Written by Sarah Braithwaite, a WellBe&Co Neuroscience-based Life & Health Coach

We have all had that same message drummed into our heads since we were young – ‘eat plenty vegetables, exercise often and get enough sleep’ , and while we are all familiar with the physical benefits these have on our body, most are not aware of the incredible impacts had on our brains – particularly when it comes to exercise. Our brain and body is intrinsically connected and while neurology is flowing downwards, physiology is flowing upwards and to separate the dual effects on one another would be impossible.

The love-hate relationship of endurance running is real – time, commitment, pain, and pressure, versus that insane ‘runners high’ that keeps us coming back for more and more. Let us unpack the latest science on brain health in relation to exercise – after all knowledge is power, and these juicy facts may give you a whole new appreciation for those long arduous training sessions.

How exercise actually rewires your brain

More than a mood boost

The latest buzz word in the neuroscience world, ‘neuroplasticity’, means our brains are able to change and rewire depending on many factors, one being physical movement. Beside the mental health benefits of reducing anxiety and depression, regular physical exercise is actually rewiring your brain for better cognitive function as well as improvement of emotional regulation. Exercise also allows the release of the stress hormone, cortisol, from the body which is hugely beneficial and explains why we experience mood changes after a workout.

It’s all biochemistry

During exercise, the body begins to produce endorphins which are our ‘feel good’ hormones. The effects of these endorphins plus the release of important neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin, means that you are getting all the right kinds of ‘highs’ while you are running. Dopamine affects the reward pathways in the brain while serotonin stabilizes our moods – both are essential to mental health and well-being. While physical exercise is best, studies have also shown the mind boggling benefits to the brain from simply visualising a detailed exercise session in your head – what better evidence to prove the brain’s role in physical movement?



4 Ways to maximize your training for better brain health

Okay so now that we have indisputable evidence of just how great movement is for our minds, here are a few easily implementable training hacks to help you get the most out of it:

  1. Incorporate HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training)

HIIT-style training has been shown to help prompt new cellular growth in the brain as well as increasing activity between neurons and prompting neuroplasticity. 

  1. Keep consistent

Regular exercise improves memory function in the brain. The hippocampus is responsible for memory and learning, and studies have shown that exercise improves these functions and causes neurogenesis (new cellular growth).

  1. Sweat out the stress

Use exercise as a stress release tool to rid your body of excessive levels of toxic cortisol. Cortisol is the stress hormone that we produce, and it can become toxic when chronic. Stress can quite literally cause the physical release of cortisol.

  1. Be mindful

Combine exercise with some mindful or visualisation practices to encourage neuroplasticity. The mind battles to distinguish reality from imagination, and the power of visualization is helpful in ingraining those neural pathways that are used when performing the activity. 

  1. Eat the right brain food

The brain thrives off of slow release carbohydrates as well as healthy fats. Dr Tara Swart, a remound Neuroscientist, recommends food such as: eggs, nuts, avos, coconut oil and salmon. Other foods such as sweet potatoes and healthy grains can also be beneficial. 

Movement for the mind 

Regular exercise, like running, really has profound benefits for both the brain and body, and that ‘high’ is there as a reminder to keep coming back for more. And with that in mind, I’m putting on my trainers and hitting the road…

A word from WellBe

This blog was written by Sarah Braithwaite, of MindSight, is a WellBe&Co Neuroscience-based Health & Life Coach, in collaboration with RunMalibu.



By: Sarah Braithwaite

The gut-brain connection is such a HUGE topic and recent scientific findings are coming through fast with exciting information on how important gut health really is. This blog simplifies a complex subject into some quick explanations and everyday tips to transition you into a place of better gut health management. 

Besides digesting food and making gurgling sounds, the gut is spectacularly sophisticated and an integral part of our overall health. The term ‘gut-brain’ has been popping up in conversations a lot more frequently lately, and for good reason – science is finally catching up and able to explain just how phenomenally complex and important our gut is. If you are curious to understand and explore the role of the gut- brain relationship, how they communicate and how to optimize gut health, then this article is exactly what you need right now. 

Quick dive into some science basics…

Brain cells are known as neurons and are not only limited to the brain but are actually found in our gut too (and our heart, but that’s for another blog post). Similar to our brain, our gut is also able to perceive, assimilate and process information, as well as store information. Who would have thought? 

In case your memory is a little fuzzy from the school biology days, the gut does not simply equate to our stomach – it includes our mouth, oesophagus, small and large intestines, colon, liver, pancreas, and central nervous system. 

The gut also contains sensory and motor cells and in essence functions like a mini brain. While our head brain is the mothership brain, the gut plays vital key roles in our communication with the brain, and affects our mood swings, immune system function and overall health. Serotonin, a very important mood stabilizer, is produced mainly in the gut (to read more see link to ‘mental health basics’ article), which means that our mood or mental state is definitely influenced by our gut. 


