and rosemary

Adding these herbs to your favorite dishes not only improves the taste, but also sharpen the mind, alleviate fatigue, and increase mental clarity.

These herbs contain over 40 active compounds that benefit brain health and enhance cognitive activity. They promote focus, concentration, and calmness, which is essential for alertness and long-term memory.[3]

10. Red wine

While high levels of alcohol are destructive for overall well-being and for brain health in particular, small amounts of red wine are refreshing and vivifying for brain.

Studies have shown that red wine, alongside with it relaxing effect, also improves the brain’s ability to remove harmful toxins by regulating the glymphatic system, reduces the risk of inflammation, and improves cognitive abilities and motor skills.[4]

5 Foods That Harm the Brain

We’ve figured out what food is healthy – but knowing what is to avoid is also essential for maintaining brain health, good memory and sharp focus. Here’s a list of the most harmful foods that impair memory, impact mood, and increase health risks:

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1. Sugary Foods and Beverages

Studies prove that higher sugar levels in the blood not only result in excessive body weight and increase the risk of diabetes – they also expose you to the risk of dementia.[5] That’s why rep lacing sugary drinks and foods with healthier products is essential.

Consider consuming unsweetened tea, water, vegetable juice, and unsweetened dairy products instead.

2. Trans Fats

Trans fats, or unsaturated fatty acids, in small amounts occur in natural and healthy products, such as dairy and meat, where they’re are not a major concern. Much more harmful are industrially produced ones, which are used in snacks, packaged baked goods, and fast food.

As there’s a relation between the intake of trans fats and the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, World Health Organization introduced a guide to eliminate trans fats from the global food supply.

3. Refined Carbohydrates

Refined carbs include sugar and highly-processed grains – for example, white flour. Due to their high glycemic index (GI), they are considered harmful to brain: foods high in GI impair memory in both children and adults, increase inflammation risks and can cause degenerative diseases.

A healthy alternative is whole-grain foods, vegetables, and fruits.

4. Aspartame

A thing that is considered “better than sugar”, but in fact is not better at all. It is efficient for losing weight because it has zero calories, but its components – phenylalanine, methanol, and aspartic acid – have negative effects on cognitive abilities, mood, and alertness.

A healthy choice recommended by experts is reducing the amount of sugar and artificial sweeteners in your diet, or cutting them out altogether.

5. Alcohol

While experts mention positive effects of moderate amounts of red wine on brain health, the excessive consumption of alcohol can cause severe problems that everyone needs to be aware of.

Reduction in brain volume, metabolic problems, disruption of neurotransmitters are the most frequent negative effects. They cause memory loss, behavior disorders, and long-term brain damage.

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Keep alcohol consumption moderate, or avoid it at all, especially if you already have any health risks.

Bonus Advice…

Just eating healthy food sometimes is obviously not enough for improving cognitive performance in the long-term perspective. The key to achieving the best result is getting healthy nutrients consistently. That’s why carefully balancing your daily meal is essential for staying focused and productive.

Here’s some advice on what foods you can choose for your daily diet to boost your memory, concentration, and brain health:

Breakfast

A full and healthy breakfast is an efficient way to start your day productively – so never skip it!

Oatmeal, berry smoothies, and eggs are traditional breakfast meals, and they are a great source of memory-boosting nutrients.

Lunch

It’s sometimes tempting to opt for fast food or packaged baked goods, but stay away from them if you want to stay healthy and energized.

Sandwiches and salads with fish, green leafy vegetables, whole grain and chicken are a great choice for a light and healthy lunch.

Dinner

Again, don’t turn fast food into a habit – such options as seafood and fish, salads with tomatoes and green vegetables, kale, and whole-grain products energize your body and are a better choice for brain health and overall well-being.

Snacks and Desserts

Cookies and candies are a popular (and not really healthy) option for a snack or a dessert. Instead, try choosing healthier meals for your snack. Walnuts or almonds, fresh fruit or berries (depending on the season), or fruit and nut mix give a powerful energy boost.

And don’t forget that dark chocolate is also a healthy choice for a dessert!

The Bottom Line

Improving and maintaining memory, focus and cognitive abilities is crucial for a full and active life. Choosing healthy foods and avoiding unhealthy ones helps support brain health in both short-term and long-term perspective. Keep your diet consistent, and combine good food habits with exercise, healthy sleep regime and reasonable work-life balance to achieve best results.

Featured photo credit: Thomas Evans via unsplash.com

Reference

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