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Why Yoga is Good for Brain Health

There is nothing new about the practice of yoga having been around for many centuries particularly in Eastern Cultures. In recent years, yoga has become increasingly popular world wide for its benefits both in physical and mental health. 

Yoga is the most popular form of complementary therapy and has been shown to help with relaxation and mindfulness practice as well its many benefits to physical health

Yoga and Brain Health

Researchers at the University of Illinois have reviewed how yoga practice affects brain health.

They looked at 11 studies to review how yoga may affect this brain health  as well as blood flow to the brain. 5 out of the 11 trials looked at people who were new to the practice of yoga and took part in one or more session per week over 10-24 weeks. They compared the markers for brain health before and after the introduction of this regular practice.

The other 6 studies looked at measure of brain health in those who practiced yoga frequently versus those who did not. 

MRI scans and other forms of imaging were used to look at the results and all studies looked at the practice of Hatha yoga which focuses on meditation, breathing and movement. 

Reviewing the studies, the researchers found brain changes related to yoga practice were associated with an improvement in cognitive performance and interestingly, emotional regulation.

Yoga and Stress

They found that regular yoga practice may help with an improvement in the cortisol stress response  and overall, that the positive benefits of yoga on brain structure and emotional processing improved overall brain function.

Researchers concluded  that regular yoga may have brain protecting effects although agreed that there was more research to be done before absolute concluding advice could be given. Other areas for research would look at results over a longer time frame and also consider how yoga compares to other forms of exercise with regard to benefits for brain health 

Looking to give Yoga a go?

With many forms of yoga available, there is something for everyone and thankfully  there are lots of online options to get started with whilst we continue to make our way through lockdown.

For more suggestions and details on these look at 

https://www.glamourmagazine.co.uk/gallery/best-online-yoga-classes

As a yoga beginner, my personal favourite is Yoga with Adriene! 

No age is too young to get started, for kids we love www.cosmickids.com

Keep Well,

Dr Clara Russell 

The Sound of Silence

Between Zoom calls, home schooling, devices and just generally more people in your house than there would normally  be during the day lockdown has been noisy.

Whilst the roads remained silent and the shops were boarded up there was an eery silence on our streets – yet indoors things were very different. 

Why Silence can help your Brain Health

“I just cant hear myself think”- how many times has that been said in your house in the last few weeks? 

Too much noise can raise our blood pressure and also increase stress hormone release.

Silence is one way to be able to hear ourselves. By quieting noise around us we get a chance to intentionally focus on what we want to think about. This power of intention is important for our brain health as it is one step in the process of mindful thinking.

Being in the moment, or being present with where you are right now, has long been linked to improved stress levels, happiness and a sense of calm 

Periods of silence can also help us with creativity and focus. With so many distractions surrounding us, it is very easy to distract ourselves with music, TV or social media as a way to put off tasks we want or need to complete.

Taking a few minutes for intentional silence can help reset our focus and this in turn can help us with productive and concentration in the longer term 

How to be silent

Whether you live alone or in a busy home being silent can be difficult. 

The first step is to decide you are going to have this quiet time and if you live with others ask/tell them you need these few minutes

These moments of silence can be used for thinking, reflection, deep breathing or perhaps journaling thoughts.

Decide where you can be silent, set you timer and let things quieten down. 

See how you feel after 5 minutes has passed of total silence – bliss!

For more about the benefits of quiet time and silence have a read

https://www.apa.org/monitor/2011/07-08/silence

Keep Well

Dr Clara Russell

5 ways you can help your Immune System every day

As the global pandemic marches on, being mindful of our health and wellbeing is essential. As we start to move around a little more, possibly return to the workplace or even go on holiday it is important we remember that we need to look after ourselves.

Our immune system is complex. How we respond to infection and disease in general is determined by multiple individualised factors.  However there are everyday things we can do to help support and strengthen our immune system – and at least 2 of them are free!

  1. Exercise – Keeping active and exercising regularly improves our circulation. This also helps with production of antibodies – the bug fighting army that we need to fight infection and illness. Release of feel good endorphins from exercise also helps with feelings of stress and anxiety. This is important for our brain health and our immune system and stress has a negative impact on how we cope with infection. If we can exercise outside thats even better as nature has its own immune improving abilities.
  1. Load your plate with fruit and veg – Vitamin C, Zinc and Iron are just some of the nutrients that help our immune system fight and recover from infection. Leafy greens, brightly coloured fruits and vegetables are everyday ways to help us mainaitan our levels of these essential vitamins and minerals 
  1. Vitamin D-many of us are vitamin D deficient, the NHS and WHO have supported taking a maintenance dose of vitamin D for sometime now so if you don’t already, get started on 10mcg vitamin D daily. And get outside in the sunshine when you can ( and if there is any!)
  1. Sleep – poor sleep affects our immune system and impacts our ability to deal with and recover from infection. Whilst sleep routines have been set haywire during lockdown and the level uncertainty remains high it is understandable that getting a good nights sleep may still be challenging. If you are sleeping poorly and feeling tired read here for some tips https://nogginbrain.co.uk/one-thing-you-can-do-tonight-and-every-night-to-help-support-your-immune-system/ and keep trying. Every night brings a new opportunity to sleep better and like all habits, once you get into a routine of sleeping well it is easier to maintain this
  1. Omega 3 – found in fatty fish such as salmon, these healthy fats are important for brain health as well as your immune system. Omega 3 fats are directly involved in production of some of the white blood cells (lymphocytes) that mount your defence against infection.

