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5 Things Every Parent Can Do To Ward Off "Parent Brain"

Between watching endless kid shows, never getting enough sleep, forgetting what real books even look like, and just the general stress of it all, it can feel like parenthood is robbing us of several IQ points each year.

The good news is there is quite a bit of science showing exactly what we can do in our daily lives to steal those IQ points back. The key to improving and maintaining cognitive health as we age is a protein produced in our brains called BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor). This molecule is responsible for forming new neurons in the brain (neurogenesis) and boosting the brain’s ability to adapt and grow in response practice and new environments (neuroplasticity).

So, what can parents do in their daily lives to increase BDNF?  

1. Take a high-dose omega-3 fatty acid supplement.

This is a no-brainer (but more like a mo’-brainer, amiright?). Seriously though, omega-3 fatty acids, especially DHA, reliably increases BDNF levels in laboratory studies.

Unfortunately, researchers can’t slice open human brains after giving them DHA, so we have to rely on studies in rats and mice. Nevertheless, it appears that when BDNF increases from DHA, mice get smarter, and when mice are deprived of DHA, things get worse.

2. Exercise

Physical activity improves just about every health marker scientist can measure, so it’s no surprise that it boosts BDNF. For decades, studies have shown that exercise’s beneficial effects on the brain are due in large part to an increase in BDNF.

The even better news is that BDNF is increased through all kinds of physical activity, from low-intensity exercise to aerobic exercise to high-intensity resistance training. So just find the activity you enjoy the most and do it!

3. Take hot baths

Getting the body really hot (called hyperthermia) has been shown to increase BDNF. This has been done with saunas and special hyperthermia chambers, but those are expensive. The good news is you can do it with a regular hot bath (just keep your head above water).

4. Get high-quality sleep

The more total sleep and REM sleep you get, the higher your BDNF. You can trick your body and brain into getting more total sleep by taking different sleep supplements, but getting more REM sleep requires you to take care of your stress levels (get on a meditation routine), eating times (don’t eat late), and alcohol intake (the less the better). Studies also show that stress lowers BDNF by disrupting our sleep, and the interplay of stress and poor sleep can contribute to depression.  

5. Meditate every damn day (or close to it)

Researchers found a substantial increase in BDNF in 26 healthy volunteers (average age of 34) after a 3-month meditation retreat. That’s right: 3 months! As busy parents, we don’t have time for that nonsense.

But other studies have shown BDNF increases in smaller meditation doses. Setting aside 10-20 minutes a day for mindfulness is a great way to hedge your bets. Check out a Monday Meditation or an emotion-focused meditation with our Wednesday Wind-Downs.  

If this article resonates with you, be sure to check out our Connect 101 Workshop and our weekly Connect live event: Parent Connection Tuesday and our monthly couples event: Just the Two of Us: A Date Night of Authentic Connection for Life Partners. RSVP here.

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5 Things Every Parent Can Do To Ward Off "Parent Brain"

Let's take a look at how we can keep our busy brains from turning to mush

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Key takeaways

1

Parent brain may not be a real thing, but it sure can feel like it

2

Nevertheless, there’s a lot we can do in our daily lives to keep our brains in tip-top shape

3

Get great sleep, take an omega-3 fatty acid supplement when you wake up, exercise, then take a hot bath, and end the day with a meditation

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Between watching endless kid shows, never getting enough sleep, forgetting what real books even look like, and just the general stress of it all, it can feel like parenthood is robbing us of several IQ points each year.

The good news is there is quite a bit of science showing exactly what we can do in our daily lives to steal those IQ points back. The key to improving and maintaining cognitive health as we age is a protein produced in our brains called BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor). This molecule is responsible for forming new neurons in the brain (neurogenesis) and boosting the brain’s ability to adapt and grow in response practice and new environments (neuroplasticity).

So, what can parents do in their daily lives to increase BDNF?  

