Do you ever feel like your brain is stuck in a thick fog, making it impossible to think straight and remember important details? It’s a frustrating and common experience that can be caused by a variety of factors in everyday life, from stress and lack of sleep to poor nutrition and underlying medical conditions.
But don’t let brain fog get the best of you! There are plenty of fun and effective exercises and techniques that can help clear the mental fog and supercharge your brainpower. Let’s dive into some exciting ways to banish brain fog and improve your cognitive function!
What is Brain Fog?
Brain fog is a term used to describe a feeling of mental confusion or difficulty with focus and concentration. Brain fog symptoms may include a sense of haziness, mental fatigue, and reduced cognitive function.
People experiencing brain fog may have trouble recalling information, processing new information, or completing tasks that require mental effort. Brain fog can make it harder to communicate effectively and make decisions. It can also cause feelings of frustration, anxiety, and low mood.
What Causes Brain Fog?
While brain fog is not recognized as a medical condition or diagnosis, it is a common symptom of several underlying health conditions, such as:
Brain fog can also be a temporary side effect of certain lifestyle factors, such as poor diet, dehydration, and lack of exercise.
Exercises to Combat Brain Fog
Dealing with brain fog is important because it can significantly impact our daily life and productivity. When our cognitive function is impaired, it becomes difficult to focus, think clearly, and complete tasks efficiently.
Persistent brain fog can interfere with our ability to perform well at work, school, or in other important areas of our lives, affecting our overall quality of life. Therefore, it is crucial to address the underlying causes of brain fog and adopt strategies to improve our mental clarity and cognitive function.
There are many types of exercises to combat brain fog, both physical and mental. Read on to learn more!
Regular exercise has been shown to boost cognitive function and improve mental clarity. Exercise also helps with your overall health, mood, and sleep patterns.
Experts suggest you aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise most days of the week. The more you move, the better! However, even short bouts of physical activity throughout the day can be beneficial.
So what is the best type of physical activity for brain fog? There are benefits to many different types.
Aerobic exercise, such as walking, jogging, biking, and swimming gets your heart pumping and sends oxygen and other important nutrients to your brain. It also combats age-related shrinking of the hippocampus, which is a part of your brain involved in learning and memory (1). Loss of volume in the hippocampus often precedes the development of mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease (1).
Resistance training is any type of exercise intended to increase muscle strength and endurance. This type of training can also help maintain the hippocampus (2). Lifting weights, using resistance bands, or using your body weight in exercises like planks and pull-ups are all examples of resistance training.
Yoga has similar benefits to other forms of exercise, helping reduce anxiety and improve mood, which may help reduce brain fog. Further, yoga has an additional effect on brain levels of γ-Aminobutyric acid (GABA), which are often low in people with mood and anxiety disorders (3).
There is also a mental component to yoga that may help reduce brain fog. Incorporating focused awareness and breathing during a yoga practice activates your parasympathetic nervous system, which reduces stress and helps calm your body and mind. (See more below about the benefits of mindfulness for brain fog).
In addition, the type of deep breathing that is performed during yoga (called diaphragmatic breathing) may help to improve attention and mental function (4).
Pro-tip: Follow these simple steps from the Cleveland Clinic to practice diaphragmatic breathing (also called abdominal or deep belly breathing).
1. Lie on your back on a flat surface or in bed, with your knees bent and your head supported. You can use a pillow under your knees to support your legs.
2. Place one hand on your upper chest and the other just below your rib cage. This will allow you to feel your diaphragm move as you breathe.
3. Breathe in slowly through your nose so that your stomach moves out, causing your hand to rise. The hand on your chest should remain as still as possible.
4. Tighten your stomach muscles, so that your stomach moves in, causing your hand to lower as you exhale through pursed lips. The hand on your upper chest should remain as still as possible.
Practice this breathing technique for 5-10 minutes 3-4 times per day. When you first learn the diaphragmatic breathing technique, it may be easier for you to follow the instructions lying down, but you can also do this while sitting in a chair.
All types of physical exercise have mental benefits. They increase blood flow, decrease stress, and improve sleep. All of these effects can help decrease brain fog. So choose the physical activity that you enjoy!
Meditation and Mindfulness Exercises
Chronic stress can impair cognitive function (5, 6) and contribute to brain fog. By taking steps to control or reduce your stress, you may lessen your brain fog. Make time for activities that you enjoy and that help you relax, such as reading, listening to music, or spending time in nature.
You can also try relaxation techniques like meditation, yoga, or deep breathing to manage stress.
Below are some specific meditation and mindfulness techniques that can be helpful for dealing with stress and brain fog.
