• (Part 2) 10 Scientifically Backed Tools to Boost Your Brain Health

    Like your body, your brain needs to be trained so that it can achieve its full potential. In part one, you read about two of the most important tools to boost your brain health. In this article, I talk about the rest of the 8 tools that will help optimise your brain.

    “Train hard and push yourself.” This is the advice that you’ll typically get if you’re a regular at the gym (or wherever it is that you work out).

    Why? Because as time goes by, your body tends to adjust to the workout. The same routine that was making you sweat is no longer as effective because your body’s gotten stronger.

    I mention this because like the rest of your body, your brain can (and should be!) be trained so that you can achieve your full potential. I’ll tell you exactly how.

    Last week, I covered how to fuel your brain. This week, I’ll go over the last 8 strategies that will transform your brain.

    Tool #3: Exercise

    When our body moves, our brain grows! That’s why exercise is an excellent brain health booster!

    As I’ve mentioned previously, our body has been designed to move and not to sit for a long time. You can observe this in you daily life: whenever you move, you feel mentally and physically better. That’s because you don’t get an adrenaline rush when you sit for a long time. You also don’t get the accompanying feeling of having accomplished a goal.

    So, moving or exercising is one of the best ways to improve all of your cognitive abilities!

    Working out

    • improves your mood,
    • lowers your blood pressure,
    • lowers your blood sugar levels,
    • reduces your overall stress levels, and
    • improves the flow of blood, oxygen and nutrients to the brain

    Given the benefits of working out, it’s no surprise that 100s and 1000s of studies have found that cognitive abilities are best in those who exercise.

    Any movement or exercise is beneficial to your brain health. However, make sure you strike a balance by adding strength exercise, interval exercise and moderate cardio to your exercise regime.

    Even mindful exercises, such as yoga, help reduce anxiety and increase your focus.

    Tool #4: Get Some Sleep!

    One of the quickest ways to hurt your brain is to get less than 7 hours of sleep at night.

    Studies show that getting less than 7 hours of sleep impacts our memory and learning ability negatively. Those who had less than 7 hours of sleep recalled more negative rather than positive thoughts during the day.

    In a previous article, I’ve detailed the dangers of skipping or reducing sleep.

    Apart from these dangers, there’s one more crucial connection between sleep and optimal brain function.

    In one of my favourite TED talks, neuroscientist Jeff Iliff reveals the findings of his latest research. He says that our brain’s waste clearance happens when we sleep.

    At the end of talk, he leaves us with a powerful reminder; he says:

    In your house, if you stop cleaning your kitchen for a month, your home will become completely unlivable very quickly. But in the brain, the consequences of falling behind may be much greater than the embarrassment of dirty countertops, because when it comes to cleaning the brain, it is the very health and function of the mind and the body that’s at stake, which is why understanding these very basic housekeeping functions of the brain today may be critical for preventing and treating diseases of the mind tomorrow.

    You can watch the 11-minute talk here:

    Tool #5: Declutter Your Space

    Clarity comes through focus. And focus doesn’t emanate from a place of chaos.

    If your environment is cluttered, your brain’s ability to focus and process information is highly restricted.

    Researchers from the Princeton University found that a cluttered environment competes for your attention and leads to wearing out your mental resources. So, you’re not only distracted in a cluttered environment, you may also feel more agitated.

    Consequently, if you want to increase your focus and boost your brain’s ability to process more information, then you need to first start decluttering your space.

    For more information about this topic, I highly recommend the book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing.

    Tool #6: Remember to Pray/Meditate

    Every commandment and prohibition from Allah (SWT) and His Prophet (PBUH) is a mercy to humankind. Following the principles that have been outlined for us is not only beneficial for us in the Aakhira (afterlife), but they’re also highly beneficial for us in this world.

    We know that salah (prayers) is the key to our Ultimate Success, i.e. Jannah (paradise)! But salah can also be an equally powerful tool for success in this world, if and only when we perform our prayers with khushu (humility)!

    Keep in mind, salah is a form of meditation. And recent scientific researches unequivocally suggest that meditation helps us to achieve many spiritual and medical benefits, including optimising brain health.

