All the diet and exercise focused health campaigns over the past decades didn't produce a healthy nation. Our world population is more unhealthy than ever. New science insights clearly show the reasons why those diet and exercise focused approaches failed. Our brains chose not to follow the advice and there are biological reasons why that happens. Take advantage of the new science and use the habits below and a 'brain-first' approach to TRANSFORM your future health.
THE BRAIN ROCKS
How to Master
the Art of Good Health
In January 2020, after reading a tonne of research for this book, I decided to run an experiment on my brain and body and put this science to work. In recent years the time pressures of running a business had made it harder to stay healthy, so like many people I needed to find an all-round wellness solution. Hurtling towards my 50th birthday was an extra incentive to begin this experiment! Music can deliver many exceptional results (as explored in my previous book The Music Diet), but used alone it cannot deliver the broad health benefits a person needs. A more comprehensive approach was required.
I designed a daily routine of sound, vision and breathing based practices. Swift things that take just a few minutes each but are intended to produce specific biological responses. Like most people I don't want to spend lots of time trying to fit in exercise and wellness activities and I don't want to be on diets. I want fast results with the minimum effort. I wanted to see for myself what would happen if I embedded these brain and bio hacks into my lifestyle. What unfolded over the following nine months surprised even me.
I've reversed my "age" considerably. Now in my 50s I'm the same weight as I was in my 20s when I was a full-time personal trainer (something I haven't achieved for decades). Weight loss wasn't even an aim of the experiment, it was a mere pleasing and unexpected side effect! Many of my other average health scores are also now equivalent to that of females in their 20s. Some of the results are presented further down this webpage. These habits have also enabled me to cope with the sudden global pandemic that's thrown a lot of unexpected stress and isolation into my life.
In advance of the book launch in January 2021, and to mark World Mental Health Day, I've published this preview of some of the science below. Perhaps you'd also like to try out some of these daily habits and see what impact they have on your life. This experiment has now become my normal routine. However, we live in a world that constantly tempts us to be unhealthy, so it will occasionally need reinforcing to stay on track. I hope you find these insights interesting and of use in your own efforts to get into the driving seat of your brain and master the art of good health. Good luck!
Dr Julia Jones aka Dr Rock
Typical approaches to public health promotion have generally focused on the body, with emphasis on diet and exercise. This clearly hasn't succeeded in producing a healthy population. These recommendations are slow and take too much effort.
I believe the above approach is flawed, because a person can only make consistently good choices and maintain motivation if they understand, and are in control of, their decisions and the biological processes that underpin them. This is especially true considering they are doing battle on a daily basis with powerful marketing campaigns that use psychological principles intended to persuade them to make unhealthy choices. This coupled with the daily stresses of modern life and time pressures make it extremely difficult for most people to make consistently good choices. Therefore, public health transformation is probably only possible if we shift the focus from the body to the brain. The Brain Rocks examines a programme of biohacks that produce brain and body wellness in superfast time.
My personal experiment aimed to test that theory, using the latest neuroscience insights, hacks (shortcuts) and tech gadgets to embed habits that help me stay in control. You can see my daily routine below. I tried to do as many of these as possible every day. They are intended to achieve the maximum effects with the minimum effort and time requirements.
Many of these habits take just a few minutes but produce fast and significant results because they are designed to trigger specific instant responses that are hardwired in our nervous system and biology.
I don't manage to do them all every day but I do try and do try and do as many as possible. I find they have an instant influence on my physiology and state of mind as well as longer-term cumulative benefits.
The Brain Rocks book examines how to:
1. Get into the driving seat of your brain so you consistently make good decisions that result in a healthier lifestyle
2. Use a range of simple brain/bio hacks (short cuts) to trigger specific biological responses to keep you on track
The Daily Habits programme detailed in the book is intended to specifically help you:
Set your direction with goals that are relevant to you - the 'sat nav'
Gain better control of your autonomic nervous system (sympathetic/parasympathetic modes) and attentional control (on task focus / default network mind wandering modes) - the 'switches'
Use certain priming songs (cues) and techniques to quickly trigger preset brain and body responses - the 'radio'
Getting behind the wheel in the driving seat of your brain is the key to mastering the art of good health. People who are in control find it easier to consistently make better choices and as a result enjoy better health.
Here are some of the results from my personal experiment on my brain and body
My sleep quality improved significantly
My typical night's sleep featured healthy amounts of deep sleep and REM sleep stages. My sleeping heart rate frequently charted the "hammock" shape associated with quality sleep.
My sleep quality was reduced whenever I had an alcoholic drink during the evening. As you can see below even just ONE drink usually resulted in less deep sleep and REM cycles and super high periods of light sleep. Overall sleep time was often negatively impacted too, meaning the next morning I didn't feel refreshed. My heart rate variability score was usually negatively impacted also. So, when I did want to have an alcoholic drink I tried to have it at least 4 hours before bedtime to reduce the impact on sleep quality.
My autonomic nervous system was boosted significantly. High heart rate variability indicates a strong responsive system and a good ability to modulate stress and arousal.
The daily habits were undoubtedly responsible for this improvement. In fact I often tested this in real-time watching the instant effect of breathing practices and self-hypnosis on my HRV biofeedback.
I'm now regularly achieving scores that are exceptional for my age. Despite being a business owner living in a highly financially stressful global pandemic.
In fact my average heart rate variability score is now usually higher than an 18-24 year old female.
I've increased my cardio fitness score over the past 9 months, because I've reduced the amount I exercise but increased the EFFICIENCY of my exercise practices. Again this cardio score is super high for my age and my strength has also increased.
I was expecting to see results relating to the quality of my sleep, my autonomic nervous system and my cognitive function because many of the hacks are designed to influence brain responses.
HOWEVER, I had not expected these results to be so dramatic. I actually considered my lifestyle to be fairly healthy BEFORE this experiment began. So I was surprised that even starting at a fairly healthy baseline I was able to create such an improvement.
ALSO, the fact that I dropped 10 lb in weight without effort was staggering. This was very unexpected but unsurprising when all the related factors are considered, because all of the habits simply enabled the body to resume its normal weight.
In addition I was able to vastly improve my attentional control and that increase in focus has enabled me to dramatically increase my work rate, and the quality of my work and general cognitive ability and productivity. People often look at all the projects I'm involved in and immediately say "you're so busy". In fact, I'm not busy, because I've learned how to hack my brain to be super efficient. You can do it too. I spend a small portion of my day doing high focus work and large portions of my day pottering around having quite a nice time now that I'm no longer hurtling in and out of London for meetings. I've also been able to almost double my reading speed using a brain hack (if it's content I find engaging) and can dive into focus mode in seconds by using the Focus Runway.
The KEY factor in the success of this Daily Habits experiment is that it included lots of hacks that enabled me to stay in the driving seat of my brain. This meant that whenever I waivered (and that happened pretty often - especially during the first month of lockdown) I was able to stay on track. If I had not been in the driving seat of my brain I would have started eating less healthily, drinking more alcohol, aimlessly wasting hours scrolling social media, ruminating over stressful thoughts and becoming overwhelmed with work and life stress.
That's why this brain-first approach is so powerful. Give it a try.
The scientific principles that underpin the Daily Habits are explained in an easy to understand way in The Brain Rocks book available in January 2021.
In the meantime, for the geeks and nerds amongst you, click below if you'd like to dive into some of the science that outlines the the value these habits can deliver in helping you to maintain good health.