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The novel coronavirus, COVID-19, has brought about many events and circumstances that people are having a difficult time coping with, increasing stress levels and triggering mental health illnesses. Millions of people have been affected by the virus as businesses shutter and people are forced into quarantine and social distancing. These extreme changes can affect important aspects of our lives, such as health, work, family, and socialization. As situations change and we feel the uncertainty surrounding this global pandemic take hold, we must take on the responsibility of looking after our health. In order to stay healthy and fulfilled during these difficult times, we must look at an important factor that determines our psychological and physical well-being – brain health.

What Is Brain Health, and How Does It Affect Mental Health?

Our brains are the most important organs in our bodies. They are responsible for practically everything – from bodily functions to emotions and ideas we experience throughout the day. Despite the importance of these amazing things between our ears, there seems to be little thought about the ways we can keep them healthy and vital. Many people just take them for granted and do not give them a second thought. However, we need to understand that the brain plays a vital role in the way we feel, behave, and think. After all, it is the hardware that keeps our mind running smoothly and efficiently.

Problems in physical brain health can translate to mental health problems and vice versa. Brain scanning is proving the importance of showing the connection between mental health disorders and brain issues, such as injuries, infections, and toxic exposure. This is why maintaining a healthy brain helps keep our mind sharp and clear, allowing us to work, rest, and play with no interruption.

Benefits of Looking After Brain Health

There is substantial evidence supporting the fact that the choices we make in life significantly impact us physically and mentally. Improving brain health has a wide range of benefits, which include:

Better mental health – As the brain gets healthier and more balanced, our mind is able to function better and manage stress and emotions more effectively. Unhealthy brains are more likely to suffer from anxiety disorders, mood disorders, and cognitive problems.

Avoid serious diseases – Many factors play a part in determining our overall health. While we cannot do anything about genetics, we have the power to alter our habits and keep our health intact. The way we live can play a huge part in how much these factors affect our bodies. While this does not guarantee a healthy life, it drastically lowers the chances of being affected by serious diseases and conditions, such as Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, and stroke. In addition to that, it can also spare us the discomfort and troubles of diabetes, cancer, and heart disease.

Happier and more successful lives – Taking care of your brain can pay off in the long run. A healthy brain is more efficient, which means that it enables us to work, perform, and enjoy life at a much higher level.

Better brain plasticity – The brain is always changing and adapting to the stimuli it experiences. A healthy brain can make new connections easily and repair damaged or broken connections. As we age, the brain slowly begins to decline, which is known as age-related cognitive decline. This can cause people to become forgetful and less sharp. Working on memory can help slow down this process and keep us in good mental health into our old age.

Important Factors in Improving Brain Health

The lifestyle choices we make have a significant impact on brain health. The choices we make every day affect our brain and consequently, our minds. As these choices build-up, they determine the health of our brains in the long run. In order to keep our brains healthy, we need to start doing things that promote brain health and stop doing things that harm our brains. These are some of the most important factors that can improve brain health.

1.   Nutrition

In order to understand the importance of nutrition, we need to look at the old saying of “you are what you eat.” After all, the body cannot produce everything it needs to survive. It requires outside elements to carry out its functions. The things we choose to consume are absorbed and utilized by every single organ in the body. In order to work efficiently, the brain needs to have all the necessary nutrients to keep it working at a high level. These are some essential nutrients we need to eat to stay healthy.

●     Vitamins

Vitamins are micronutrients that the body needs in small quantities to sustain life and keep the body healthy. Since the human body is not capable of creating enough vitamins, or any at all, it needs to take them from food. They are present in natural food and are essential for a well functioning organism. Some of the main benefits of vitamins include:

  • Strengthening bones and teeth (aiding in calcium absorption)
  • Boosting immunity
  • Maintaining healthy skin
  • Assisting in protein and carb mobilization
  • Improving blood health
  • Positively affecting brain and nervous system functions.

There are 13 essential vitamins that the body needs, they are divided into fat-soluble and water-soluble vitamins.

