With the novelty of working from home now wearing thin, it’s been hard for many of us to maintain healthy habits when we’re spending every day and night confined to our living spaces with blurred boundaries between work and home. But while our energy levels may have subsided, our work demands sure haven’t – so how can we keep our brains and our bodies functioning at their best when all we feel like doing is lounging about?
In the mood for work
Being in a working state of mind is very different to the mood we usually associate with home. And some of us have found that spending so much time at home while having to balance work, rest and play in the same confined space has got us feeling irritable, unmotivated and sluggish. Therefore, it’s more important than ever to look after our mental health, and the foods we eat play a crucial part in doing this. While we’re likely to reach for foods that are high in sugar, carbohydrates and salt for instant gratification and pleasure, these foods can lead to cognitive crashes and longer-term issues like increased anxiety, depression and low self-esteem. In contrast, eating nutrient-rich, healthy foods can have the opposite effect and can actually improve your mood. A variety of coloured vegetables including leafy greens, as well as leeks and garlic are especially good for encouraging the growth of healthy bacteria in your gut – which is known to be linked to brain health – and contains the antioxidants and B-group vitamins you need to help improve memory, relieve stress and regulate mood. Other foods high in antioxidants and B-group vitamins include berries, nuts and wholegrains, cheese, eggs, lean red meat, fish and legumes.
Other types of super foods for brain and gut health include fermented foods containing probiotics, like yoghurt, kefir and kombucha, as well as polyphenols which can be found in foods and spices like flaxseeds, hazelnuts, turmeric, cloves, star anise, oranges, berries, black olives and globe artichokes. They’re even found in pure dark chocolate (the no-added-sugar variety!).
Feeling alert, tuned in and ready for a day of working from home demands a lot from your brain. In fact, the brain uses around 20% of our required energy to function so getting this energy from good quality food sources will give you a great head start when it comes to ‘switching on’ your brain. By eating a balanced diet that includes the foods shown above you’ll be well on the right track, but there are also particular nutrients that have been shown to specifically target brain functionality. Protein found in meat, seafood, eggs, and poultry helps your brain cells to communicate with each other via neurotransmitters, which are made up of amino acids – the building blocks of protein.
Low-GI carbohydrates are another food source that provide your brain with energy via a process known as ketogenesis. When glucose and insulin levels are low, your liver produces ketones from fatty acids – it does this even faster when your carbohydrate intake is below 50 grams a day. These ketones can then supply up to 70% of your brain’s energy requirements. Low-GI carbohydrates include sweet potato, muesli, non-starch vegetables, carrots and most fruits.
In addition to eating the right foods, staying active goes a long way in regulating your mood and boosting brain function. As little as five minutes of exercise a day can boost serotonin and have a profound impact on our brain health. It’s also important to take regular breaks throughout your working day at home to step outside and get some sunshine. A walk around the block during your lunch break can do wonders for your mood and can help you to feel more alert when you step back to the desk. And finally, if you can make a set time to switch off from work each day and reclaim your home for rest and recovery, your brain will thank you for it.
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