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Sunday, 21 March 2010

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The Key to Concentration

We will all have experienced times when we have struggled to concentrate. Perhaps we have been distracted; worried by something else or just bored with the job in hand. Understanding what affects your powers of concentration can dramatically improve your performance. Our ability to concentrate well depends on a number of factors:

Supplements… A number of nutritional supplements have been reported to improve mental function and concentration including the omega 3 essential fats, phosphatidyl serine and ginkgo biloba.

Desire… To complete any specific task, we have to make a personal commitment (sometimes whether we want to or not). The more interested we are in the task, the easier we will find concentrating on it, providing our physical and emotional states are not getting in the way.

Relax… Anxiety or stress impair concentration, whatever its cause. When learning something new it is always best to do so in small manageable steps, each one of which is not too daunting. Build slowly on your successes. Whilst doing something new may be anxiety provoking, it is far from the only thing that might be making you anxious. Reaching for the coffee or a cigarette, or choosing to eat sweets and chocolate, all push up the levels of adrenaline. It is not that you should never have a drink or eat cake, but rather it might be better to do so at a less stressful time, like on holiday.

Physical state… Our physical state has more of an impact on concentration than has previously been realized.

Hydration has a marked impact on our ability to think. Studies demonstrate that even before the point we become thirsty, we may have already lost up to 20% of our cognitive function.

The post lunch dip in concentration is a well documented phenomenon. Caused by consuming refined (high Glycaemic Index) sugars which lead to an over production of insulin. This insulin spike leads to a rapid fall in your blood sugar that leaves you feeling tired about 40-90 minutes later.

Having a good night’s sleep is critical if you want to concentrate and perform well. To move into deep sleep you have to drop your body temperature by half a degree. If you are too hot this is more difficult and can reduce the amount and quality of sleep you get.

Avoid consuming stimulants like caffeine and nicotine. This increases levels of anxiety and interferes with sleep, both of which will affect your concentration.

Exercise… Whilst excessive exercise will increase the stress in your system, regular exercise helps you manage your stress and will allow you to focus better.

Calm… To concentrate we need to be calm. Make time to do the task in hand and set time aside to look at other worries or distractions.

Go zen… Our physical environment is also important. It is hard to concentrate if it is noisy, hectic, or you are too hot or too cold.

Improve your brain power:

The work on the effect of Omega 3 and mental function is very promising, so optimize your oily fish intake (3-4 portions a week) and consider using an omega 3 supplement.

The supplement 5-HTP is converted into the neurotransmitter serotonin in the brain and taking it before bed can improve the quality of your sleep and your mood.

Phosphatidyl serine has been extensively studied and has been shown to improve concentration and memory recall in the short term. The recommendations are to take 300mg a day.

Ginkgo Biloba has been purported to improve memory and act as a mental enhancer, possibly by improving blood flow to the brain. However, despite a large number of clinical trials the evidence remains sparse. It is also known to have a number of potential side effects including bleeding risks if taken with anti-coagulant medication and interacts with mono amine oxidase inhibitor antidepressants.

Ensure you are adequately hydrated. Drink roughly two litres of fluid every day.

Reduce your intake of refined (high GI) sugars. Eat unrefined whole food sources of starch like wholemeal breads, wild rice, mixed root vegetables including sweet potatoes and squashes, as well as beans and lentils which all release their energy in a sustained fashion.

Aim to sleep 6-8 hours each night and avoid stimulants like caffeine after 2.00pm.

Limit alcohol intake to 2 units on the days you drink and have at least three non-drinking days each week. If you are known to snore and you are overweight you may need to ask your partner if they notice if you stop breathing. If you think you might have sleep apnoea you should see your GP and plan to lose weight. Sleep with the window open and little heat in your bedroom.

Exercise regularly at least three times a week for an hour. Try to increase your incidental levels of exercising by walking at least 10,000 steps a day.

Set a clear and realistic timetable.

Look at the location you are trying to concentrate in and ensure it is as optimal as possible.

Artikel ditulis oleh Dr Adam Carey

Dr Adam Carey is Director of Nutrition for the England Rugby Football Union and has spent 19 years in the NHS. He is nutritionist for Celebrity Fit Club, Scientific Editorial Director for Nutrition Practitioner and Nutrition Director for Focus on Food.