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updated: 4/14/2014 6:18 AM

Steps to support brain health, improve overall wellness

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Brain health is an often overlooked aspect of fitness but has a major impact on the overall well-being of the body.

Many times brain health is only addressed once there are known issues. Fortunately, many of the healthy steps we recommend for the well-being of the body will also support healthy brain function.

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The following tips will support brain health while improving overall wellness.

Never stop learning. Keep your brain sharp by challenging it on a daily basis. Simple things like brushing your teeth with your non-dominant hand, or trying a new activity that makes you think on your feet like a dance class, or simply reading a book on an unfamiliar topic are all great for keeping the brain active. These types of activities should make you think, learn, and use the brain while embracing the new challenges.

Exercise. We all know that consistent exercise is recommended to keep your body going strong, but these benefits will support brain health as well.

High-intensity cardio and strength training will help produce a beneficial form of nitric oxide that promotes brain function and vascular health while reducing inflammation. Short bouts of extra high-intensity exercise have the greatest impact on these nitric oxide levels, so think interval-style training rather than steady state.

Improve your sleep quality. Of course we'd all like to get more sleep, but if you haven't been getting seven to eight hours a night, start focusing on the quality of your sleep.

Maintaining a consistent blood sugar throughout the night will help you sleep straight through or for longer periods before waking unintentionally.

You can help maintain nightly blood sugar levels by avoiding high carbohydrate foods later in the day or before bedtime. Consuming fibrous carbs instead and getting a quality fat and protein source will help keep levels steadier throughout the night.

Eat clean and nourish. Systemic inflammation from poor dietary choices and food intolerances can deplete brain health as well. The brain communicates directly with the digestive system through the vagus nerve.

Poor brain function can impair this communication and lead to digestive issues which will in turn lead to continued brain impairment from lack of nutrient absorption. By limiting sugary foods and controlling insulin levels, you are improving your brain's communication with the rest of the body.

Support brain oxygenation. If the brain is not getting an ample supply of oxygen, it may be struggling and performing poorly. Stress can cause shallow breathing and overstimulate the sympathetic nervous system and suppress the parasympathetic nervous system.

This means that the "fight or flight" response is turned up and the "rest and digest" response is turned down. Learning how to calm the body with stress-reduction and breathing techniques can go a long way in resetting this balance.

These are just a handful of simple things you can do to help improve the health of one of the most complex organs in the body. For more exercise and nutrition tips, visit us at PushFitnessTraining.com for links to our blog and social media resources.

Joshua Steckler is the owner of Push Fitness, a personal training studio located in Schaumburg specializing in weight loss, muscle toning, and nutrition. Contact him at PushFitnessTraining.com.

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