  • Fat-soluble group
  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin D
  • Vitamin E
  • Vitamin K
  • Water-soluble group
  • Vitamin B-1 (thiamine)
  • Vitamin B-12 (cyanocobalamin)
  • Vitamin B-6
  • Vitamin B-2 (riboflavin)
  • Vitamin B-5 (pantothenic acid)
  • Vitamin B-3 (niacin)
  • Vitamin B-9 (folate, folic acid)
  • Vitamin B-7 (biotin)
  • Vitamin C

●     Minerals

Minerals are essential to the body as the air we breathe. They are micronutrients that the body uses to function properly. They are divided into major and trace minerals. Major minerals play a huge role in balancing water levels, maintaining healthy skin, nails, and hair, as well as improving bone health. Sources of major minerals include:

  • Magnesium
  • Calcium
  • Phosphorus
  • Sulfur
  • Sodium
  • Potassium
  • Chloride

When it comes to trace minerals, they play a vital role in many bodily functions. These include preventing tooth decay and strengthening bones, supporting healthy blood pressure, helping to transport oxygen, and supporting a healthy immune system. Trace minerals include:

  • Iron
  • Selenium
  • Zinc
  • Manganese
  • Chromium
  • Copper
  • Iodine
  • Fluoride
  • Molybdenum

●     Protein

Protein is a macronutrient that the cells in our body utilize to function properly. The structures and functions of the body depend heavily on proteins. They are the building blocks of our organism. They are made up of amino acids and are responsible for the body’s regulation of cells, tissues, and organs. Some important functions of proteins include:

  • Growth and development of skin, hair, bones, and muscles
  • Developing essential substances, such as hormones and antibodies.
  • Fuel for cells and tissues

●     Fats

Fats are usually associated with unhealthy foods. However, they are necessary to maintain optimal health. They play a vital role in:

  • Cell building and cell growth
  • Blood clotting
  • Reducing heart disease and type 2 diabetes
  • Improving brain power and proper functioning
  • Hormone production
  • Vitamin and mineral absorption

The different types of fats are:

●     Saturated Fats

Saturated fats are linked to high blood cholesterol and an increased risk of heart disease. They can be found in natural products and in manufactured foods.

●     Unsaturated Fats

These are fats that are essential for a healthy diet. When they replace saturated fats in a diet, they can lower cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of heart disease. There are two types of unsaturated fats:

Polyunsaturated fats – omega3 fatty acids found in fish (especially oily fish) and omega-6 fatty acids found in nuts and in some oils.

Monounsaturated fats – found in foods (olive and canola oil), nuts (cashews and almonds), and avocados.

●     Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are extremely important for energy production. They are divided into simple and complex carbohydrates. Simple carbohydrates should be avoided, while complex carbs are a great source of fuel. Carbohydrates play a vital role in supporting:

  • Proper brain function
  • A strong immune system
  • A healthy nervous system
  • Proper digestive function

●     Water

Water is essential to life. Our bodies are largely made up of water, and we can only survive a few days without it. Even slight dehydration can impair physical and mental functions. Important functions of water include:

  • Nutrient transportation
  • Hydration
  • Flushing out toxins
  • Lubrication

The best water to drink is natural water that does not contain any additives or sweeteners. Water can also be extracted from fruits that contain a lot of water.

Healthy eating habits can help prevent heart disease, regulate and improve your blood sugar, facilitate healthy weight loss, and much more. These are all things that can enhance your brain and improve mental health, which is one of the main reasons why some disorders, such as eating disorders, bring about other mental health disorders. Make sure you stick to a healthy diet if you are serious about improving brain health.

2.   Exercise

We have all heard about the importance of exercise. It has multiple benefits to the brain and body. Some of the ways that exercise can affect your health and brain include:

●     Gets the blood pumping

Physical activity can get the heart pumping and increase blood flow throughout the whole body. This results in an increased flow of oxygen throughout the body, as well as aiding in the release and transport of hormones. These are two important aspects of staying healthy since they create an environment that enables the brain cells to function properly.

●     Reduces stress

In many studies that looked at stress and exercise, it was reported that those who exercised regularly reported lower levels of stress. This is because exercise is a great form of stress management. The mindset, chemical reactions, and motion produced from exercise relieves stress and makes the body stronger. In addition to that, it can also reduce memory loss by stimulating cell development in the hippocampus.

3.   Mental stimulation

As important as it is to exercise the body, people need to focus on mentally stimulating the brain. Using the brain strengthens neural connections and helps them survive longer while keeping us mentally strong. This does not mean that you have to study day in and day out. Simple tasks, like solving a crossword puzzle, communicating with people, reading a book, etc., can help stimulate the brain. There are numerous ways to stimulate the brain and improve ourselves.

4.   Sleep

It is a vital function that helps strengthen and maintain neural pathways in the brain, which in turn allows us to learn new things and create new memories. Our brains are always active, even when we are fast asleep. This is because sleep is the body’s time to redirect energy toward handling critical bodily functions. Sleep is as essential for survival as food and water.

To continue the conversation on brain health and wellness at work, contact Safety4Employers. As an occupational health and safety coaching, compliance, education, leadership, and training company, we use our extensive knowledge to help employees lessen the risk of developing mental health problems. Let’s talk more about how to improve your brain and emotional health.

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