Do you ever feel like your brain is keeping you stuck?
Maybe it’s experiencing
❌ Anxious Thoughts
❌ Negative Self-Talk
❌ Caving to Cravings
❌ Feeling Unmotivated or having
❌ Trouble Concentrating?
These are just a few examples of feelings and behaviors that can be hard to break—like an endless cycle—that so often we blame our brains 🧠
In this podcast I will tell you what you need to know and how to enhance your power to retrain your brain! Think of it like rewiring. You can teach the brain to form new connections: to strengthen pathways that serve you and weaken pathways that don’t.
💡 This is called neuroplasticity.
Neuroplasticity is the reason we’re able to recover function after a stroke, learn new skills, and reprogram our thoughts. It’s the key to behavior change and breaking free from past patterns that keep us feeling stuck.
The following information are just a few of the golden nuggets from my insightful conversation. Listen to the entire episode here.
The Connection Between Neuroplasticity & Habits
So, what does neuroplasticity have to do with habits? Have you heard the following:
- “We are creatures of habit.”
- “Old habits are hard to break.” or
- “New habits are hard to keep.”
Do you believe these ideas? ☝️
Let me tell you that so much about improving our health requires changing our habits. That’s true for physical, mental, and emotional health. But in order for new habits to stick, we also need to retrain our brains. Neuroplasticity is basically like rewiring old patterns into new ones on a subconscious level. The great thing about neuroplasticity is:
✅ The more you trigger neural pathways in the brain, the stronger they get and also
❌ The less you trigger other neural pathways in the brain, the weaker they get.
That means every time you lace up your walking shoes instead of sitting on the couch, you’re training your brain to believe you’re a person who exercises. Every time you drink water instead of wine, you’re training your brain to believe you’re a person who stays sober. Every time you take a deep breath instead of yelling, you’re training your brain to believe you’re a person who stays present and relaxed. The key to making neuroplasticity work in your favor is to practice your positive and health-promoting habits in little bits more often:
🗝️ Little & Often 🗝️
That’s how you train your brain, and that’s how you make habits stick.
Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to respond to a changing environment, reorganize pathways, and improve function. Better neuroplasticity can help with creating fresh habits, learning new skills, releasing unneeded anxiety, and pretty much anything else involving the brain 🧠
I invite you to listen to my amazing podcast with Kashif Khan “Decipher YOUR Genetic Code For Optimal Wellbeing”, episode #36, on the Self-Care Goddess Podcast.
5 Daily Exercises That Support Neuroplasticity
1️⃣ Brain Games
If your goals revolve around improving your focus, concentration, reaction time, and memory, you might try blocking off 15 minutes a day to do something like Sudoku, chess, or a brain-training app.
2️⃣Art & Music
If your goals include improving your mood and processing your emotions, you can retrain your brain through creative expression like drawing, painting, or singing.
If your goals include becoming more mindful and present while improving your mood, meditation reinforces neural pathways related to positive emotions.
Whether it’s better concentration, focus, mood, or stress resilience you’re aiming for, deep breathing activates the vagus nerve to tell your nervous system to reset.
Similar to meditation and deep breathing, yoga activates the vagus nerve and sends a message of calm to the nervous system.
Our brains are forever changing. If we make it a habit to do some sort of neuroplasticity training every day like one of these things we program the brain to be resilient, malleable, and strong. Remember: The key with all neuroplasticity practices is to do them often.
Listen to this motivational podcast with Dr. Gina Di Giulio, “The connection Between Self-Care & Mental Health and 9 Simple Ways To Boost It.”
As we already know neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to create new connections and strengthen existing neural pathways. Neuroplasticity can help:
✅ Release Anxieties
✅ Improve Mood
✅ Respond Better to Stress
✅ Break Unwanted Habits
✅ Create Helpful Habits
✅ Think More Clearly
✅ Stay Focused
✅ Remember More Easily
✅ Learn New Skills
Neuroplasticity explains why things like brain games, meditation, and yoga work. But here’s where it really gets fun: Everyday healthy habits that we so often recommend in functional medicine ALSO improve the brain’s plasticity—meaning all of your efforts to retrain your brain will work better. For example:
🏋️♀️ Exercise triggers the release of a chemical called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which improves neuroplasticity.
🥦 Fruits & vegetables are rich in antioxidants called polyphenols that protect nerves to support neuroplasticity.
💤 Restorative sleep is also a necessary ingredient for neuroplasticity.
The conventional medical paradigm likes to isolate the parts of the body, the treatments, and the outcomes. But in functional medicine, we know all the parts work together. And everything works better when our brains are on board. If you’re interested in a whole-body and root-cause approach to improving your health, connect with me today.
I invite you to try out my new “HASH ‘n’ HERBS recipe here.
Foods That Support Neuroplasticity
Diet is a lifestyle factor known to influence brain structure and function that could alter the propensity for neuroplasticity. Foods high in omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to improve cognition, increase neuroplasticity, and decrease risk of depression. Fatty fishes, flax seeds, walnuts, avocado, and chia seeds are all recommended sources. Often discussed is the concept of brain foods, superfoods, and foods that promote brain health. If you think that’s easier said than done, try these build-your-own BYO snack ideas to calm that ravenous hunger. Even if we all have different tastes, these snacks give us the freedom to choose our favorite flavors, while keeping it healthy.