Gut-brain communication

Reflect on your own body here for a minute – when you are super stressed or anxious, do you find that you eat more, or eat less, feel constipated or have a knot in your stomach? 

When you are excited, do you feel butterflies in your stomach? 

When you receive negative news, do you get that ‘gut wrenching’ feeling quite literally? 

And when you are hungry and a sushi advert pops up on TV, does your stomach grumble with delight to let you know that it wants that? 

These are everyday examples of our conscious processing of gut-head communication. However, most communication is happening very unconsciously at lightning speed while you are none the wiser. The communication happens along a superhighways gut-brain axis known as the vagus nerve. Most of the traffic of communication travels from the gut up to the brain and not the other way around, which means that our brains are interpreting and reacting to the goings-on of our gut all day every day.

Explore more: Thriving In Uncertainty: 8 Everyday Anti-stress Tools To Take The Edge Off

Immune function in the gut

Up to 80% of our immune cells are based in the gut, which means our immune system is coming into contact with our environment everyday based on the food we consume. Some foods are nutritional and healing for the gut, while others cause aggravation, inflammation, and discomfort. 

The microbiome located in the gut is the total ecology of microorganisms and if this balance of bacteria is too infested with bad bacteria, we create an imbalance. In fact, these bacterial colonies are so clever that they cause confusion during the gut-brain communication line, and even cause us to crave unhealthy foods that feed the bad bacteria. Serotonin, which I mentioned earlier, is an especially important mood stabilizing neurotransmitter, is produced mainly in the gut and interestingly only a small amount is produced in our brain. 

A happy gut equals a happier mood state. 

Optimizing gut health

Reading and understanding all the latest information on gut health means nothing unless you actually make changes to your lifestyle and prioritize gut health. After all, our immune system is based in the gut, and our gut influences our mental and mood states. 

Besides diet, other factors such as exercise, stress and emotional management, toxicity, and medications can also impact our gut health and mental health. A good quality probiotic can have enormous benefits of gut health by boosting the ‘good bacteria’ and stress can have very negative impacts on gut health. Regular exercise, mindful activities, and consumption of organic fresh produce has been scientifically validated to improve the microbiome and gut health. A healthy gut means a healthy well-functioning immune system and with winter upon us and a global pandemic in our midst, has there ever been a better time to make these changes?

Read more: Making The Most Of Online Therapy: The Secret To Maintaining Mental Health And Mastering Online Session During Lockdown

Tips to optimize gut health:

  • Invest in a good quality probiotic. 
  • Include probiotic rich foods such as kombucha, sauerkraut, or organic natural yoghurt.
  • Switch to organic fresh produce that contain healthy microbes and minerals from the soil and are free of pesticides and chemicals.
  • Manage stress responsibly through exercise, journaling, mindfulness, life coaching or therapy.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Remove unhealthy foods containing high sugar levels, chemicals, or processed ingredients.
  • Be conscious of medications and use wisely (especially antibiotics).
  • Be conscious of toxicity in your environment (heavy metals in pots/pans, personal care products, and home cleaning products).

If you are interested in some delicious and gut-loving recipes, check out WellBe’s recipe page here


With compounding levels of uncertainty and stress, self-mastery of stress management is now at the forefront of conversation, and how we cope today places us in either a survival or thriving mode. Adopting new stress tools shouldn’t be complicated, expensive or another task for the ‘to-do list’- instead read on as we share some everyday adjustments that will take the edge off this new normal that we are all facing.

Living in uncertain times and how to cope with them

Like goldfish in a fish tank, we are confined to our limited spaces, staring out into the world longingly, without any certainty of when normality will resume. Change can be a hair-raising experience, especially when unwillingly imposed, and right now we are being forced to adapt in order to stay afloat. It’s a slippery road ahead, but reinvention and self-mastery of new habits can streamline the process and avoid that ‘fish out of water’ feeling. With limited freedom, how do we stop swimming in circles and find a new rhythm in which to thrive? With so much at stake, and so little certainty, here are 8 everyday ways to integrate into your life now, to help take the edge off stress and anxiety. 

Stress begins as a thought, and that thought arises out of a perception of the environment, which means our stress experiences are totally subjective.  Think of thoughts as passing trains on a railway line – a continual and endless stream. Our thoughts never stop. It is our choice as to whether we jump on that train and are caught up in that ‘thought story’, or whether we stay planted on the train platform and choose to not jump on that thought stream. During abnormal times like this, our thoughts are more prone to being fear-based, and if we are not mindful, we can be spending our days on endless runaway trains of negativity and turmoil. While we have no control over our usual rights of movement, work and socialising, we still have full autonomy over our own mind. With the full spectrum of emotions fluctuating to extreme highs and lows, which some have coined as the ‘corona-coaster’, how do we navigate this uncertain journey? 