Keep Well,

Dr Clara Russell

Anxious about getting back to work in the new normal?

Whilst the Sunday Scaries used to be limited to the end of the weekend feeling, we are now in a whole new world when it comes to the prospect of returning to work and what that means in terms of our mental and physical health. Self care and awareness of our own worries has never been more important. 

How to support your mental health in the new normal:

  1. Acknowledge that these are times like no other. This is hard and difficult and not something we have faced in a scale such as this before. Recognising the challenges and that it’s ok to feel worried or anxious about about going back to the work place is important. Somedays will be easier than others. Talk about it. We are all in the same boat of not knowing what the future will clearly look like so talking about our fears and how it is affecting us is an important tool in managing how we feel. If your fears or anxieties are having an impact on your day to day function talk to you doctor as it may be a sign of something m 
  1. In practical terms, make a list of specific concerns to discuss with your line manager or HR team
  1. Self care has never been more important. Many day to day things impact our mood and how we feel and at times like these the effects of these can be heightened. Simple examples include caffeine intake and hydration. 
  1. Stay present- literally no one knows what is coming with this, we’ve seem experts all over the world go back and forth with ‘the science’ and what our options are. That in itself is anxiety inducing. We need to focus on the here and know and work hard to take each day as it comes. Look out for your mind racing or taking you to the ‘what if’ place and try to reel yourself back in to the current moment. What you are doing now, what you want to achieve today and focus on that
  1. Sleep-if we are not sleeping well it is very hard to have good mental health. Sleep has been hard for many in lock down so if that’s still an issue for you or someone you care about work on it. Look at your daily routine, eat early, minimise caffeine, alcohol ensure you are getting some exercise and exposure to day light during the day 
  1. Positive mental health champion- be a positivity ambassador. If you think you are coping well be aware of those around you that may not and look at ways you support team members. Whether its a 5 minute dance off or a walk around the office, or even just an extra wee tea break those few minutes can help both you and others feel better. 
  1. On line resources- reliable resources can help with movement, healthy recipe suggestions, relaxation, exercise or sleep. Set your favourites and stick to these.  Having a select few reduces the desire to mindlessly scroll through pages and pages of recipes or exercise tips which can fuel anxious thoughts . 

 

Keep Well,

Dr Clara Russell

How to sleep in a heatwave

How to sleep in a heatwave: the science says to drink this hot drink before bed in hot weather

There’s nothing worse than not getting a good night’s sleep and at the moment with the UK temperatures hitting the high notes, it can be tricky to get a proper night’s rest.


We’ve pulled together a list of tips on how to ensure you enjoy some quality rest. 


Why is sleep SO important? Sleep is super important for brain health, our immune system and our mental wellbeing. You can read more on this in our blog post on why sleep is so important for brain health.Sleep is also very important for our memory.


Avoid exercise in the evening
Exercising too close to bedtime raises the body’s core temperature, which makes sleeping in hot weather even more difficult. IAlternatively, opt for exercise first thing in the morning to kick start your metabolism.


Opt for cotton nightwear and sheetsDitch polyester for cotton nightwear. Cotton’s breathability due to the natural fibres, help allow air to move freely and circulate through the fabric, which helps to keep you cooler through the night. 


Have a warm bedtime drink
Sounds contradictory to have a warm drink does cool you down- you can read more on the science behind it here.


Drink milk A bedtime milk drink contains tryptophan, an amino acid which helps you produce serotonin and melatonin, hormones that help you to sleep. If you’re dairy-free, almond milk is thought to have , serious insomnia-busting properties: it’s rich in B vitamins, zinc calcium, iron, potassium and magnesium. All of these vitamins and minerals can help regulate brain activity, relax the muscles and increase the secretion of sleep-inducing compounds like melatonin.

Don’t have a cold shower Keep your evening shower tepid to lower your body temperature. If you opt for a freezing cold one your body will react to the sudden change in temperature by preserving heat.

Boost your fan If you’ve fan, fill up a large water bottle with water, freeze it then put it in front of the fan. Chilled breeze guaranteed.


Leave your feet out
An old fashioned tip which works! Our hands and feet are key to keeping cool, so keep your feet out.

