I don’t know anyone who would say they wouldn’t love to boost their concentration and improve focus. And memory, yeah, we all want that to work a little better, especially as we hit 40+. With ready access to information, both good and bad, via social media and Google, it’s easy to scratch your head and decide to ignore it all. Please don’t! Information is power BUT it’s more important than ever to be educated consumers.
We live in a world of distractions. Science says we get addicted to it… the overwhelming urge to give our “friends” the play by play on who’d mad at who, the need to flip through channels, oh and you have a question about the nature of our universe? Google it...right...now.
The ability to grab and maintain focus is a struggle for many. Concentration is a muscle and it must be built. To this end, here are 5 tried and true, scientifically backed, methods to get your focus on!
Sleep to improve focus
What? Sleep? Who has time for that? Well, you should make time for it. We all should. When my boys were young and didn’t want to go to bed, I would say, “sleeping makes your soldiers strong and soldiers fight off sickness”. It’s so true. Good sleep allows your body to down regulate and rebuild.
The evidence linking sleep deprivation and poor cognitive performance is piling up! At this point, it is an undisputed argument. Lack of sleep not only impairs attention and working memory, but other functions as well, such as long-term memory and decision-making. It is also found to influence attention, especially vigilance.
If you are a troubled sleeper and want to improve focus, here are 6 easy tips to course correct (compliments of David Perlmutter, M.D.).
Using diet to improve focus
As conventional food sourcing methods change to meet the demands of a growing global population, processed food ‘like’ substances are being consumed more and more. Processed foods pose several concerns but namely it,
- Is often riddled with synthetic dyes and food additives.
- Largely consists of carbohydrates.
Studies have shown, dating back to 1979 and earlier, that certain dyes act as a “central excitatory agent able to induce hyperkinetic behavior” and that combinations of common food additives appears to have a neurotoxic effect, inhibiting attention span. Then there is the issue of allergies to these synthetic substances.
How do you combat this? It’s simple, EAT REAL FOOD! Eliminate food from a box and stick to fresh and frozen meats and vegetables.
Too many carbohydrates, specifically those of a processed nature, tend to lead to brain fog and poor concentration. While the brain needs about 110-130 grams of carbs per day, that doesn’t mean that we have to eat them. Our livers have an amazing ability to convert protein into glucose and this glucose supplies the brain with the needed fuel. Virtually, all other energy needs for our bodies can be met through the conversion of fat to ketones.
The science is clear that ketosis improves focus and overall cognitive performance. Humans are designed to cycle in and out of ketosis, regularly. This can happen, quite naturally, by limiting food consumption after a reasonably timed dinner until breakfast when the ‘fast’ is broken. This, along with eating real food (limiting starchy vegetables), will promote healthy carb burning/ketosis cycling, as it is meant to be.
BUT, before optimal cycling can happen, the dust has to be blown off of our ketone engine, so to speak. Because most people live in sugar burning mode a mass majority of the time, their bodies’ ability to burn fat is clunky. To upregulate this natural function, I recommend a ketogenic diet for 6-12 weeks. From there you can decide what carb cycle makes sense for your lifestyle. The options are virtually limitless.
The bottom line is that your body must be perfectly comfortable using all available fuel sources. This is when optimal health is achieved.
Exercise to boost concentration
Aerobic exercise boosts concentration and memory. The part of the brain responsible for learning and memory, the hippocampus, literally grows as cardioactive fitness improves. Science shows that walking or cycling while learning increases retention. How’s that for multi-tasking?
A recent study out of the University of Granada has linked participating in physical activity with longer attention spans. For physically active participants, improved cognitive abilities such as time perception were also notably higher. While it is generally accepted that physical activity lends itself to better overall health, this study clearly illustrates a strong relationship between physical activity and longer attention spans.
Exercise also burns up cortisol and releases endorphins (happy hormones) and can combat brain fog by reducing inflammation, improving mood and sleep, and counteracting stress and anxiety. It’s time to get moving!
