Dr Jenny Brockis.
Food choices can influence memory, cognitive skills, mood and overall mental health, as well as our ability to perform in the workplace. Dr Jenny Brockis recommends a diet of fresh unprocessed food, including leafy greens, lean protein (particularly oily carnivorous cold-water fish, such as salmon), dark chocolate, seeds, nuts and whole grains. Caffeine is good in moderation, while trans fats are universally bad.
Working out increases blood flow to the brain, which strengthens existing neural networks and assists the generation of new neurons, leading to greater neuroplasticity.
Not surprisingly, Brockis argues that sleep is essential for a healthy brain. Despite what many people think, everyone performs better with a minimum of seven hours’ sleep each night, as consistent lack of sleep leads to an outcome akin to being slightly drunk. Sleep is not just the time when the brain repairs itself; it also enables long-term memories to strengthen, while improving mood and the ability to focus.
Brockis is also an advocate for brain-training exercises, starting with simple exercises such as cryptic crossword puzzles or learning new words and their meanings. But these only work when practised consistently (just like physical exercise). A key factor for exercising our brains is curiosity, which stretches our minds towards new ideas and discoveries and makes us more open to learning and remembering.
The brain has a finite energy supply but can be recharged quickly. Scheduling 20-minute breaks between 90-minute work periods can lead to greater focus and productivity.
Multi-tasking is a myth for all but 2 per cent of the population, and our ability to process multiple ideas at once is no different depending on gender or age. Focusing on one task at a time is a better way of ensuring each task is done well.
Brockis is also an advocate for mindfulness – focusing attention on the present moment, often through meditation – as a means of improving concentration, reducing stress, improving decision-making and even increasing lifespan. With its ability to reduce the production of the stress hormone cortisol, mindfulness can help conserve mental energy, as well as consolidate new learnings into long-term memories.