How To Have A Brain-Healthy Holiday + Recipes, From An MD

Our brain is our personality, our experiences, and who we are. It’s always important to take care of our brain health, but in a time where we’re all facing challenges at every level of life, it’s especially crucial set our ourselves up for success to be the best versions of who we are. That sentiment particularly rings true this holiday season.

Optimizing brain health isn’t magical: it’s about what we put into our bodies, how we move, how we sleep, how we stay mentally active. The way we approach brain health in my practice is with a program called the NEURO PLAN which stands for: nutrition, exercise, unwind (stress management), restorative sleep, and optimization of cognitive activity. If we approach brain health in a comprehensive way like this, we not only help prevent diseases, but we improve our brain’s function. We’ve done studies that show when people take care of their lifestyle, they can make better decisions, have better memory, and improve productivity—overall just live a cognitively vibrant life.

Of course, during the holidays, stress can spike more than usual. Which means it’s more important than ever to maintain those aforementioned lifestyle strategies, and surround ourselves with the right kind of environment that allows it to thrive, rather than put more stress on it (think: not moving or not eating right).

First and foremost, aim to mitigate unnecessary mental stress. I should clarify that good stress exists, which includes activities you choose—things like learning a new language, trying a new technology, starting a new project or hobby—which strengthen areas of the brain. Then there’s bad stress—things that are out of your control, that may be imposed on you. To help minimize the latter, prioritize things that matter, and try to delegate and reduce the others that are out of your control. For things you can’t do anything about? Try using positive language to put a better angle on it. Say “this is a challenge for me” which has a completely different connotation, which is better for your performance and health.

It’s also essential to keep active during the holidays, but you don’t need to do vigorous exercise. Just moving your body in a natural way—like taking the stairs or going for a walk in the sunshine—can be so beneficial. Your brain cells actually make more connections with each other when you move and exercise. 

Food is also incredibly important. Every morsel of food that goes into our body affects our nerve cells, and the way they interact. It affects our decision making, our mindfulness, and our interactions with each other. Because holidays are a time when food is a centerpiece, a quick way to provide an environment for your body and mind to thrive is to feed it the best kind of nutrients. To help make that a little easier this year, I checked out the foods people are drawn to for comfort, but aren’t very nourishing. Then, I put a spin on those dishes, and swapped in some brain-healthy ingredients and spices to make them a bit more nourishing. They feature greens, healthy fats, and fiber—without any processed additives.

Keep up your brain-supporting practices and try some of these delicious recipes for a happier, brain-healthier holiday season.

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