    Meditation helps us:

    Besides prayers, here are other forms of meditation mentioned in the Quran and Sunnah:

    • make adkhar (words of remembrance) in a quiet space, and
    • take the time to sit and ponder over Allah’s creation.

    Tool #7: Embrace Optimism

    We know from the Sunnah of our beloved Prophet (PBUH) that no matter how difficult things were, he was always an optimist. Abu Hurayrah (RA) reported that the Messenger of Allah liked optimism and detested pessimism. (Musnad Ahmad).

    So, optimism is a beautiful Sunnah! In fact, we have been frequently reminded to be an optimist and assume the best about Allah:

    ‘None of [us] should die except while assuming the best about Allah’ (Sahih Muslim).

    In a recent study, scientists have shown that optimism – especially positive emotions – can improve our health positively.

    For example, Dr Amen, a brain expert, talks about Automatic Negative Thoughts (ANT) in his groundbreaking book “Change Your Brain, Change Your Health”. He says those ANTs are great at robbing our joy and happiness.

    He says, “every time you have a mad thought, an unkind thought, a sad though, or a cranky thought, your brain releases negative chemicals that activate your limbic system and make your mind and body feel bad.”

    On the other hand, a good thought can release chemicals that make your body feel good. So, kill your negative thoughts and be an optimist like the Prophet (PBUH)!

    Tool #8: Learn New Things

    Have you heard the saying, “be useful to be youthful”? This applies to your brain too. If you want your brain to be young and dynamic, make sure to use it to learn new things.

    That’s because new scientific discoveries in neurogenesis and neuroplasticity indicate that we can grow our brain cells until the day we die. Yes, you heard that right! As long as we continue to learn, our brain never stops growing.

    I know some Islamic scholars who are in their late 80s but still write new books and issue fatawas. They continue to sharpen their intellect and memory by constantly learning new things.

    Here’s how you can be a lifelong learner:

    • Spend at least 15 minutes a day learning something new.
    • Break your routine. For example, are you a right-hander? Try using your left hand the next time you brush your teeth.
    • Memorise the Quran, even if it’s a few verses a day.

    Tool #9: Your Circle of Influence

    You are whom you spend time with. That’s why Prophet (PBUH) advised us about the type of company we keep.

    In an authentic Hadith, he (PBUH) said: “A person is likely to follow the faith of his friend, so look to whom you befriend.” (Abu Dawood, Tirmidhi)

    Good companionship provides you with benefits in this world and in the Hereafter. Likewise, bad companionship derails your success in both worlds and will make you miserable. After all, misery loves company!

    That’s because your friends’ healthy or unhealthy habits can be contagious. In an interesting research, scientists found that a person’s chance of becoming obese increased by 57% if he or she had a friend who was obese. If that friend is a close friend, then that figure shot up to 171%.

    If you aren’t surrounded by good companionship, consider replacing your circle of influence with people of goodness.

    Tool #10: Protect Your Head

    Our brain, which has a consistency of a soft butter, is housed in a hard skull. This hard skull protects us from the outside. But inside the skull, there are many sharp ridges that point towards the brain. So, if there’s an accident, even if you don’t break your skull, you’ll most probably experience internal brain damage.

    This is evident in the large-scale study of professional NFL players’ brain injury and brain rehabilitation. The study, conducted by Dr Amen, shows that although all of the players were wearing helmets while playing, almost all of the players had experience different degrees of brain damage.

    The football “headers” aren’t spared from this too. Latest research from scientists in the UK suggests that football headers could lead to brain damage.

    So, why am I talking about this? Whether or not you play sports or ride a bike, make sure you to protect your head.

    Your Brain’s Health

    Your brain’s valuable and the way you take care of it should show this. Whether you fuel your brain through proper nutrition or by learning new things and working out, remember that it can do a lot more that you think it can!

  • 10 Scientifically Backed Tools to Boost Your Brain Health!

    Complex. Intricate. Amazing. Our brains are one of the most amazing and most complex creations of Allah (SWT). But are you really taking care of it? In this article, I give you 10 tools to boost your brain health so that you can win at every stage of your life, bi’idnillah!

    Your brain is the most amazing supercomputer in the universe. And just like any other supercomputer, the brain’s energy consumption is also humongous.