🥜 BYO Trail Mix
Set out an assortment of nuts, seeds, dried berries, coconut flakes, and (if you’re feeling indulgent) chocolate chips. Create your own favorite version of trail mix.
🍏 BYO Boosted Fruits
Pull up a few different fruits (like apples, bananas, & strawberries), some nut butters (like peanut almond, & cashew), and some items to sprinkle on top (like coconut flakes or hemp seeds). Simply mix & match!
🥤 BYO Smoothie
We can learn about nutrition by creating a cheat sheet for building a smoothie. Choose at least one item from each ingredient category (like a fruit or veg, protein, fat, and liquid) and build your own smoothie.
Do you like these ideas? What others do you have? Do share them with me in the comments!
It’s easy to use “busy” as an excuse to eat on the run or to make less healthy choices, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Here are some tips to make sure you (and your loved ones) can be munching on fruits & veggies no matter your schedule.
1️⃣ Wash & Chop in Advance
Take a small block of time on Sunday (or each evening) to wash and chop veggies like peppers, carrots, and celery to store in the fridge. This makes it just as easy to grab those as it is to grab a snack from the pantry!
2️⃣ Set Fruit Front & Center
Place fruits that stay out on the counter, like apples, oranges, and bananas, in a bowl that stays front and center. That way when you or any of the kids pass through, they’ll be easy to grab.
3️⃣ Carry a Cooler Bag
Keep a small lunch box or cooler bag at the ready so you can throw in some chopped fruits and veggies to carry along on your errands, carpools, or park dates. This works when out and about by yourself or with kids.
4️⃣ Pack Lunch
Eating out for lunch often means fewer fruits and veggies. Packing your lunch is one of the surest ways to eat more produce through the middle part of your day. Plus, you’ll save time and money.
So much of habit formation has less to do with what’s going on in your brain and more to do with the environmental cues around you. The reason these ideas ☝️work is because they leverage the power of your environment to make it just as easy to eat fruits and vegetables as it is to eat packaged or processed food.
Iron is an important mineral involved in many fundamental biological processes in the brain including oxygen transportation, DNA synthesis, mitochondrial respiration, myelin synthesis, and neurotransmitter synthesis and metabolism. A study just published in JAMA found 40% of US females between the ages of 12 and 21 were deficient in iron 🩸
Why should you care? Because screening for iron deficiency is not routine for this age group! Guidelines in the US recommend screening for iron-deficient anemia every 5-10 years, but this recent study found that only 6% of the participants actually had anemia, compared with the 40% with iron deficiency.
⚠️ That means iron deficiency can exist WITHOUT anemia and can easily be missed by routine screenings. What can we do?
The best way to test for iron deficiency is with a blood test for ferritin 🩸It’s a simple thing, but your provider needs to be proactive to order it and know how to interpret it.
In functional medicine, we aim for optimal levels on blood tests, which are not always the same as what’s considered “normal.” If ferritin levels are low, this can usually be corrected through dietary changes and supplementation.
I invite you to listen to the Self-Care Goddess podcast episode #75, “Living with Herpes: A Woman’s Story”.
Yoga & Neuroplasticity
Did you know you can benefit from yoga—even without committing long hours to the practice? Our nervous systems are extremely resilient and responsive. Even taking just a few moments out of your day can help you focus your mind, relax your body, and better handle stress. Try these 3 Yoga exercises that improve your nervous system 🧘
1️⃣ Downward Facing Dog
Start on your hands and knees, with your wrists directly below your shoulders. Push up and back so that your legs and arms are straight and you are in an inverted “V.” Press your heels down toward the floor.
Benefits: Downward Facing Dog stretches the hamstrings and calves, releases tension in the back, and brings blood flow to the brain.
Start on your hands and knees in a table-top position. Inhale and tilt your pelvis back and head up for cow pose. Exhale, round your back, and tuck your tailbone and neck for cat. Repeat.
Benefits: Cat-Cow improves circulation to your back (to counteract sitting) and links the breath with movement to relieve stress.
3️⃣ Child’s Pose
From your hands and knees, sit back on your ankles while spreading your knees out wide. Allow your hands to extend out in front of your head. Let your belly rest between your thighs and your forehead touch the floor.
Benefits: Child’s Pose gently stretches the back and shoulders while calming the mind.
Whether or not you go to yoga classes or have a practice of your own, these exercises are available to you anytime anywhere. I urge you to add them into your daily routine?
I invite you to read this blog post for a deeper dive into the 6 Pillars of Self-Care.
Take Home Message
What if next time you sat down (or showed up) to work, you first took a few minutes to…
💞 Take a deep breath.
💞 Set a positive intention and
💞 Think in silence.
The brain has an amazing ability to change throughout the course of our life, allowing us to learn new things or recover after injury. Constantly challenging ourselves, making sleep a priority, and getting regular exercise can all help to improve brain plasticity.
I’d like to conclude with the quote by Andy Dunn: “Only by being obsessed with little things do great things emerge.” Health is like this. When you take small but repeated actions today, you’ll look back to see how far you’ve come tomorrow.
Listen to the full podcast episode #93 on the Self-Care Goddess Podcast.
For free guided meditation videos and Breathwork demonstrations subscribe to my YouTube channel.
I look forward to connecting with you and learning more about your story and your health and wellness goals. Schedule a FREE introduction call here.