1. Take a high-dose omega-3 fatty acid supplement.

This is a no-brainer (but more like a mo’-brainer, amiright?). Seriously though, omega-3 fatty acids, especially DHA, reliably increases BDNF levels in laboratory studies.

Unfortunately, researchers can’t slice open human brains after giving them DHA, so we have to rely on studies in rats and mice. Nevertheless, it appears that when BDNF increases from DHA, mice get smarter, and when mice are deprived of DHA, things get worse.

2. Exercise

Physical activity improves just about every health marker scientist can measure, so it’s no surprise that it boosts BDNF. For decades, studies have shown that exercise’s beneficial effects on the brain are due in large part to an increase in BDNF.

The even better news is that BDNF is increased through all kinds of physical activity, from low-intensity exercise to aerobic exercise to high-intensity resistance training. So just find the activity you enjoy the most and do it!

3. Take hot baths

Getting the body really hot (called hyperthermia) has been shown to increase BDNF. This has been done with saunas and special hyperthermia chambers, but those are expensive. The good news is you can do it with a regular hot bath (just keep your head above water).

4. Get high-quality sleep

The more total sleep and REM sleep you get, the higher your BDNF. You can trick your body and brain into getting more total sleep by taking different sleep supplements, but getting more REM sleep requires you to take care of your stress levels (get on a meditation routine), eating times (don’t eat late), and alcohol intake (the less the better). Studies also show that stress lowers BDNF by disrupting our sleep, and the interplay of stress and poor sleep can contribute to depression.  

5. Meditate every damn day (or close to it)

Researchers found a substantial increase in BDNF in 26 healthy volunteers (average age of 34) after a 3-month meditation retreat. That’s right: 3 months! As busy parents, we don’t have time for that nonsense.

But other studies have shown BDNF increases in smaller meditation doses. Setting aside 10-20 minutes a day for mindfulness is a great way to hedge your bets. Check out a Monday Meditation or an emotion-focused meditation with our Wednesday Wind-Downs.  

If this article resonates with you, be sure to check out our Connect 101 Workshop and our weekly Connect live event: Parent Connection Tuesday and our monthly couples event: Just the Two of Us: A Date Night of Authentic Connection for Life Partners. RSVP here.

Between watching endless kid shows, never getting enough sleep, forgetting what real books even look like, and just the general stress of it all, it can feel like parenthood is robbing us of several IQ points each year.

The good news is there is quite a bit of science showing exactly what we can do in our daily lives to steal those IQ points back. The key to improving and maintaining cognitive health as we age is a protein produced in our brains called BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor). This molecule is responsible for forming new neurons in the brain (neurogenesis) and boosting the brain’s ability to adapt and grow in response practice and new environments (neuroplasticity).

So, what can parents do in their daily lives to increase BDNF?  

1. Take a high-dose omega-3 fatty acid supplement.

This is a no-brainer (but more like a mo’-brainer, amiright?). Seriously though, omega-3 fatty acids, especially DHA, reliably increases BDNF levels in laboratory studies.

Unfortunately, researchers can’t slice open human brains after giving them DHA, so we have to rely on studies in rats and mice. Nevertheless, it appears that when BDNF increases from DHA, mice get smarter, and when mice are deprived of DHA, things get worse.

2. Exercise

Physical activity improves just about every health marker scientist can measure, so it’s no surprise that it boosts BDNF. For decades, studies have shown that exercise’s beneficial effects on the brain are due in large part to an increase in BDNF.

The even better news is that BDNF is increased through all kinds of physical activity, from low-intensity exercise to aerobic exercise to high-intensity resistance training. So just find the activity you enjoy the most and do it!

3. Take hot baths

Getting the body really hot (called hyperthermia) has been shown to increase BDNF. This has been done with saunas and special hyperthermia chambers, but those are expensive. The good news is you can do it with a regular hot bath (just keep your head above water).