    That’s because although your brain makes up just 2% of your body’s weight, it uses 20-30% of the calories you consume and 20% of your total oxygen. Unbelievable!

    Your brain has 100 billion nerve cells, trillions of synopses and it has more connections inside of it than the number of stars in the universe. So, it’s truly a complex masterpiece.

    The tragic thing is that most of us don’t give our brains the attention and care it needs. Our neglect of it is why we have trouble focusing, learning and memorising new things. So, if you’re memorising the Quran, a student, or someone who wants to level up in his or her life, then you need to pay attention to these ten tools.

    Tool #1: Brain Nutrition

    This, if nothing else, is the most important tool.

    As I’ve mentioned, your brain consumes tons of energy. It’s true that it makes use of any energy you intake, just like it’s true that both an avocado and a juicy burger contain fats. But are the fats of the same quality? Of course not. So, if you want your brain to work at its peak level, then you need certain, essential nutrients.

    Here’s a list of those nutrients:

    Vegetables and fruits

    You’ve heard me say it before, but I’ll say it once again: vegetables and fruits are nature’s medicine cabinet. They are high in nutrients and antioxidants. And antioxidants not only protect your body and brain but they also help you stay young – both physically and mentally.

    The best type of veggies are green and leafy. Specifically, spinach and most other green leafy vegetables are rich in antioxidants and magnesium. Magnesium dilates blood vessels, and boost blood flow to the brain.

    Although, I’m emphasising green, leafy veggies, all fruits and veggies are beneficial for your body and brain. It’s just that some have an edge because they’re full of certain nutrients. And the more colourful produce you can add to your diet, the better it is.

    So, here are some fruits and vegetables that are very high in antioxidants:

    • Avocados
    • Beets
    • Broccoli
    • Berries (all sorts of berries)
    • Cherries
    • Kiwi
    • Oranges
    • Red grapes, and
    • Spinach

    Broccoli: Broccoli is rich in choline, vitamin K and has some sizeable serving of folic acid. All these nutrients are shown to improve memory and reduce the risk of depression.

    Blueberries and most other berries are super beneficial to your brain. A study cited in the Annals of Neurology associates berries with slower rates of cognitive decline, i.e. as you age, eating berries will help you stay mentally young.

    So, eat your berries along with other green leafy and colourful vegetables. Get at least 5 servings of these types of veggies every day!

    Healthy fat

    Dietary fat forms our nervous system and builds our brain. In fact, our brain consists of at least 60% fat. This means that healthy fats are crucial for most of our brain functions!

    While all healthy fats are essential for an optimum function of our body and brain, within this category of health fats, omega-3 stands out as more beneficial for the brain. So, get your omega-3 from foods such as wild-caught salmon, organic, free-range eggs, and walnuts. Walnuts are great for protecting your brain’s neurones.

    That being said, here’s a list of healthy fats you should definitely have on a daily basis:

    • Wild-caught salmon fish
    • Organic, free-range eggs
    • Walnuts
    • Nuts and seeds
    • Avocados, and
    • Coconut oil

    Dark chocolate

    Cacao beans, which are what dark chocolate is made from, are loaded with antioxidants and flavonoids. Flavonoids are beneficial substances that increase the blood flow to your brain. These tender beans also increase your happy neurotransmitter, i.e. “serotonin”, in your brain.

    However, cacao beans are very bitter to eat. That’s why I recommend eating dark chocolate that is high in cacao beans. Look for dark chocolates that are 70% or higher in their cacao beans content. So, the higher the content, the better!

    Turmeric

    Turmeric is touted as one of the most beneficial herbs in the world. It’s full of goodness and excellent in reducing inflammation. Turmeric provides a lot of benefits to the brain, from regenerating your brain stem cells to improving brains oxygen intake.

    A quick and easy way to get the nutrients your brain needs

    Sometimes, it’s easy to be carried away with too much information. That’s why I’m keen on providing practical examples.

    Here’s my typical breakfast that has most of the brain nutrients I need to conquer the day:

    Egg omelette with smoothie

    I fry my 3 organic eggs within 1 teaspoon of coconut oil. I add 2 teaspoons of turmeric powder along with some fresh herbs.

