“In the search for the magic lotion or potion that will make us more beautiful, I’m here to tell you that the answer lies inside your head. That’s right - your brain is the key to improving every facet of your life….Your brain is your essence, and it is the essence of your beauty. By enhancing your mind, you can feel more energetic, creative and alive – all of which makes you more beautiful,”
writes Marie Pasinski, M.D., staff neurologist at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School faculty member, in her book Beautiful Brain Beautiful You.
The face mirrors the chemical activity going on in the brain and actually produces tiny, involuntary microfacial expressions which reflect the inner thoughts and the corresponding neurochemicals being released. By changing the inner workings of your mind, you can transform the face you present to the world. “[T] he beauty we see on the outside is direct reflection of what’s happening on the inside.”
In the book, Dr. Pasinski outlines a seven step program to optimize the beauty/brain connection. They are:
- Indulge in the new
- Rev up your social life
- Mind Your Body
- Go for the glow!
- The smart diet
- Make over your mind
- Beautify your brain rhythms
I covered the first three categories in a previous blog, here, I will cover the next two and the remaining in a subsequent blog.
Go for the Glow!
When you move your body and the blood starts pumping, it is not just the body that glows. The brain is also enjoying and receiving the benefits of the increased blood flow. This causes the release of growth factors that promote the birth of new brain cells and create stronger neural connections. She tells us that Dr. John Ratey, a Harvard psychiatrist, refers to the growth factors released during exercise as “Miracle-Gro” for the brain. Even a single session of exercise has been shown to improve mental processes.
Research has shown that moving your body makes your brain stronger, healthier, and more vibrant. Aerobic exercise improves reaction time, concentration and memory as well as mood and reduces anxiety. “Aerobic activity generates a compound called ‘brain derived neurotrophic factor’ (BDNF) which enhances ‘synaptic plasticity’ or the ability of neurons to talk to one another. …BDNF not only promotes the birth of new neurons, it also supports the survival of existing neurons.” Physical activity also boosts immune function, decreases inflammation, encourages the growth of new blood cells in the brain and body, and protects you from the “brain burglars.”
The younger your cells are, the younger you will look. Exercise makes the individual cells more youthful which, in turn, makes you look younger from the inside out. Wrinkles are a reflection of what is happening inside the cells.
For people who do not exercise and are most likely not going to or “newbies” as she calls them, Dr. Pasinski advises living more dynamically and building more activity into the daily life by taking the stairs, parking further away, walking more whenever possible and doing simple things to move more like dancing, jumping rope, or playing with the kids. For gonnabes, those who tend to exercise sporadically, she advises “playing-out” instead of working out by finding something fun that is enjoyable and doing it with some regularity. She recommends five hours a week of moderate activity or two and a half hours of high intensity activity per week. This can be broken up into ten minute intervals throughout the week if necessary. She says that “making time for physical activities is just as important as brushing your teeth, eating, and showering.”
For the “trainiacs”, those of us who love to exercise, Dr. Painski advises cross training with a diverse mix of activities as opposed to doing the same exercise routine week after week to get the most benefit for your brain and body. Varying the intensity within a workout, interval training, will produce the most benefits. If you are a traniac with a competitive spirit, join formal teams and competitions. If a trainiac is so inclined, do something thrilling just for the adrenaline rush like climbing a mountain – with the proper safety gear and, of course, wearing a helmet when recommended!
For newbies, gonnabes and trianiacs alike stretching and staying flexible is essential for maintaining the body’s ability to move with ease and fluidity. Yoga, pilates, or just daily stretching exercises will keep muscles from shortening and tightening.
The Smart Diet
There is no question that what you put in your mouth directly affects how your brain operates and how you look and feel. Dr. Pasinski says “don’t diet, live it!” She encourages “mindful” eating replacing the negative thoughts about food and body image with positive, self affirming ones. Change your relationship with food so that you are eating to nourish your body and soul. To do this, she advises to: get fresh food, prepare food with love, create a beautiful eating ambiance, share with friends and family and be grateful.
Dr. Pasinski recommends a brain smart diet consisting of smart carbs (vegetables, fruits, legumes and whole grains), phytonutrients (found in plants), a colorful array of foods, organic foods, smart fats (unsaturated fats found in nuts, seeds, vegetables, and fish) with lots of fish and plant protein while limiting dairy, poultry and eggs and saving red meat and sweets for special occasions. She encourages giving up all soda and avoiding trans fat at all costs.
Dr. Pasinski also advises us to “spice it up!” Many studies show that spices and herbs are rich in phytonutrients and antioxidants. Circumin has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties and has been shown to prevent new Alzheimer’s plaques from forming and actually clear existing plaque in mice. But, go easy on the salt.
She advises us to ingest caffeine based on how it effects you personally. Some recent studies have shown that it may be good for your brain. Green tea has been shown to have many brain benefits and is low in caffeine.
Alcohol is a known neurotoxin. She believes it not to good for your brain even in small amounts, and says that “none is best”.