Body Scan Meditation
This technique involves lying down or sitting comfortably and bringing your attention to each part of your body, scanning for any sensations or tension. The goal is to cultivate a sense of awareness and relaxation throughout the body, which can help reduce stress and improve mental clarity. You can do a body scan meditation even before getting out of bed in the morning! This can help you start the day with a sense of relaxation and awareness.
Focusing on your breath can be a simple but effective way to clear brain fog. Take a few slow, deep breaths, noticing the sensation of air entering and leaving your body. If your mind starts to wander, gently bring your attention back to your breath. You can practice mindful breathing during a break at work, while stuck in traffic, or in line at the grocery store!
This technique involves walking slowly and mindfully, paying attention to the sensations in your body and the environment around you. Focus on the sounds around you and the sights that you see. Try it during your lunch break to help improve your focus for the rest of the day!
Paying attention to your food and eating mindfully can help improve digestion and reduce stress, which can contribute to brain fog. When you eat, take time to savor each bite, noticing the flavors, textures, and sensations in your body. Avoid distractions like screens or multitasking and focus on the experience of eating.
This technique involves using your imagination to create a mental image that promotes relaxation and mental clarity. For example, you might imagine yourself in a peaceful setting, such as a beach or forest, and focus on the sights, sounds, and smells around you. Performing guided imagery before bed can help you fall asleep more easily and improve the quality of your sleep, which can help combat brain fog.
Pro-tip: Incorporating these mindfulness and meditation techniques into your day can help you reduce stress, improve mental clarity, and combat brain fog. Start by choosing one or two techniques that work for you and gradually incorporate them into your daily routine. With practice, you can develop a mindfulness habit that helps you feel more alert and focused throughout the day.
Other Ways to Combat Brain Fog
In addition to physical activity and meditation exercises, there are several lifestyle changes that you can make to address brain fog and improve cognitive function.
Improve Sleep Habits
Getting enough sleep is crucial for optimal brain function. Lack of sleep contributes to many chronic health problems, including heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke, obesity, and depression. Sleep decreases inflammation (which may be one of the causes of brain fog) and and clears waste from your brain (7).
You can take some of the following steps to improve your sleep habits:
These and other changes can help you avoid poor sleep quality and help ensure you are getting enough sleep.
Eat a Healthy Diet
A balanced diet rich in nutrients can support brain function and improve mental clarity. Incorporate plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins into your meals.
How does a healthy diet help with brain fog?
The anti-inflammatory effects of a good diet may counter inflammation in the brain, which may be responsible for brain fog. Consider the Mediterranean diet or the MIND diet.
The Mediterranean diet is high in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds. Not only is it good for your brain, it’s good for your heart and the rest of you too!
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
These healthy fats have effects on blood flow to the brain, as well as memory, learning, and cognitive wellbeing (8). Omega-3 fatty acids are found in oily fish, like salmon and mackerel, as well as flaxseeds, walnuts, and edamame. Want to take a supplement instead? See our piece on omega-3 supplements here.
Diets high in processed foods, sugar, and saturated fat are bad for your gut health, which is in turn bad for your brain health. There is a link between our gut and our brain called the Gut-Brain Axis.
When we are eating foods that are nutrient-poor, our gut is overrun by “bad” bacteria. Eating a high-nutrient diet feeds the “good” bacteria in our gut. When the “good” bacteria is in control, the signaling between our brain and our gut leads to lower levels of stress and anxiety, and improved memory (9).
Dehydration impairs cognitive performance, particularly in regard to attention, executive function, and motor coordination (10, 11). Make sure to drink enough water throughout the day to stay adequately hydrated.
Hungry for more advice on eating to reduce brain fog? Check out the 21 Best and Worst Foods for Your Memory and Brain.
Exercises to Combat Brain Fog: Summary
Brain fog can be a frustrating and debilitating experience, but the good news is there are many exercises and techniques that can help you combat it. From physical exercise and a healthy diet to mindfulness and meditation, there are many simple ways to improve your cognitive functioning and reduce brain fog.
By making small changes to your daily tasks and committing to a healthy lifestyle, you can improve your mental clarity and focus, allowing you to live a more productive and fulfilling life. Remember, it’s never too late to start making positive changes to improve your brain health and overall well-being!
Pro-tip: If your brain fog persists despite lifestyle changes, it may be a symptom of an underlying medical condition. Talk to your healthcare provider to rule out any potential health issues and receive appropriate treatment.
Want to learn more about how to combat brain fog? Check out our article on Natural Remedies for Brain Fog.
Kate is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and certified yoga instructor with a Master’s in Public Health. She loves to share what she has learned about nutrition and yoga to help people live healthier, more balanced lives. When not working on this blog or teaching yoga, Kate is usually spending time with family and friends or reading a good book.