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International Women’s Day: 10 female brain health leaders you need to know

Follow these women’s work for the best wellness advice in all 10 key pillars of braincare.

Next week, the world celebrates International Women's Day . Women have long been pioneers in the world of neuroscience and brain health, but their leadership, research and insights have often been overlooked . This is a problem that continues to this day , with women underrepresented (and their achievements ignored) in the burgeoning realm of brain research and braincare. To honour women’s contributions to brain health, we’re celebrating the top 10 women in braincare.

10 female leaders who are pillars of brain health and research

At Heights, our 10 pillars of braincare —specific areas of life and wellness that have a measurable, significant and well-researched impact on brain function—guide our supplement development, brain health advocacy, and community education.

The women below are some of the world’s foremost leaders in each of these pillars.

Every single one of these women is making significant contributions to the world’s understanding of braincare, and giving all of us practical advice and actionable insights to help us achieve optimal cognitive wellness. We encourage you to review their research, follow their websites or social media, and see how Heights’ pillars of braincare can make a difference in your life.

Pillar 1: Nutrition - Priya Tew

Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, more commonly referred to as the DASH diet, is the top heart health diet recommended by renowned groups like the National Institutes of Health. Numerous studies have shown that the nutrition principles behind DASH significantly improve heart health, and a healthy heart means a healthy brain.

Registered dietitian Priya Tew is the author of The DASH Diet and the founder of nutrition consulting and training firm Dietitian UK . She's a champion of intuitive eating and advocates for grounded, science-based approaches to nutrition that reduce your disease risks, improve your health, and support your brain.

Nutrition is a really important part of our braincare. My top tip is to really take time to diversify your diet. Eat a really large range of foods making sure you include lots of different colours lots of different types of whole grains and as many different foods as you can in your week.

Follow Priya on Instagram for her daily nutrition tips.

Pillar 2: Breath - Dr. Cathy Scanlon

Certified breathwork coach Dr. Cathy Scanlon, PhD, sits at the intersection of neuroscience and breathing. She spent years in the field of international neurology and psychiatry (including publishing dozens of peer-reviewed research papers) before transitioning to her current work focused on the health impacts of breathing.

Breathwork is a form of active meditation. Dr. Scanlon assists people in using specific rhythmic breathing techniques to oxygenate the mind and body and influence their mental state.

When we come into breathwork, we're giving the mind a job and the mind likes that. The second thing is we’re doing is breathing in a specific pattern for a certain amount of time. That actually talks to your nervous system, allowing it to move into a meditative state. There are loads of really amazing research studies showing how even just one breathwork session can actually change how we feel.

To learn more about breathwork and Dr. Scanlon's use of deep rhythmic breathing and active meditation, visit Dr. Scanlon’s website or follow her on Instagram .

Pillar 3: Mindfulness - Kim Palmer

Entrepreneur and happiness expert Kim Palmer is the creative genius behind Clementine, a hypnotherapy app for women who struggle with anxiety, poor sleep, and a lack of confidence. Palmer's life mission, and the goal of her technology platform, is to support and improve the emotional and mental health of women around the globe.

Problems with sleep, negative self-talk and tension all have measurable impacts on your brain health. Palmer's service helps you identify what's going on in your mind before leading you through guided hypnotherapy sessions that calm your brain waves and help you find the mental clarity, focus and relaxation you need.

My tip around creating mindfulness is to stop thinking about being mindful, and start thinking more about what you do in your daily routine that you could elevate into a ritual. That way it isn’t a chore anymore, it’s something you genuinely look forward to doing.

Follow Kim’s app on Instagram for more info, or download it for free on the App Store or in Google Play.

Pillar 4: Hydration - Sophie Medlin

You may recognize consultant dietitian Sophie Medlin from her many appearances on networks like the BBC, Channel 4 and ITV, where she shares the latest research on hydration and optimal brain health. Medlin is also the chair of the British Dietetic Association for London and serves as Head of Nutritional Research here at Heights.

Good hydration habits are essential for your brain to function optimally. If you are dehydrated by just 1% your focus and concentration can be affected and electrolyte shifts that happen when we don’t hydrate effectively can make normal brain function seem impossible.

Your basic fluid requirements are 35mls/kg of body weight per day. (So a 60kg person would need 2L per day) You need to add to this if you’re exercising or you’re in a hot climate. If you’re struggling to drink enough, set a reminder on your phone every hour and try adding mint and cucumber to your water to make it more appealing!

Sophie’s evidence-based nutrition advice has made her a champion of the role that hydration has on your brain health. Drink up Medlin’s hydration insights and brain health advice on her Instagram , and keep an eye out for her regular appearances at Braincare Club .

Pillar 5: Rest - Dr. Sophie Bostock

It may seem counterintuitive, but doing nothing is one of the best things you can do for yourself and your brain health.