    Brain smoothie:

    Blend all the ingredients in a blender and here you have a great brain smoothie to start your day.

    • 1 glass of water
    • 2 handfuls of baby spinach
    • 1 cups of blueberries
    • 1/2 an avocado
    • 10 walnuts
    • A small piece of dark chocolate

    Tool #2: Water

    Did you know that three-quarter of our brain is made up of water?

    Being dehydrated is one of the biggest hurdles to optimal brain function. Therefore, proper hydration is the key to improving your focus, learning, memory and energy.

    Whenever you want to study, learn or memorise the Quran, make sure you have some water first. It’s a simple but powerful tool to boosting your brain’s focus and energy instantly.

    Insha Allah in part 2, we’ll discuss the rest of the 8 brain tools.

    But before that…

    What you can do!

    1. Look through the lists of food I’ve mentioned in this article
    2. Choose one (or more!) foods that you like
    3. Incorporate this food into your daily diet and lifestyle

     

  • 3 Powerful Prophetic Lessons for a Peaceful Life

    We all seek peace and serenity in our lives. Without peace, our lives are broken and miserable. For a meaningful and rich life, pursuing peace is crucial. In my pursuit of peace, I’ve learned the following three key lessons from the story of prophet Adam and Hawwa. This post is all about how you can attain a peaceful life with these three principles.

    As human beings, we love stories. Stories captivate us, let us transcend space, body, and time, and are a powerful way of delivering important messages. In the Quran, Allah (SWT) uses stories to deliver eternal and universal messages. Scholars of Islam say that almost one-third of the Quran contains stories.

    But these Quranic stories aren’t just there to captivate us. They are for us to reflect, to contemplate, to learn lessons and to be guided. That’s because every story (actually, every detail) contains within it numerous gems.

    One story that always stands out in my mind is that of Adam and the Shaytan. After creating Adam and Hawwa, Allah (SWT)commanded them not to approach a certain tree in Paradise.

    And We said, “O Adam, dwell, you and your wife, in Paradise and eat therefrom in [ease and] abundance from wherever you will. But do not approach this tree, lest you be among the wrongdoers.” (Al-Quran, 2:35)

    However, Shaytan seduced Adam and Hawwa to commit the mistake:

    “… he (shaytan) said, “Your Lord did not forbid you this tree except that you become angels or become of the immortal.” (Al-Quran, 7:20)

    With his whisperings, the Shaytan was able to have Adam and Hawwa commit a mistake that would have them removed from Jannah. But let’s stop here.

    There are numerous beneficial lessons to be drawn from this story; personally, I’ve found three important lessons that are essential for a peaceful life:

    1. Greed and unchecked ambition can destroy our lives
    2. Lies and liars attract us when we look for shortcuts
    3. Seeking shortcuts can lead us to failure

    I believe these three lessons are very relevant to the era we live. Let’s look at them in more details and see how they can contribute to a more peaceful, serene life, bi’idnillah!

    1) Greed and unchecked ambition can destroy our lives

    It’s normal to want more and to be ambitious. That’s why despite being in Jannah and having everything they could want on hand, Adam and Hawwa were susceptible to the Shaytan’s whisperings. That’s also why our beloved Prophet Muhammed (PBUH) said, When human beings have a valley of gold, he would wish for another” (Bukhari and Muslim)

    The Shaytan knows human nature and uses our inclinations to misguide us. In the story above, he tapped into our desire for immortality and led our father, Adam (PBUH), to err.

    When we start to act upon all our greed and if don’t reign in excessive ambition, we are setting ourselves to a vicious cycle that never ends. Even valleys of gold, expensive cars or huge mansions don’t satisfy us. As soon as we see another bigger valley of gold, more expensive car or bigger mansion, we want that. And that’s a recipe for a miserable life!

    So, instead of focusing on what we don’t have, we need to shift our mindset to what we do have. That way we can make the most out of what we have while still striving for a better life. That’s because the goal isn’t to not have desires or wants; it’s about not letting those desires or wants misguide us.

    Our religion recognises that we can be ambitious and have all types of goals. These are essential, as long as our purpose and means of achieving such goals are legitimate and meaningful.

