The 6-Step Brain-Sharpening Routine This Functional MD Follows Daily

How to keep your brain in tip-top shape.

The 6-Step Brain-Sharpening Routine This Functional MD Follows Daily
The 6-Step Brain-Sharpening Routine This Functional MD Follows Daily

How does a functional medicine doctor, podcast host, and New York Times best-selling author juggle his busy work schedule, stay present in his personal life, and maintain enough clarity of mind to balance it all? According to mbg Collective member Mark Hyman, M.D., there are six essential habits that play a role in keeping his brain sharp

“In order to keep up with my busy life, maintaining optimal health and an optimal brain becomes a top priority,” Hyman writes on his Instagram. “When your brain is functioning well, you have more energy and life just gets better.” 

No matter your profession or work schedule, everyone’s lives are filled with unique stressors and time consuming tasks. Adding in these recommended daily habits, where possible, may help optimize your energy levels and focus.

6-step daily brain health routine. 

The brain is made up of at least 60% fat, and essential fatty acids are among the most important nutrients necessary to sustain cognitive functioning and performance, research says. 

Monounsaturated fats (think: nut butters, avocado, and olive oil), and certain polyunsaturated fats, like omega-3 fatty acids found in salmon, sardines, walnuts, and flax seeds, are considered some of the healthiest sources. 

“My brain worked pretty well before, but embracing fat (even good saturated fats like coconut oil and MCT oil) pushed my mental clarity through the roof,” Hyman says. 

Vegans and vegetarians alike are often asked: but where do you get your protein? And while the question is misguided, it is usually well-intentioned. 

“We need about 30 grams of protein per meal to build muscle,” Hyman says. “When you lose muscle, you age faster and your brain takes a huge hit.” That’s why eating protein with every meal is part of his daily brain health routine. 

And of course, that is still possible whether or not you eat meat. Protein shakes, nut butters, pistachios, and these other plant-based sources of protein will do the trick. (Here: how to get 80 grams of protein a day, without eating meat.)

3. Eat colorful plant foods. 

When putting together a meal, aim to fill at least 75% of your plate with multi-colored fruits, and veggies, Hyman suggests. 

“These colorful superfoods come loaded with brain-boosting stuff like phytonutrients,” he writes. “Enjoy an array of colorful plant foods, like blueberries, and dark leafy greens, like kale, Swiss chard, spinach, watercress, and arugula.” 

4. Avoid sugar or processed carbs. 

While he says restriction is harmful, Hyman does recommend avoiding processed foods, including refined sugars, high-fructose corn syrup, trans fats, food additives, and preservatives, when possible. 

These foods have been shown to lower certain proteins in the brain responsible for learning and neuroplasticity. They may also lead to inflammation, which makes energy less available to the brain.

Even if it’s just a 15 minute walk or a quick, midday stretch, incorporating movement into your daily routine provides a range of benefits. “Exercise improves memory, learning, and concentration,” Hyman says. “It also helps to improve your mood, boost your energy, and reduce overall stress in your body and mind.”

6. Relax and calm the mind. 

Relaxing doesn’t only entail taking a hot bath or a watching your favorite TV show (though, those can be beneficial, too.) 

Instead, Hyman recommends learning how to actively relax. “To engage the powerful forces of the mind on the body, you must do something,” he says. Meditation, learning a new skill, journaling, and listening to music are all examples of brain-supportive relaxation techniques.

While there are plenty of other brain-healthy habits Hyman incorporates into his daily routine, "the steps above are the most important," he says. They're also relatively accessible, but if adopting each habit in one day feels overwhelming, start with the first and add on one more each day, until you've hit all six. Maintaining this routine may be easier than you think.