The SENSE Model
If you take care of your brain, it tends to work better on all levels. By investing in your brain fitness, you can improve your cognitive performance, your mental adaptability, and your long-term mental health. This article helps explain how.
The five keys to improving brain fitness are represented by the ‘SENSE Model’ (Dobson, 2016):
Stress leads to poor decision-making and adversely affects your capacity to think rationally. Managing your stress, and in particular, regulating your physiology are essential to maintaining your mental performance and decision making under pressure, as well as your long term mental health.
- Make time for physical relaxation and learn to regulate your physiology (see links below)
- Make more me time for doing what you love and invest in your emotional wellbeing
- Do a weekly ‘brain sweep’ and have a task and project management system that you trust
As you exercise, your heart rate increases, your circulation improves and more oxygen and glucose flow to your brain, enabling it to work better. Exercise also helps prevent dementia.
This is because physical exercise increases the production of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a protein that plays a significant role in learning.
- Do 15-20 minutes of moderate exercise every day
- Do 20-30 minutes of higher intensity aerobic exercise 2-3 times per week
- Reduce inactivity by sitting less, walking more, and having more breaks
The most commonly cited recommendation from research on brain health and nutrition is to follow a Mediterranean diet. Your brain also works better when it’s well hydrated.
Chronic high blood sugar has recently been associated with Alzheimer’s disease and consequently sugar consumption should be moderated.
- Eat a Mediterranean-style diet: fish, plants, whole grains, legumes, fruit, nuts, olive oil
- Drink half a litre of water when you wake up, and stay hydrated
- Moderate your sugar consumption
Insufficient sleep is correlated with impaired logical reasoning, decision making, memory, attention, and reaction times. Sleep debt is also found to be cumulative; if you sleep for less than six hours a night for five nights in a row, you can expect your cognitive performance to drop to that of a person who hasn’t slept for 48 hours. You perform at your best after 7-9 hours sleep.
- Physiology: Use relaxation or meditation to lower your cortisol levels before bed
- Environment: Reduce blue light exposure before bed (no devices in the last 60 minutes)
- Mind: Stop working >2 hours before bed and do a weekly brain sweep
“Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at 20 or 80. Anyone who keeps learning stays young,” Henry Ford. If you continue to learn and challenge your brain, it strengthens, grows, and remains younger for longer. To keep your brain in shape you need to nourish it with learning and novelty.
- Learn a new language or a musical instrument, or develop other skills
- Seek novelty and the unfamiliar and challenge your brain regularly
- Practise meditation or mindfulness, both formidable forms of brain training (links below)
- The 5 keys to improving your brain fitness are stress, exercise, nutrition, sleep, and experience (SENSE).
- Based on your behaviour over the past week, rate yourself out of 10 for each.
- Decide how you will improve your score in at least one of the 5 areas next week.
ADDITIONAL RESOURCES: Meditation Audio and ‘The Brain Book’