    Let me give an example to clarify this! Our desire to become a millionaire, because we want to live a certain posh lifestyle, vs. our aspiration to become a millionaire because we want to live a decent life while helping others who are in need. Which millionaire would have more peace and satisfaction in life?

    A peaceful life starts on the day we give up our greed and check our ambition! `Ali (RA) expressed this beautifully, “Detachment is not that you should own nothing, but that nothing should own you.”

    2) Lies and liars attract us when we look for shortcuts

    I know this title sounds harsh, but when we’re looking for shortcuts, false promises are enticing. One of the ways that the Shaytan deceived prophet Adam (PBUH) was by repeatedly lying to him! It wasn’t just one time that he came to Adam (PBUH), he came to him repeatedly and told him the same lie again and again. You see that when a lie is repeated, people accept it as a truth (welcome to a Trump-led USA).

    In our era, the Shaytan comes to us with his lies mostly in the form of media and, particularly, social media! The amount of junk and lies these media contains is simply overwhelming. That’s because they tap into our desires and weaknesses.  Unfortunately, the masses accept what they see and start to believe it.

    The only way to safeguard ourselves is to block these lies from coming to us in the first place. We may not be able to block it fully, but a good place to start is by reducing our social media consumption.

    Don’t get me wrong, not all the things in social media are bad. But the truth is, 95% of the things we read and watch are pretty useless. In an upcoming blog post, I’ll use science to explain how the constant consumption of social media reshapes our brain, insha Allah.

    As for now, if you’re serious about increasing your knowledge, don’t turn to social media. Instead, read a good book, meet a scholar in person, attend a halaqa or follow an online or offline program.

    Here are a few simple techniques that can help you reduce your social media consumption:

    • Start your day with a meaningful activity. Don’t spend any time on social media until you’ve finished this particular activity.
    • Turn off all the social media related notifications.
    • Schedule a certain time (example: at 14:30 every day) during your day to check your social media status. That way, you’re not checking your social media haphazardly.
    • Schedule another important task that you can’t miss after the time you blocked out. If you have to pick up your children at 15:00 hours, you have no choice than to cut short your social media consumption.

    The less time you spend on social media, the more control you’ll have on your life. And this will eventually lead to a peaceful life.

    3) Seeking shortcuts can lead us to failure

    The Shaytan is very aware of our weaknesses! And he uses our weaknesses to mislead us. In the Quranic ayah mentioned above, the Shaytan offers Prophet Adam a shortcut to becoming an angel. And acting upon that shortcut made all the difference for Adam and Hawwa. That’s a difference between Paradise and earth! Just reflect on this!

    Most of the time, we fail miserably in life, because we prefer shortcuts to achieve our aspirations. We don’t want to put in the time, sacrifice and hard work that our goals require.

    Instead, we become gullible and start to believe anyone who offers a shortcut to success. Talking about weight loss, I know how many people go down this path: “Want to lose weight? Take this magical pill for 30 days, you’ll look 50 years younger”! Or, “become financially free tonight, by doing xyz…” Ridiculous, right?

    Listen, the hard truth is, there aren’t any shortcuts to success. You’ll need to put your efforts and work hard (but in a smart and strategic way). There isn’t any feasible shortcut to achieving anything meaningful in this life.

    Once you realise this and free yourself from this “shortcut” mind-set, you’ll start to work hard and plan your life to achieve meaningful life! And that certainly gives you peace!

    Question: What other lessons you can learn from this story for a peaceful life? Share your wisdom with us!

  • The Quran is Uplifting and Here’s Why

    Turning to the Quran as a way to improve our health is crucial. This is because while the Quran is the most important guide for our Ultimate Success, it’s also an incredible cure for most of our mental, emotional, spiritual and physical diseases. This post discusses the uplifting nature of the Quran on our minds!

    It’s not surprising that there are different layers to our overall health. The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” This is so true; however, our religion takes a much broader and a holistic approach to defining health.

    The Islamic definition of health isn’t just related to our physical and mental wellbeing; instead, it also includes our emotional and spiritual wellbeing. And these two factors tend to be neglected in discussions and definitions of health. However, our real long-term health heavily depends on a holistic view of health.

    The Quran as a Cure

    Allah subuhanawuta’ala mentions the Quran as As-shifa – a cure for mental, physical and spiritual diseases.

