Ilene Ruhoy, M.D., Ph.D., has some exceptionally unique credentials: She’s a board-certified neurologist, but she also includes acupuncture, neurofeedback, and herbal and nutritional guidelines in her practice. In short, she is an integrative physician, in every sense of the word. She’s also a brain cancer survivor.
As a patient herself, Ruhoy knows what it’s like to face debilitating fear, especially when she looked at her own brain scans and knew exactly what they meant. Still, her attitude is incredibly upbeat: She tells me on this episode of the mindbodygreen podcast why a life of obstacles is a life worth living, as well as why we should actually be thankful for our pain.
Because she specializes in neurological care, we talked about the best ways to optimize brain health. Her one major piece of advice? Stick to a ritual, in every aspect of life you can.
“Our brain is a circadian organ. So it thrives on that circadian rhythm,” she tells me. Here, three ways we can practice ritual in our lives (and the importance of each!), according to Ruhoy. Keep your alarm clocks at the ready.
1. Maintain a bedtime.
“I’m always preaching sleep hygiene: Going to bed at the same time each night and waking up at the same time each morning,” Ruhoy says.
While you might not think the most important aspect of sleep hygiene would be strict bedtime, Ruhoy believes our brains thrive on a steady sleep schedule.
Even the process of getting ready for bed is crucial for maintaining a healthy sleep routine. She notes, “Getting in preparation for sleep is super important because that tells the body that it’s almost time for sleep.” We know our schedules can become hectic with impromptu events and dinner plans that may run on the longer side, but keeping your bedtime as stable as possible might be the No. 1 life hack for a healthy brain.
After all, sleep is incredibly important for brain health, as our brains tend to “recharge” while we catch up on our Z’s.
“While our brain sleeps is when it replenishes and restores itself,” Ruhoy states. So if you’re going to follow any routine, sleep should be your No. 1 priority.
2. Exercise routinely.
We know that exercise alone has significant benefits for our health, but could the timing of our workouts have specific brain health advantages? Ruhoy says yes, as she’s a firm believer that timing your exercise habits is a great way to get your body (and brain) into a healthy routine.
However, there’s no need to time your workouts down to the very minute you hit the treadmill. For Ruhoy, following a steady workout routine is pretty simple. “If you’re a morning person, exercise in the morning. If you’re an evening person, exercise in the evening,” she says.
In terms of what kind of exercise is most beneficial for brain health, Ruhoy believes it’s a personal decision and there’s no one exercise plan that’s better for our brains, as long as you work out at the same time every day.
“Any movement that you will do regularly is ideal,” she notes. “I often suggest just going for walks every day, if that is what suits you.”
3. Eating on a schedule.
While we’re familiar with the concept that certain foods are optimal for brain health, Ruhoy asserts that it’s the timing of our meals (along with the foods we choose to eat, of course) that can keep your brain in tiptop shape.
If you’re thinking something along the lines of, “What about my resolution to try intermittent fasting?” the good news is, according to Ruhoy, you can still participate in this eating plan and continue toeat regular meals.
“I’m an advocate for intermittent fasting,” she says. “But do it regularly, in a form of ritual. So, if you don’t eat until 11 each morning, maintain that schedule so the body knows at 11 a.m. it gets its nourishment.”
The bottom line is that keeping your body on a routine can greatly benefit your brain. Plus, keeping to a tight eating schedule can better help you stick to your intermittent fasting goal, so you might be killing two birds with one stone.
While the foods you eat and workout plans you follow may differ (Ruhoy is a proponent of integrative health, after all), the one thing every person should do to optimize brain health is to maintain a steady ritual. So, set your alarm clocks and create an exercise plan you can stick to—your healthy brain will thank you.