Take time to relax
Stress is a necessary evil. Cortisol, the primary stress hormone, is a major player in the “fight or flight” survival game. Thousands of years ago, prior to the onset of social media -:), cortisol was released during times of danger to elicit a critical survival response… like a tiger or perhaps bear. You get the picture. We would see a tiger. The brain would detect danger. Cortisol would be released. We would run!
Today though? Due to high paced work environments, an aggressive social culture and the “perfectionist” mindset so many of us share, stress is more chronic and less acute, and cortisol can take a toll on our bodies. It causes inflammation, prevents us from sleeping (see the 1st point above), and chews through micronutrients (like magnesium), leaving us with a deficit that is hard to balance through normal diet. All of these things impact cognitive performance.
The answer is clear. Taking time to relax, everyday and even throughout the day is crucial. This can be accomplished several ways.
- Get regular exercise to process the excess cortisol.
- Practice deep breathing to control stressful situations. In times of stress we breathe more shallow..
- Learn to meditate or practice yoga. Meditation doesn’t have to take long and while it does take practice, it is incredibly effective at centering our thoughts, allowing us to almost immediately improve focus. I am particular to guided imagery. I like to recall a favorite memory, using all five senses, to truly relive the moment.
- A good massage can go a long way. Need I say more?
- Detox using a good sauna. Sweat out the impurities! I love the newest infrared technology because it makes owning your own so much more reasonable!
Preventing and, certainly, effectively managing chronic stress will change your life. It will clear the brain fog, improve your overall quality of life and honestly, make you a better person!
When all else fails...Use supplements
And I really do mean, when all else fails. While I love a good supplement, they should be used to compliment healthy lifestyle choices and only as necessary. Having said that, here are my top 3 go to supplements to improve focus.
Once upon a time, when I was inappropriately diagnosed with adult ADHD and was prescribed two medications, I used these to get my head on straight! Click here to read my story.
I’ve written about magnesium several times. Why? Because it is, quite literally, critical to optimal health and as many as 70% of us are deficient. Magnesium supports bone and muscle tissue as well as the central nervous system. It is a key ingredient to over 300 biochemical processes.
Just one symptom of magnesium deficiency is anxiety which is closely linked to poor attention span.
What you get with a good magnesium supplement is a whole body, calmness that, absolutely, promotes focus and concentration.
Caution: Get a good magnesium product. It is a major concern that supplements are not regulated by the FDA. We have to be educated consumers.
Tyrosine is an amino acid and is a key ingredient in the production of neurotransmitters and hormones. Specifically, it is a precursor to dopamine.
Dopamine regulates movement, attention, learning and emotional responses. A deficit here can cause depression, poor concentration, ADHD and if severe enough, Parkinson’s disease.
The good news is, increasing Dopamine levels is fairly easy to do. There are a variety of L-Tyrosine products on the market. Again, the above caution applies. Choose your supplement wisely.
Like Tyrosine, 5 HTP (5-hydroxytryptophan) is an amino acid. In this case, it is a precursor to the production of Serotonin. This neurotransmitter helps regulate mood and social behavior, appetite and digestion, sleep, memory, and sexual desire and function.
My experience closely ties mood to cognitive performance. No doubt about it!
Low Serotonin levels are scientifically linked to:
- poor memory
- low mood
- craving for sweet or starchy foods
- difficulty sleeping
- low self-esteem
A quality 5-HTP supplement can be a game changer. You can reduce anxiety and improve focus and memory by increasing consumption of foods containing this amino acid or through supplementation.
Well, there you have it. Here are 5 tried and true natural ways to improve focus and concentration, not to mention the amazing impact they can have on your overall mood and happiness! I hope you got what you came here for. Thanks for visiting.
Take care and, as always, stay healthy!
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*Remember to check with a healthcare professional before making changes to your diet, including the introduction of supplements.
**These claims have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Association.