A step-by-step guide on how to banish brain fog throughout the day starting from the moment you wake up until you go to bed.
7am - Chill in the shower
Start the day by letting your mind roam in the shower, advises mindset coach Ruth Kudzi (ruthcudzi.com).
“When we relax we can access the area of our brain that does our ‘slower order’ thinking which means we are more creative and can problem-solve better. This is why we often get our best ideas in the shower.”
Finish off with a blast of cold water. This improves alertness and focus throughout the day. New research says swimming in cold water could guard the brain against degenerative diseases like dementia.
It seems the shock of cold water increases levels of a protective protein in the blood, so give your head a cool blast under the spray.
7:30am - Don’t skip breakfast
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Growing research suggests eating the right foods – especially in the morning – can help to increase the number of neural connections in the brain.
So scramble a few eggs to have with your toast. Harvard University scientists found people who ate only carbohydrates in the morning were less mentally alert and scored 50 per cent lower on mental tasks than those who also ate protein.
7:45am - Switch off autopilot
This could be as simple as washing up your breakfast dishes while concentrating on the bubbles or watering your plants and noticing the texture of the leaves. Science has proven that being more mindful improves concentration, memory and focus.
8:30am - Go for a walk
Whether you’re getting children to school, working from home or using public transport, try to get some morning exercise. It changes the brain in ways that protect memory and thinking skills.
A University of British Columbia study found regular aerobic exercise, that gets your heart pumping, appears to boost the size of the hippocampus, the brain area involved in verbal memory and learning.
In an ideal world, you’d go somewhere new when you go out. Neuroscientist Dr Lynda Shaw explains: “A normal routine drains our brains. It’s important we change things about.”
10am - Pop a colourful plant in your work space
Studies suggest that having a plant or flowers in your eyeline can increase productivity, innovative thinking and help to create a more positive environment to be in.
10.30am - Test your hearing
According to a recent report in The Lancet, hearing loss is the biggest modifiable risk factor of dementia. It reduces cognitive brain function, and increases social isolation and depression.
11am - Enjoy a cuppa and a puzzle
Caffeine is classed as a nootropic – a substance that can improve functions such as memory, creativity or motivation.
Research has also shown drinking caffeinated coffee is associated with a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease, while Chinese researchers found drinking green tea regularly could improve your memory and delay the onset of Alzheimer’s thanks to a key antioxidant called EGCG (epigallocatechin-3 gallate).
While you drink, try some cryptic clue solving, which makes you think both logically and creatively, according to experts. Word games, playing cards and board games all count.
In fact, completing a daily Sudoku could delay brain ageing by eight to 10 years, suggests a recent British study of nearly 20,000 people.
Noon - Go Mediterranean for lunch
Research has found a traditional Mediterranean diet – high in colourful, seasonal whole foods, such as fruits, vegetables and salads – may help improve our brain power.
Knock up a simple Greek salad (feta, olives, cucumber, lettuce and red onion) and add tinned tuna and/or cooked pasta. Cooked tomato, a good source of lycopene, helps protect against free radical damage to brain cells.
Consider an omega-3 supplement, particularly if you’re not a fan of oily fish. A new study published in the British Journal of Nutrition suggests taking omega-3 fatty acid fish oil containing 1000mg of DHA produces similar improvements in brain function to exercise in older women – notably verbal memory and executive function (the way your brain manages the information it receives).
1pm - Chat to someone in your lunch break
People who live socially engaged lives, whether that’s in person or by phone, experience slower cognitive decline and are less likely to get Alzheimer’s.
If that’s not on, recite the alphabet backward. Simply recalling information by rote, like your ABC or times tables, doesn’t challenge your brain – but mixing it up, such as narrating it backwards, targets new areas, say experts.
2pm - Drink a big glass of water
Mild dehydration can impair cognitive performance, particularly when completing tasks involving attention, executive function and motor coordination. Keep a reusable bottle with you and refill it regularly.
3pm - Sneak in a siesta
A NASA study found pilots had 54 per cent improvement in alertness after a 26-minute nap. Just make sure you set an alarm to avoid feeling groggy.
3.30pm - Bake a cake
“Challenge and novelty cause your brain to release noradrenaline, which helps form new brain connections and promotes your brain’s plasticity,” says Sabina.
She suggests doing something different in your free time – listen to a new genre of music, cook or bake a complicated recipe, walk a new route without a map and stay curious about the world around you.
If you’ve no time for that, treat yourself to a few squares of chocolate. The flavonols in dark chocolate (minimum 70 per cent cacao) can improve blood vessel function, which in turn improves cognitive function and memory.
If you’re trying to be healthy, snack on iron-rich dried apricots instead.
Iron deficiency reduces your blood’s ability to carry oxygen to your brain causing poor concentration and lack of energy.
Alternatively, blueberries contain anthocyanins which have been shown to improve brain function.
4pm - Do some gardening
A Korean study which examined blood samples of older people who spent 20 minutes a day gardening found a significant increase in brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), important for brain function, memory and platelet-derived growth factor which is vital for blood vessel formation and growth.
5.30pm - Whip up a curry
The curcuminoids contained in the Indian spice turmeric may inhibit an enzyme responsible for the formation of beta-amyloid plaques, which disrupt the communication between brain cells – a key feature of Alzheimer’s.
Adding a handful of spinach daily could make your brain up to 11 years younger, say Chicago researchers, who believe the combination of vitamin K, folic acid, lutein and beta-carotene keeps the brain sharp.
Where possible, tuck in with your family or have dinner with a friend via Zoom. Studies show one of the factors most protective of the brain later in life is regular social interaction.
7pm - Snuggle up with a bestseller, not the TV
People who read regularly have been shown to have improved reasoning skills, vocabulary, concentration and critical thinking.
Reading also enhances other life skills, such as empathy and emotional intelligence.
Alternatively, hand-write a letter. Writing requires fine muscle control that taxes the brain, and trying to find the right words stimulates the mind.
8pm - Chill out
Meditation increases the brain’s thickness in the parts that deal with attention and processing external information, say Harvard and Yale researchers.
Try a yoga YouTube tutorial or download an app such as Headspace.
9pm - Drink cocoa not Cabernet Sauvignon
Although alcohol might help you get to sleep, it can have a really adverse impact on your REM – or Rapid Eye Movement – cycle, the most restorative period of your slumber. Ultimately, this will leave you feeling foggy and less alert the following day.
9.50pm - Use your weaker hand to brush your teeth
Doing day-to-day activities with your non-dominant hand forces the brain to pay close attention to a normally unconscious behaviour.
10pm Hit the sack
Dr Nerina Ramlakhan, author of Tired but Wired, says: “The 90-minute phase before midnight is one of the most powerful phases of sleep, because it’s the period where the body is replenished.
“It’s also a really important phase for re-organising all the information we’ve taken in during the day.”