As we age, our brains deteriorate but the cellular decimation of cerebral cells can be slowed by giving some attention to how one lives.
Keeping the brain resilient is the aim if one wishes to slow the deterioration process. Brain resiliency means keeping it flexible and dynamic and this can be done with some simple processes: use different ways to find working solutions when you encounter a problem. Does this mean your brain uses different neural pathways which in turn improves the number of brain connections?
Good brain resilience slows the progress of dementia. A healthier brain improves its capacity to tolerate brain pathology. There is no avoiding the dementia cliff but broadening how you use your brain develops brain resilience resulting in improved defense against brain pathology. You can slow the erosion and degradation.
Six ways to improve brain resilience:
Research confirms that exercise stimulates the growth or number of brain cells, neurogenesis. Running marathons may not guarantee you are becoming a rocket scientist but it will propel your brain growth in a very positive way.
- Get out of your comfort zone
Do different things. Explore new activities. Take a new route on your commute home. Try a different path on your evening walk. Give a new hobby a consideration. The idea is to push yourself into trying new things and don’t worry about doing them to perfection. The goal is to have the brain use different pathways than those to which it is accustomed.
- Get out into nature
Challenge yourself beyond just getting out of your comfort zone. Get out into nature and look around. Engage all your senses in exploring the outside. Listen to the sounds; smell the air; look at the surroundings; touch the trees, the leaves, the plants. Explore the environment in every way you can, observe and digest all that surrounds you. Add to all this, change the route, the walk, the path regularly so new your brain is stimulated by new and changing surroundings.
- Get good sleep
With age, sleep patterns change, often deteriorating so a person does not get the sleep the body should have. Though consensus differs on the number of hours of sleep that is right for an older person, 6 – 7 hours seems to be the optimum time.
To get good sleep, one needs to develop good sleep routines and habits. Stop using electronics an hour or two before bedtime. Go to bed at about the same time, nightly. Ensure your bedroom is conducive to good sleeping, no light, quiet, a good mattress, appropriate bedding. Wear sox if your feet get cold; wear warm pajamas, long-sleeved if the room is cool. And a cooler temperature bedroom will help to get deeper sleep.
Sleep time is not problem-solving time. Avoid reviewing your worries and problems when you are trying to sleep. If these thoughts wake you, think about quiet things. Counting sheep is not as silly as it sounds. Think clouds, sandy beaches, splashing ocean waves, even the rustling of leaves in the trees, and keep doing it. You will fall asleep again, sooner than you expect.
- Socialization is more important than you might think
The majority of the population in Finland dance on a regular basis, at dance clubs, in social clubs, and the Finns have excellent sleep patterns. Research has confirmed socialization improves one’s health, mental, emotional, psychological, and physiological. Four million Finns will endorse the importance of socialization.
But you don’t have to dance. Phone someone, engage in a conversation with them. When the pandemic passes, invite someone out for a coffee. Connect with a long-forgotten friend from the past. Let the conversation flow freely but prod it with questions and positive contributions of your own. You will be surprised at how quickly you will be engaged in reminiscing or just plain talking. But keep it positive, constructive, and productive. No criticism, no judgment, disapproving.
- Preserve brain energy
Too many things on your to-do list will cause stress and anxiety and deplete your brain energy as you devote energy to worrying and stressing about completing the list. A stressed brain is a de-energized one. Edit your to-do list. Prioritize. Set a doable agenda. Have a master list rather than a maximum list. Reduce the number of things you want to accomplish in the day to a reasonable and practical number. Then, edit some more.
The last word
There are some things to consider or maybe even avoid their overuse. Electronics are valuable tools; a computer can be an important assistant but overuse of these makes them into stressors. They become overlords to your life and you become less free to sit back and relax which is important to better brain maintenance.
Finally, stop being a perfectionist. Perfection is reserved for the gods. Humans cannot attain perfection, so stop trying. Concentrate more on just doing and enjoying the activity rather than attain Olympic Gold in doing it.
Change your lifestyle in some or most of the ways described above to increase your brain resilience and health. Your brain will thank you, for many, many more years.
Based on the webinar by Dr. Andrea Wilkinson
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