4. Get high-quality sleep

The more total sleep and REM sleep you get, the higher your BDNF. You can trick your body and brain into getting more total sleep by taking different sleep supplements, but getting more REM sleep requires you to take care of your stress levels (get on a meditation routine), eating times (don’t eat late), and alcohol intake (the less the better). Studies also show that stress lowers BDNF by disrupting our sleep, and the interplay of stress and poor sleep can contribute to depression.  

5. Meditate every damn day (or close to it)

Researchers found a substantial increase in BDNF in 26 healthy volunteers (average age of 34) after a 3-month meditation retreat. That’s right: 3 months! As busy parents, we don’t have time for that nonsense.

But other studies have shown BDNF increases in smaller meditation doses. Setting aside 10-20 minutes a day for mindfulness is a great way to hedge your bets. Check out a Monday Meditation or an emotion-focused meditation with our Wednesday Wind-Downs.  

If this article resonates with you, be sure to check out our Connect 101 Workshop and our weekly Connect live event: Parent Connection Tuesday and our monthly couples event: Just the Two of Us: A Date Night of Authentic Connection for Life Partners. RSVP here.

Between watching endless kid shows, never getting enough sleep, forgetting what real books even look like, and just the general stress of it all, it can feel like parenthood is robbing us of several IQ points each year.

The good news is there is quite a bit of science showing exactly what we can do in our daily lives to steal those IQ points back. The key to improving and maintaining cognitive health as we age is a protein produced in our brains called BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor). This molecule is responsible for forming new neurons in the brain (neurogenesis) and boosting the brain’s ability to adapt and grow in response practice and new environments (neuroplasticity).

So, what can parents do in their daily lives to increase BDNF?  

1. Take a high-dose omega-3 fatty acid supplement.

This is a no-brainer (but more like a mo’-brainer, amiright?). Seriously though, omega-3 fatty acids, especially DHA, reliably increases BDNF levels in laboratory studies.

Unfortunately, researchers can’t slice open human brains after giving them DHA, so we have to rely on studies in rats and mice. Nevertheless, it appears that when BDNF increases from DHA, mice get smarter, and when mice are deprived of DHA, things get worse.

2. Exercise

Physical activity improves just about every health marker scientist can measure, so it’s no surprise that it boosts BDNF. For decades, studies have shown that exercise’s beneficial effects on the brain are due in large part to an increase in BDNF.

The even better news is that BDNF is increased through all kinds of physical activity, from low-intensity exercise to aerobic exercise to high-intensity resistance training. So just find the activity you enjoy the most and do it!

3. Take hot baths

Getting the body really hot (called hyperthermia) has been shown to increase BDNF. This has been done with saunas and special hyperthermia chambers, but those are expensive. The good news is you can do it with a regular hot bath (just keep your head above water).

4. Get high-quality sleep

The more total sleep and REM sleep you get, the higher your BDNF. You can trick your body and brain into getting more total sleep by taking different sleep supplements, but getting more REM sleep requires you to take care of your stress levels (get on a meditation routine), eating times (don’t eat late), and alcohol intake (the less the better). Studies also show that stress lowers BDNF by disrupting our sleep, and the interplay of stress and poor sleep can contribute to depression.  

5. Meditate every damn day (or close to it)

Researchers found a substantial increase in BDNF in 26 healthy volunteers (average age of 34) after a 3-month meditation retreat. That’s right: 3 months! As busy parents, we don’t have time for that nonsense.

But other studies have shown BDNF increases in smaller meditation doses. Setting aside 10-20 minutes a day for mindfulness is a great way to hedge your bets. Check out a Monday Meditation or an emotion-focused meditation with our Wednesday Wind-Downs.  

If this article resonates with you, be sure to check out our Connect 101 Workshop and our weekly Connect live event: Parent Connection Tuesday and our monthly couples event: Just the Two of Us: A Date Night of Authentic Connection for Life Partners. RSVP here.

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