    “And We send down of the Qur’an that which is healing and mercy for the believers, but it does not increase the wrongdoers except in loss.” (Al-Quran, 17:82)

    And we also know from the traditions of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) that the Sahabas recited the Surah Fathiha to cure a man who was bitten by a snake. The Prophet (PBUH) would also recite verses from the Quran at night, spit on his hands and then run his hands all over his body as a protection before going to sleep. Aisha (RA) would sometimes do this for him when he couldn’t.

    But what the previous Ayah from Surah Isra is telling us is the Quran is also a spiritual and psychological cure. When you’re feeling down, upset, or disappointed, the Quran can be the companion that uplifts you.

    New Scientific Evidence

    We certainly don’t need ANY scientific evidence to believe that Quran is a cure for all our mental, physical and spiritual diseases. The pieces of evidence from the Quran and Sunnah are crystal clear on this.

    However, we live in a scientific era and sometimes looking at the scientific proof can increase our faith; it can also strengthen our deen.

    The Impact of The Quranic Recitation on Our Minds

    In a study conducted by the University of Technology in Malaysia, the scientists researched the psychological and emotional benefits of the recitation of the Quran.

    To measure the brain activities during the recitation of the Quran, the researchers used an Electroencephalogram (EEG), a device that is used for capturing brainwave signals.

    Brainwave signals indicate the status of one’s mind. From the five categories of brainwaves such as alpha, beta, gamma, delta and theta, the alpha wave is attributed to a calm, peaceful mind.

    Science has proved that by reducing our brainwave frequencies to alpha and theta, we can enjoy loads of benefits:

    • We are more spiritually connected, and more at peace. This makes us enjoy life more.
    • We are healthier due to lower stress levels
    • We can control our mind to focus completely on the present
    • We can remain calm even while under pressure
    • We can accelerate our learning
    • We can go into the state of deep relaxation, which is important to our health and emotional wellbeing

    And the mind that is operating at alpha waves is also linked with creative and lateral thinking. Lateral thinking is the ability to look at a problem from many angles instead of tackling it head-on. Additionally, an alpha level mind can memorise up to 1500 words a day, as is the case with small children.

    We know that mediation, which the recitation of the Quran is similar to, helps us to bring down our brain waves to this beneficial alpha and theta waves.

    The conclusion of the research shows that reciting just a page of the Quranreduces our brain waves to alpha, thereby leading to a rested and calmed mind. Subhanallah!

    The Impact of the Quranic Melody on Our Memories

    Our memory is a mental system, which stores and process information for crucial cognitive tasks, such as learning, understanding, thinking and reasoning. Hence, improving one’s memory is directly correlated to one’s ability to perform these cognitive tasks better.

    Many types of learning disabilities are a result of glitches in the memory functioning. So, memory is an essential factor in learning.

    Due to the importance of memory on learning, scientists all around the world are pursuing the goal of finding a way to improve memory. They have found that some research suggests that certain types of music have positive effects on memory, learning and improved students’ educational performance.

    Scientists from the University of Mohaghegh Ardabili in Iran took this research a step further in a study by trying to find out whether the Quran’s melody provides a similar positive effect on the memory of 5th grade students.

    The results were amazing. Just by listening to Quran for only 15 minutes a day, without using any other skill or training, our memory can be improved significantly. How wonderful is that?

    However, it’s important to note that the research participants were listening to the Quran actively by using a headphone. As you probably know, it’s a commandment from Allah subuhanawuta’ala for us to listen to the Quran attentively:

    “When the Qur’an is recited, listen to it and be quiet so that hopefully you will gain mercy.” (Al-Quran, 7:204)

    The primary objective of listening to the Quran is to get guidance from it. And along from that guidance, we get numerous benefits that lead to our success in this world and more importantly in the Aakhira.

    The Quran and You

    Now, how can you put these things into practice?

    • Start your day with the recitation of the Quran
    • Before an important exam, listen to the Quran attentively for 15 minutes
    • If you are stressed out, take the mushaf and recite at least a page
    • Recite a page after every Salah

    Question: Re-evaluate your relationship with the Quran. Is the Quran your companion? Do you attempt to recite it at least once a day, or even a week?