Acknowledge the ugly

Distorting reality does help us cope better in the moment, but essentially, we are suppressing the facts on what we are dealing with and how we are feeling. Acknowledging how life has changed and how tough things are, can be liberating as a first step to dealing with the change. After all, how can we tackle a challenge if we cannot first accept it? Allow self-kindness to play a key role in this process.

Routine, routine, routine!

Our brains are pattern predicting machines and thrive in an environment that provides clarity and certainty – the only problem is that we have none of that right now! When we are not given certainty, we feel threatened, stressed, and uneasy. 

By creating a routine, we are able to provide a more structured environment by perceiving a sense of ‘certainty’ on a day to day basis. We are tricking our minds into thinking there is certainty and structure even if there isn’t! Considerations like working hours, sleep times, mealtimes, exercise times, and social connecting, can be loosely structured into the day to provide some mental organisation and consistency throughout the week. A bit of planning and discipline can go a long way to dialling down the stress levels.

Label emotions

Negative and repetitive thoughts can cloud our brains and reduce our ability to behave and feel like our ‘old self’. The simple act of stating aloud or writing down two or more descriptive words around our emotions can immediately calm down the central nervous system and reduce stress. For example, ‘I am feeling frustrated, anxious and resentful’. This is a great way to develop self-awareness and is an excellent opportunity for children to practice identifying different emotions. 

Catch negative thinking

Be mindful of where most of your thinking is going and be wary of identifying and stopping a ‘thought train’ heading for a destination of anxiety. Up to 80% of all our thoughts are repeated thoughts, and we all know those familiar washing machine thoughts turning over and over and over – what benefit ever comes out of it anyway? Catching a negative thought at the beginning is brilliant because you have a choice to either entertain it or let it go and choose another thought. And this point leads beautifully into the next tip…

Be present

With the term ‘be present’ having become so overused these days, why exactly are we told to ‘be present’? Although we can physically be in one place, our minds can be in a totally different place, lost in a story, that serves little productivity to the current moment and more times than not is anxiety inducing. Being mindful means we are less prone to negativity and worry, and more focussed on the activity we are doing right now. Meditation is a wonderful way to be present, but, if you cannot find the time to do this, then simply practice being mindful while doing day to day activities, for example, folding washing or mowing the lawn. Use this time to notice sensations around you, instead of losing your mind to mindless thinking that inevitably leads to anxiety.

Limit unvalidated information 

Carefully sift science from fiction and avoid enduring energy depletion and worry over someone else’s opinion that is not necessarily helpful, useful, or truthful. Social media content consumption is having a bigger impact on our stress levels than we realise, and discernment should be taken seriously to avoid falling prey to stress-inducing fiction.  

Connect authentically

As humans, we need at least two meaningful connections a day to feel emotionally satisfied, and when it comes to connection it’s all about quality, not quantity. A one on one meaningful conversation with a friend via zoom may prove to be far more impactful than a chaotic group chat video. Connecting authentically produces all sorts of feel-good neurotransmitters and reduces stress levels. The best kind of connections are ones with people that we love and trust. 

Embrace simplicity while it lasts

Having abandoned our busy and frenetic lives is an overwhelming adjustment, but it has also opened up more quality time for other things, things we never had time to do. Getting back to basics allows time to do things properly, instead of splitting ourselves thin across a million commitments. This may be by finally getting 8 hours sleep, having the energy to enjoy homework time with a child, dusting off an old favourite cookbook, planting herbs, or spring cleaning a cupboard. 


By Sarah Braithwaite, Neuroscience-based Life and Integrative Health Coach of MindSight.

An introduction to the article

A holistic perspective on mental health explores the neuroscience of the brain body connection and practical tools to both manage and prevent mental illness. This article discusses the role of dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin in the body, and how tools such as mindfulness, human connection, purposeful living, and nutrition influence one’s state of being. Mental health, is a topic that is finally being deconstructed of its identity around stigmatization, and entering a new paradigm of understanding where people are no longer victims of a diagnosis but instead have tools to proactively manage their environment and alleviate symptoms. 

The brain body connection

Recent neuroscientific evidence has made abundantly clear that our previously distorted view that the brain and body are separate entities, is in fact false. According to Dr Tara Swart, Neuroscientist and Coach, the brain and body operate within one system where neurology and physiology are both intrinsically linked. The notion that mental health is only symptomatic of what is happening in the brain, is incorrect, especially since serotonin, a very vital mood stabilizing neurotransmitter, is in fact mostly produced in one’s gut, not one’s brain. Yes, you read correctly – up to as much as 90% of serotonin is produced in the gut. Serotonin generates a sense of wellbeing which is essential to human functionality and can be boosted naturally by the consumption of fruits.

