The activities that lead to a strong, healthy body give us a strong, healthy brain as well. Unfortunately, some experts have found that about 1/2 the activities we engage in lead to improved brain health but the other 1/2 are detrimental to a healthy brain. Doing a little more of the healthy activities and a little less of the unhealthy ones, add up over time to major improvements.TheExceleratedLife.com
My mother died from dementia, more or less. That wasn’t the official cause of death but a few days before she passed, a doctor told us how her brain had shrunk. She forgot how to swallow so she could no longer eat or drink anything and, then, she forgot how to breathe.
Her dementia was genetic, caused by a specific recessive gene, which can lead to hyperhomocysteinemia – too much homocysteine in the blood. We found that out years before her passing when she first began showing the signs of memory loss. Once we discovered that it was a genetic trait, I went to my doctor to be tested. I have the same recessive gene. I found it interesting that, in the report, the doctors labeled it “the family curse”.
My doctor prescribed a folate supplement and I began taking other supplements that I read could be helpful. But I don’t put all my faith in medications. There are other things that can be done to help all of us take better care of our brains.
Pillars Of A Healthy Brain
From Cleveland Clinic’s Healthy Brains website, we learn that there are 6 Pillars of Brain Health. [“6 Pillars Of Brain Health”] They are:
– Physical Exercise
– Food & Nutrition
– Medical Health
– Sleep & Relaxation
– Mental Fitness
– Social Interaction
As it happens, these are pillars for overall health as well. If we adopt healthy measures to take care of our brains, we’ll be caring for our bodies at the same time. And when we take better care of our physical health, we are improving the health of our brains.
Our Changing Brains
Our brains are not static. They change according to our environment and the inputs that we receive. This ability of the brain to rewire itself to adapt to changing conditions is called neuroplasticity. Once thought to be a trait of younger brains, we now know that neuroplasticity continues throughout our lives. Our brains have the capacity to change, learn, and adapt at every age. [Ackerman]
But neuroplasticity works both ways. “For neurons to form beneficial connections,” writes Dr. William C. Schiel, Jr., “they must be correctly stimulated.” [Shiel] Like anything else related to personal development and improvement, you can take small steps forward or small steps backward. You can do things to improve your brain health and you can do things that lead to a less-healthy brain.
In fact, Dr. Sandra Bond Chapman, Founder and Chief Director at the Center for Brain Health at the University Of Texas, and a leading neurologist, says: “About 50 percent of the things people do every day that affect their brains are toxic. They skimp on sleep. They multitask. They aren’t active.” [Harrar]
The fastest way to improve is to STOP doing the things you know to be wrong. In addition to stopping the harmful things, think about adding some beneficial practices. With that in mind, here are a few ideas for taking small steps forward, things to start doing or to do more of and things to stop doing or to do less of. Think of it as building a healthy brain, more and less.
The More And Less Of Eating
o Eat more fresh fruits and vegetables, grilled fish.
o Eat less sugar, animal fat, and processed foods.
o Have more healthy fats – olive oil, avocados, nuts.
o Have less sugary donuts, cakes, cookies, packaged snacks
o Add more beans and legumes. (Blue Zones recommends 1 cup/day spread over 3 meals)
o Look for less ingredients (4 or fewer) in packaged foods.
The More And Less Of Moving
o Do more walking and other activity, such as housework or gardening.
o Do less being sedentary.
o Engage in more OTMs (opportunities to move). [Segar]
o Engage in less negative self-talk.
o Look for more ways to add movement throughout the day.
o Look for less failure – and more learning
The More And Less Of Sleeping
o Get more sleep, about 7 1/2 – 8 hours for most people (you have to be in bed for about 9 hours for 8 hours sleep).
o Get less exposure to blue lights from phones, computer monitors, etc. at least an hour before bedtime.
o Have a more relaxed bedtime routine.
o Have less stressful conversations and activities in the evenings.
o Aim for a more regular bedtime. Go to bed at approximately the same time every night (even weekends).
o Aim for less alcohol, nicotine, and caffeine. No coffee after about 2:00 PM; eat your last meal 3-4 hours before bedtime.
Go For The Tiny Gold
As you consider these suggestions, think of tiny changes you can make that you’ll stick with. Substitute an apple for a donut. Have a handful of almonds instead of a cookie. Park farther from the door and walk a few extra steps or take the stairs instead of the escalator. Have your last meal 15 minutes earlier in the evening. Then next week, have it 15 more minutes early. Do this until these become habits. Then select another small improvement – another thing to do less of or more of.
Remember, small improvements, added to day by day, compound over time to become major changes. Working to keep your brain and body healthy and active could add years of successful living. Isn’t that worth a few small changes, more and less? For that is embracing the Excelerated Life™!
Excelerated Fundamentals™ — perfecting basic self-care practices — is one step in creating your Excelerated Life™, a life of flourishing and well-being and a life of meaning, purpose and service.
Ackerman, MSc., Courtney E. “What is Neuroplasticity? A Psychologist Explains” PositivePsychology.com. PositivePsychology.com., January 9, 2020. Web. September 21, 2020.
Harrar, Sari. (2020 September). How To Build A Better Brain. i-Reader’s Digest, i-196(1163), 60-72.
“6 Pillars Of Brain Health.” Healthy Brains. Cleveland Clinic, . Web. September 21, 2020.
Segar, Ph.D., Michelle. No Sweat: How The Simple Science Of Motivation Can Bring You A Lifetime Of Fitness. New York: AMACOM, 2015.
Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR, William C. “Medical Definition of Neuroplasticity.” MedicineNet. WebMD, LLC, . Web. September 21, 2020.