A face cloth My parents used to put a cold flannel face cloth on my forehead and as a GP I’ve used this trick on my son. Wet it, pop it into the freezer for an hour and put it on your feet or your forehead.

Sleep well,

Dr Clara Russell

Dance, lift weights or get creative to help your Brain Health.

Evidence backed ways to help improve memory and brain function  

Latest research published this month has reviewed non medication options to help prevent memory loss and cognitive decline in the 50+ age group.

Aerobic exercise, resistance training, creative art, story telling and dancing all shown to have help brain health in a review of the evidence for those over 50. 

What the researchers found was this:

In people over 50 years with or without current memory problems: 

  • Over a 4 month period  those who took part in aerobic exercise twice weekly  were found to have improvements in their cognition (thinking and processing of information) and other aspects of brain function
  • Over a 2 year period those who took part in a programme that combined diet, exercise, cognitive training and social intervention also showed some improvements in brain functions

In people already experiencing changes with memory, or those diagnosed with ‘mild cognitive impairment’*

  • Tasks or hobbies that combined brain and physical challenges (such as dancing or using dumbbells) also had positive effects on the brain health 
  • Positive effects were also noted in those undertaking creative art or those who took up resistance training

What does this mean?

Yet more evidence that how we live impacts the health of our brain and how we think, feel and process information. Even in those who are beginning to notice changes in their memory or have been diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment (MCI)*, undertaking aerobic exercise regularly or increasing physical activity in ways that requires increased thinking and co-ordination can help improve memory and thinking.

Keep Well,

Dr Clara Russell

*Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) causes a slight but noticeable and measurable decline in cognitive abilities, including memory and thinking skills.

**https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32534025/

5 ways to reduce your risk of Alzheimers disease

5 ways to reduce your risk of Alzheimers disease

Can a combination of every day lifestyle changes reduce your risk for Alzheimers dementia even when you are in an age group that is at most risk?

From all we’ve read and researched we at Noggin know that lifestyle matters for supporting your brain and mental health – that is why we are so passionate about brain health.

Recent research published by Neurology*has some more details on a study recently completed looking at some of these factors in more detail

Exercise, following a brain healthy Mediterranean style diet, moderating alcohol intake and keeping your brain active in activities you enjoy in all stages of like are key to supporting the health of your brain

Researchers looked at nearly 3000 people in their 60s and beyond, who did not have dementia at the start of the study, and followed their lifestyle and dietary behaviours for 6 years

They looked specifically at the following:

  • Not Smoking
  • Regular physical activity (moderate – intense)
  • Alcohol consumption (light – moderate intake)
  • Mediterranean Diet 
  • Brain engaging activities later in life

Comparing those who had 2-3 of these lifestyle habits to those who had 0-1, they was a 37% reduced risk for Alzheimers dementia.

Those who had 4-5 of these lifestyle habits had a 60% reduction in risk of diagnosis. 

The authors concluded that all 5 of these risk factors were changeable and the more we do of them, the better they work to reduce your risk. 

Learn more about Mediterranean Diets and why they are important for your brain health 

Keep Well 

Dr Clara Russell 

*https://n.neurology.org/content/early/2020/06/16/WNL.0000000000009816

How does the New Normal feel for you?

As we slowly start to emerge from lockdown, how can we rebuild confidence, positivity and support our mental wellbeing ?

As a GP and a Mum and wife, I know only too well the anxiety we can face when we are about to take on the ‘new normal’.
It’s fair to say the global Covid-19 pandemic has impacted every aspect of our life, the world over and  we’re all experiencing unprecedented challenges – both personal and professional. Our way of work, how we see our families,  shop, socialise, and go about our daily lives has been deconstructed as we’ve been forced into a new way of living.

It’s no surprise then that our confidence levels have taken a knock, whether its how you feel about you mental wellness, your body-image, social distancing with long overdue family, or rising to challenges if you’re back to work. 
It’s a very uncertain time for many, with research from BUPA Health clinics says 65 per cent of Brits are anxious about returning to the workplace.


Here are some tips if you’re anxious about the ’new normal’ :

Good habits

Confidence is a habit and like any habit, if we don’t keep it up we lose it. Add in the stress of coming out of lockdown with fears around what life is going to look like, and it makes sense that many of us will be feeling more than a little unsteady at the moment, and that is ok to feel this way.

Hark back to more confident times

Think back to a time when you felt most at ease – confident in your abilities and the person that you are. Ponder on what it was about this situation that made you feel this way. Was it surrounding yourself with supportive people, or getting lost in something you really care about? As you start to ease yourself back to normal, try to recreate these moments.

Positive Affirmations

Think about what it is that you want to achieve, or the qualities and things that you need to remind yourself about.