For instance, regular rest and taking mental breaks has been shown to restore your always-active mind’s creativity, concentration, focus and learning capacity. And healthy sleep is linked with improved brain health because it’s while you’re catching your Zs that your brain is flushing out toxins cataloguing memories and healing itself .

Dr. Sophie Bostock is a sleep scientist whose research has uncovered the crucial role that sleep plays in brain health and mental resilience. Her sleep research and sleep advocacy have been recognized by Oxford University, the NHS, and many more.

One of the most useful things is reassurance that poor sleep and anxiety are bi-directionally connected. So even if you wouldn't normally think about yourself as an anxious person, one night of poor sleep can increase the part of your brain that switches on your negative brain response.

Connect with Dr. Bostock on her website , and follow her on Twitter or Instagram .

Pillar 6: Movement - Esmée Gummer

Regular physical activity helps reduce your risks of neurological disorders, improves your cognitive function, elevates your mood and even helps to change your brain structure for the better .

London-based celebrity coach and fitness expert Esmée Gummer has seen first hand the benefits of fitness for your mental resilience and brain health. Regular exercise was part of her own journey of recovering from near-paralysis, and today she works tirelessly to motivate the masses to embrace the physical and brain health benefits of regular movement.

Movement is so important for braincare. My top tip for movement is to find what feels right for you. Just because somebody else is doing it and they benefit from it does not always mean it will work for you. There is nothing worse than forcing your way through a workout. That is not going to do any wonders for your braincare. What you need to do is do something that genuinely makes you feel good, and stick it that. Don't follow the crowd, don't worry about what anyone else is doing, just focus on yourself and what you can get out of it.

Get your daily dose of sweaty inspiration on Esmée’s Instagram .

Pillar 7: Connection kindness and compassion - Feel Good Club

Social connection, a positive sense of belonging, and healthy friendships/relationships are all linked with numerous benefits like improved health, lower disease risks, and better cognitive function. Social connectedness has also been called a " social cure " for mental illness.

Yet many of us feel isolated, or are surrounded by negativity or toxic friends that leave us feeling depleted, anxious and sad. Find your kindness spark, and engage with a compassionate tribe of like-minded people on social media.

Kiera and Aimie founded Feel Good Club , and are on a mission to help you re-experience kindness and compassion, and feel more connected to the goodness in the world around you.

When it's broken down, kindness is simple, it's a simple interaction, message or conversation between humans but kindness can be the difference between somebody feeling totally alone or feeling like somebody cares about them, even if that's just smiling at a stranger. That's why it's so important—choose to be kind or just do or say nothing at all.

Pillar 8: Learning - Dr. Tara Swart

Regularly learning new skills, engaging in new experiences, and trying new activities builds neuroplasticity (your brain’s ability to evolve, adapt and forge new neural connections) and supports neurogenesis (your brain’s ability to create brand-new neurons).

Dr. Tara Swart is one of the world's leaders on the importance of learning for neurological health and optimal brain function. Not only is she a medical doctor, bestselling author, and a neuroscientist, but she's also the Chief Science Officer here at Heights.

You can make your brain change and grow with intense learning, like learning a language or a musical instrument. This gives you global benefits in your brain; being able to regulate emotions better, think more flexibly, be more creative and solve complex problems.

Learn more about Dr. Swart on her website or follow her on Instagram .

Pillar 9: Digital diet - Dr. Rachael Kent

We're surrounded by technology 24/7/365, and brain researchers say we need to practice more awareness and caution surrounding how our digital behaviours affect our cognitive function, brain health, and mental health.

Dr. Rachael Kent is one such researcher. Her interdisciplinary academic research looks at how digital habits affect the body and mind, and her first book on the impact of social media on health is coming out soon.

Dr. Kent recently sat down on The Braincare Podcast to talk with the Heights team about how our everyday digital habits are toxic for our brains, and how to go on a digital diet to detox yourself.

Ultimately we must remember that it is just a device and that that sense of self-worth and gratification has to come from your human instinct and from trusting how your body feels.

Follow Dr. Kent on Twitter , and listen to her on the Braincare podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or anywhere else you like to stream your favourite podcasts.

Pillar 10: Random acts of self-care - Shanda Poulson

Taking care of yourself, and showing yourself some love (whatever that might look like to you), helps to boost mood, release feel-good endorphins, and protect against mental fatigue and burnout. Regular self-care and a mindset of self-love also helps reduce levels of the hormone cortisol, thus protecting your brain from the damaging effects of negative pressures.

With all the pressures and demands thrown at us as part and parcel of daily life, it can be very easy to forget to give ourselves the full love and attention that we need. Shan founded the Kind Mind Club with the goal to encourage more self-care and reduce the stigma attached to mental health and wellness.

Prioritize time within each day to do something that brings you joy. Even if you have had a busy day, take a few minutes to unwind with something you love doing. These simple acts of self-care help to strengthen your feelings of self-worth and happiness. Treat yourself with that same kindness that you show to others!

Follow Shan on Instagram or join the Kind Mind Club for resources to make self-care as easy as possible.


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