EMPOWERING THE MIND

Issue : April/May 2016
 

Our mind works 24 hours a day, waking or sleeping, conscious or unconscious, so the need for good mental well-being is recognized by people from all walks of life. Mental fitness and brain training have become popular, and there are ways to improve our mental performance through activities and good nutrition.

The mind can be empowered, energized and relaxed by pursuing a lifestyle that suits us and alleviates some of the stresses common in everyday life. The three pillars for good mental energy are being alert, motivated and positive with regards to our surroundings. Relaxation and good sleep are essential to health and a sense of well-being. Stress is a big contributor to mental health issues. On a given day, one has to manage one’s personal life, work that never seems to end and family matters that may or may not contribute to peace of mind. These everyday encounters can easily lead to stress and turmoil. Although many measures have been recommended for handling stress, nothing is as effective as rest, whether just a short quiet break in the middle of the day or a few hours of quality slumber. The ability to relax helps us manage stress and keep a clear head when things go wrong. Relaxation before sleep creates a calm state of mind and helps us fall asleep.

Besides rest, meditation from whichever religion or belief you prefer is also a good way to empower, energize and relax your mind. Studies have confirmed that meditation not only lowers blood pressure but boosts the immune system and the ability to concentrate, as well as physical and emotional responses to stress. Those who meditate can choose among a wide range of practices, religious and secular. In one study, people who meditated regularly for six weeks showed less activation of their immune systems and less emotional distress when put in a stressful situation. Stress reduction could be the key to meditation’s beneficial effects on health.

Nutrients that help boost mental performance

Cognition is the qualified indicator of mental health and good nutrition has been proven to enhance mental performance from infancy to old age. Macronutrients, i.e. proteins, fats and carbohydrates, are not that vital for mental performance since their roles are mostly confined to energy usage and body restoration.

In contrast, micronutrients such as vitamins and minerals together with healthy ingredients such as omega-3 fatty acids play an important role in cognition. These healthy nutrients are indispensable for us in all periods of life, through pregnancy and infancy, school and teenage years, to working adulthood and, of course, old age.

Good nutrition during pregnancy helps support a developing fetus’s overall health, including the brain. From the time following conception the basic brain architecture is in place and starting to develop rapidly. Pregnant women need to be careful they are getting the right nutrients to support their baby’s brain development, since the fetus relies entirely on the mother’s supply of nutrients. The critical time in brain development is around three to four weeks after birth when the neural tube closes and the initial brain structure forms. Folate helps reduce the risk of neural tube defects, so all future mothers should ensure sufficient intake of this B-vitamin. Also important is long chain polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA), including docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and arachidonic acid (ARA). These two acids concentrate in the fetus’s brain throughout pregnancy, and during the third trimester the transfer of these two acids from mother to unborn baby is substantial. It is important to ensure sufficient intake for the whole period, either from enriched diets or supplements.

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