I am strong and confident

I am worthy of love

 I am worthy of respect

I am capable of overcoming the challenges that come my way

I believe in my ability to achieve my personal and professional goals

I am enough

Dress the part

What makes you feel good? Is there an item of clothing that has the power to make you feel confident and strong?friends and family? Maybe there’s a colour or print that perfectly captures your energy, and the energy that you want to give out into the world. Find what it is, and strut your stuff.

Go easy on yourself

Don’t push too hard or have too high expectations to begin with. This is new territory for most of us and setting unrealistic goals won’t help.Keep your intentions positive and be mindful when you can – thinking neither of the past or the future, try to just be in the moment and accepting of what is right now.

You’ve got this.

Good luck and Keep Well

Dr Clara Russell

Brain Food

What we eat makes a difference to both how we feel and the health of our brain. This is something that I hadn’t realised was as important as it is until I started researching brain health a few years ago.

Why does what we eat matter so much for our brain?

Nerve Cells

Our Gut and our Brain both have their own ‘nervous system’ which are in communication with each other. The Nervous system is a huge complex network of cells and connections that influence how our  bodies operate. The nervous system in our brain- known as the central nervous system – is linked to the nervous system with in our gut (known as the enteric nervous system).

Serotonin

The nerve cells that line our gut are important for digestion of our food and also for the release of a very important neurotransmitter serotonin. Neurotransmitters are chemical messengers that communicate between brain and nerve cells. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that is directly linked to our mood, hunger and also plays a role in sleep. 

Gut Bacteria

Good bacteria within our gut helps with regulating how we digest food, improves how we absorb what we need from what we eat and also has a role with inflammation within the gut. Foods that support the growth of good bacteria help with these functions. Fibre is absolutely vital to the way our gut and gut bacteria works. Kefir, sauerkraut and live yoghurt are other ways to support the growth of these good guys. 

Inflammation

Supporting healthy bacteria in our gut is an important way to reduce inflammation. Omega 3 fatty acids within fish and other sources of healthy fats have been shown to be anti inflammatory. 

Nutritional Psychiatry

What we eat and its role in brain health is so important there is a specialised field of medicine looking at this in more detail to further understand this area.

What we do know is this- eating whole, unprocessed foods with lots of fruit, vegetables, natural fibre and beneficial fats is important for our brain health

Brain Health Nutritional Stars

B vitamins are involved in many aspects of energy production as well as neurotransmitters. B vitamins are found in meat, whole grains, eggs, legumes and green veg. As we get older we are more likely to become deficient in some of the B vitamins often due to the way our body absorbs these from our diet. B12 deficiency is more common in the elderly population and those following vegan or vegetarian diet. 

Vitamin D is essential to the normal production of our body’s hormones – chemical messengers. For brain health, enough vitamin D is vital for the production of neurotransmitters. Hard to obtain from out diet, ensuring we have exposure to sunshine and supplementing with Vitamin D is recommended by WHO and NHS. 

Keep Well

Dr Clara Russell 

https://www.nhs.uk/news/food-and-diet/the-new-guidelines-on-vitamin-d-what-you-need-to-know/

https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/do-fish-oil-supplements-reduce-inflammation

Why a Taste of the Med is Important for your Brain Health

Brain function and the Mediterranean Diet: tackling depression, dementia and weight loss

We’ve talked before about the benefits of the Mediterranean diet ( https://nogginbrain.co.uk/add-a-taste-of-the-mediterranean-to-your-plate/ ) and it’s worth noting the science behind the recommendations on what to eat as part of a diet designed for health and wellbeing.


Scientific research shows that polyphenols may be beneficial for brain health, specifically when it comes to depression, since polyphenols influence neurotransmitters in the brain that possess anti-depression activities.


In addition to regular exercise and maintaining a healthy weight, the World Health Organisation also specifically recommends following a Mediterranean diet to decrease your risk of developing dementia as it is “the most extensively studied dietary approach in relation to cognitive function”.


When it comes to weight loss the study of more than 10,000 Spanish women and men over a 5-year period, researchers found that those who had adhered the most high to the Mediterranean diet gained the least amount of weight annually compared to those who didn’t stick with it as closely.


In addition, when compared with a low-fat diet in another study, the Mediterranean diet resulted in almost double the amount of weight loss, thanks to a higher intake of satiating fats and fibre which tend to stabilise your blood sugar, the researchers note.


So eat plenty of these:

Fish and other types of seafood at least twice per week

Olive oil ( extra virgin olive oil if you can)

Nuts and seeds

Colourful fruits and vegetables- the more variety of colour of these you can eat the better variety of phytonutrients you will have in on your plate

Whole grains such as quinoa, and oats

Fresh herbs

Beans and legumes

And moderate these:

Alcohol

Processed carbohydrates

Processed meats

Refined sugars


There’s more information to be found on the NHS website.

Keep Well

Dr Clara Russell