Home » The Progressive Professional… A Guide for Quality Living – September 2018

The Progressive Professional… A Guide for Quality Living – September 2018

Happy September! As we approach my favorite time of the year, fall, I hope you can reflect back on the summer and see progress towards being the best you! Last month I talked about how our digital age and many distractions along with byte-sized actions are actually making us less productive and, in some views, “dumber”. So what can help us stay smarter and maintain our brain health?

The good news is that regardless of our age, we can reduce the chance of age-related diseases and optimize our chance of maintaining cognitive health. For many years, scientists believed that your brain at birth had all the cells it was going to have. More recent scientific research has determined that your brain can continue to create new nerve cells no matter your age. We can do a lot to take charge of our brain health and improve our quality of life. Experts tell us only about 30 percent of physical aging can be traced to our genes; the rest is up to us.

There are lots of reasons that reinforce the importance of maintaining our memory capabilities and staying sharp! Life expectancy is increasing and, of course, we’d love to have a great quality of life. Some people are totally redefining the traditional idea of retirement by continuing careers or starting a second act based on hobbies, goals or wanting to give back to others. Another factor is the rising cost of health care which gives us an incentive to live healthy. And, we do know that the 85+ age segment is our largest growing age group and, it is expected that those born today will live to be more than 100 years old!

What we also know is that the brain is like the other parts of your body – unused, it starts to lose some of its capabilities. Studies show that when we learn new things and pursue new interests our brain is stimulated and grows new cells and connections. Challenging yourself with things like games, puzzles, learning how to do something new, reading, taking on new activities and doing arts and crafts are all good ways to preserve brain function. Consider the value of being socially active and include friends and family in your activities. Better yet, get involved with clubs, community groups, youth groups or sports. Isolation tends to spawn the decrease of our brain function so it is important to do activities with others – even if it’s a furry friend!

Speaking of those other parts – get up and get moving. Physical exercise in any form is helpful to the body and mind. Try to get to 150 minutes of activity each week. That’s not as hard as it seems – I’ve been doing it for a couple of years now. Do I do exactly 30 minutes five days a week? No, sometimes I have days where I simply can’t find much time for exercise and other days, I’ll do 90+ minutes. Physical activity also benefits you by increasing circulation, reducing stress, improving sleep, and reducing the risk of many diseases. Find something you like to do – dancing, running, hiking, yoga, biking, or just plain walking are all great ways to get started – even if you just walk around the house a few times a day.

Studies have also shown that certain diets increase our cognitive functioning. Eating less meat and sweets and more fish and seafood, leafy green vegetables, nuts, beans, berries, whole grains and olive oil are a good way to feed your body and brain. Use lemon, herbs and spices for flavoring rather than salt. While research in this area is still in its infancy and more needs to be done since we are living longer, these are all seen as having a positive impact on cognition.

Your brain needs time to relax and recharge so be sure to get enough sleep each night. 7-8 hours is recommended in each 24-hour period as is keeping regular sleeping hours, reducing caffeine later in the day and reducing light as bedtime nears – for example, turn off that computer, iPad or phone an hour before bedtime. Reducing stress will also help you sleep better. You can do some pretty simple things to reduce stress – learn breathing techniques, exercise, meditate, do yoga, or simply hang out with folks that make you laugh! Laughter is a great stress reliever.

Finally, everyone experiences some level of memory loss. It is a natural and unavoidable result of aging. The good news is that there are things you can do to improve your memory and they work at any age.

One of the first ones is to pay attention. When you are introduced to someone, how do you remember their name? I learn the names of 10-15 people at one time when starting a class. After I have them introduce themselves, I repeat in my mind “this is _____” and I look for a distinguishing feature that may relate to their name or someone else I know by the same name. People are often amazed that I know their names and can call on them the rest of the class by name with just one short introduction.

Another way to avoid forgetting is to create a to-do list and add to it each time you learn you need to do something. Then, check it often and mark things off as you get them done. Avoid multitasking and focus on one thing at a time.

Establish places for everything and put things in their place. Your keys, for example, should always be kept in the same spot. This avoids wasting time looking for things and makes you feel more in control.

Take regular breaks – trying to push through to get something done usually results in less than optimum results and, creates stress which negatively impacts memory.

Use calendars, reminders and alarms. I send myself emails all the time when out of the house and I need to remember to do something when I return. I’ve read the mind is for having ideas, not remembering them and I truly believe it.

So I’ve provided a lot of food for thought (pun intended!). What we know today is that studies are pointing to some basics that improve quality of life through a brain-healthy lifestyle. The message is to stay active physically, mentally and socially with attention to a healthy diet, good sleep and stress control. How do you get started? Just like our other actions, start small – try something each day to get started – add a serving of vegetables, play a new game, call or go out with a friend, buy a calendar, or just take a walk. Once you get started, you’ll find lots of ways to improve your brain health.

Until next month – Want to learn more? Try this link: https://www.aarp.org/health/brain-health/