(Check out this blog on effective ways to improve your gut health).

Fascinating research by American stem cell Biologist Dr Bruce Lipton, further endorses the mind-body relationship. His medical research shows that our emotions and thoughts are altering our gene expression within our DNA sequence. New ways of thinking suggest that chronic suffers or borderline persons with depression or anxiety in addition to prescribed medical treatment, should prioritise nutrition, exercise, human connection, mindfulness, and meaning/purpose within their lives. With our perception of stress becoming increasingly challenging to manage, it is imperative for individuals to take ownership of emotional management and mental health before the arrival of a diagnosis. 

(Read: 4 simple ways to manage anxiety in the workplace)

The happy hormones and their role in mental health

Let us consider the most imperative mental health game players amongst the neurotransmitters, namely serotonin already mentioned, and dopamine and oxytocin. Dopamine relates to the reward centre of the brain as we produce it when something ‘feels good’. Functional, healthy human beings rely on a constant stream of dopamine production. To obtain it sustainably one should be engaging in genuine meaningful and purposeful life activities. 

Think about your career, family life, hobbies, passions – do any of these generate a sense of valuable contribution to the world, hold real significance, or feel meaningful to you? For one this may be a high-powered job, and for another a love of gardening. When we are unfulfilled with authentic meaning and purpose, our brain will search for more dopamine in unhealthy ways, which manifests as addiction and/or mental illness. 

Research shows that depression is evident in retired business men and women, who’s career-less identity prompts a loss of purpose in the world. Fast ‘dopamine kicks’ are very evident in social media where a single ‘like’ of a picture can cause a cascade of dopamine rushes, however, this is short lived and dangerous to some. Sustainable engagement in meaningful activities is essential to mental health and wellbeing, and because the bulk of one’s time is spent at work or with family, these two areas should be the driving sources.

Oxytocin, is the other important neurotransmitter, produced abundantly during connections – and no, not technology connections, but real human to human connection. This neurotransmitter allows us to trust one another, which is the basis of healthy relationships. Science has shown that for optimal mental health, one should have at least two meaningful connections a day, such as a coffee catch up, a walk and talk with a friend, or a positive conversation with a coworker. As humans we are wired for connection and cannot survive without it. With technology ‘connecting’ us more than ever globally, ironically loneliness is on the rise as becoming one of the biggest contributors to mental and physical health. 

Tools such as mindfulness practice, stress management, nutrition, maintaining healthy connections, and meaningful activities, are all imperative in their role of influencing neurotransmitters and biochemistry in the body. How we think, behave, manage emotions, eat, and move all have a huge impact on our production of dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin, and because of the research of epigenetics (mentioned above) we cannot solely blame our genetic history on unwanted outcomes. 

Mindfulness for mental health

Mindfulness is a scientifically validated, non-associative religious practice that has transformative effects not only on mental wellbeing, but on immune system regulation and functioning of the brain. Mindfulness can reduce anxiety, and in recent studies demonstrated the successful decline in recurrent depressive episodes of diagnosed patients. 

Mindfulness practice brings the central nervous system into homeostasis, improving emotional regulation, and minimizes the prominence of the fear centre of the brain known as the amygdala. Fear, anxiety and stress connected to the amygdala are influential in the delicate balance of ‘threat’ and ‘reward’ in the brain which in turn affects one’s dopamine levels and overall mental state. 

Nutritional quality is vitally important to mental health in that the mind gut communication occurs via the vagus nerve, and both overall gut health and the microbiome determine factors that influence mental health outcomes. 

Equally important is stress management and exercise in reducing the stress hormone cortisol, and maintaining healthy levels of dopamine, oxytocin and serotonin. 


Reference List:

Chopra, D., M.D, Tanzi, R. PH.D. (2015). Super Genes: The hidden keys to total well-being. Penguin Random House UK.

Davidson, R. J., Kabat-Zinn, J., Schumacher, J., Rosenkranz, M., Muller, D., Santorelli, S. F., Urbanowski, F., Harrington, A., Bonus, K., & Sheridan, J. F. (2003). Alterations in Brain and Immune Function Produced by Mindfulness Meditation: Psychosomatic Medicine, 65(4), 564–570.

Lipton, B. H. (2005). The biology of belief: Unleashing the power of consciousness, matter and miracles. Mountain of Love/Elite Books.

Swart, T., Chisholm, K., & Brown, P. (2015). Neuroscience for leadership: Harnessing the brain gain advantage