Monday, August 25, 2008

A Lifestyle for a Healthy Brain

Everyone should be concerned about their brain lifestyle. By that, I mean we should be worried about taking care of our minds. Dementia, Alzheimer’s, and other mind related diseases are prevalent today. We need to do as much as we can to hold those problems at bay as we get older. We want to remain vital for as long as our lives will allow it, especially as writers. You might say, “Well, there’s nothing I can do about it. Alzheimer’s is inherited, or nothing stops it,” etc. Actually, there are things you can do and I want to lay it out there for you with five critical factors.

The first factor is physical activity. If you’re like me, you don’t have a whole lot of time to do something on a regular basis. So, let’s try to be a little more practical. If you can do aerobic exercises and swimming, then go for it. You will be much better off for it. Here are some other things you can do. Walk as much as possible. Don’t look for the closest parking spot to the door. Park way out and walk through the parking lot. Instead of taking the elevator, take the stairs. Also, take a dance class with your partner or friends. Classes are very popular now since shows like “Dancing with the Stars” and “So You Think You Can Dance.” If you’re lucky enough to be in a town where there are classes, sign-up. Others may find suitable classes at the YMCA or community center. Some other suggestions are knitting, gardening, and writing with non-dominant hand.

Next, socialization is very important. You need to remain integrated and involved. One of my college students who is now retired commented that she didn’t really care much about talking to other people until she retired and now she longs for that. We all need that interaction. We were created to be social, so don’t think you have to live the life of a hermit to be a writer. Get out and mingle. What's more, develop hobbies. As a kid I collected baseball cards and would spend hours on end playing and organizing them. Even though I still have the cards and have started my son with collecting, I don’t really do anything with them. I could start that up again or I could find other things to do. Writing is a hobby, I guess, but I think it’s become more than that for those of us trying to do it for a living. You can take up painting, drawing, photography, and so on. The possibilities are limitless. In addition, you need to build friendships and family networks. If you’re out reading blogs, then you are probably out networking and making friends online. That is great, but don’t forget to get out and network among people around you. Expand your boundaries and get to know people you normally wouldn’t get to know. Lastly, do not retire from life - maintain meaning. Even if you retire from your job, find other things to do that are meaningful. Don’t just disappear into your home and become a recluse. For a healthy brain, you must maintain meaning.

Thirdly, find ways to stimulate your brain. The more active your brain is, the better off you will be. We’ve all heard the brain-numbing affects of watching too much TV, so find other things to do. To begin, you can learn a second language. You’re never too old to try. Sign language is considered a second language. Secondly, travel. Get out and see the world. If you don’t have the funds to travel far, then go near. See what your city, county, and state have to offer. There are historical markers everywhere. Thirdly, play board games and puzzles. Children love playing games, so get out some of their board games and play with them. If you know of other adults who play chess or checkers, challenge them to matches. My grandmother played checkers well into her eighties. Fourthly, this may be a little too obvious, but I still need to mention it: read and write. Nothing stimulates the brain like reading a good book or taking part in writing exercises. Write letters, create a blog, write your memoirs, get one of those books that you pass down to later generations and answer those questions, and so on. There are a lot of possibilities. You could also take a literature class at a local university. Fifthly, learn to play a musical instrument. Maybe you’ve always wanted to play the violin but didn’t have the time or money. It’s never too late to start. Go buy a used one and get started. If you don’t want to pay for lessons, get a book to help you. Last, but not least, you can listen to classical music. There is something about this type of music that stimulates the brain. There were doctors years ago who suggested that we should play classical music in the nursery of newborns and that would make them smarter. I don’t know if that’s necessarily true or not, it may just make them appreciate classical music. At any rate, the music does stimulate the brain and you should listen to it when you have the chance.

The fourth factor is spirituality. You know that I’m a Christian writer, so you know where I want to go with this, but if you’re not a Christian, having faith and a regular place of worship is part of keeping your brain healthy. It may not do much for you after this life is over, but it will make your time on earth better. One thing you need to do is pray daily. Not only is confession good for the soul, but you need that interaction with the creator. Earlier I said we were made to be social. We were made to worship God and to interact first with Him, then with mankind. So, prayer is part of our worship and, obviously, interaction. Also, you should attend formal places of worship regularly. There are a lot of reasons why one should assemble with other believers. There is the social aspect as well as the connection you feel with others. The discussions of the Bible and the learning of new things are also healthy. Last of all, everyone should strive for one family/group meal daily. You may ask why this is part of spirituality instead of socialization. You have a deeper connection with family and you need that time to remain connected.

The last factor is nutrition. We hear a lot about losing weight and taking care of our hearts. But nutrition has a lot to do with our brain health, too. We should increase OMEGA-3 fatty acids. Instead of me explaining what this is, look here (if you don’t have time to read the entire article, read the health benefits section). If you think about it, this really makes sense. Since the beginning of time, fish have been the staples of human diets. There was no need to take vitamins because we got the right kinds of nutrients from the food we ate. Things are not like that today. Today most of our eating habits are not that good and even if we do try to eat right, the food isn’t as pure as it used to be. So, unless you can fix more fish for meals, you should really consider taking fish oil. Other things you can do for nutrition is decrease processed foods and bad fat. We used to fix the frozen family dinners, like the big things of turkey, but we have stopped using them and actually try not to eat as much processed foods. One last thing to increase is anti-oxidants, which basically means we need to eat more fruits and vegetables.

I know I’ve given you a lot to think about here, but I don’t think there’s anything unreasonable. Your brain deserves a healthy lifestyle so that it can function longer at a higher level. Physical activity, socialization, mental stimulation, spirituality, and nutrition are essential to maintaining a strong mind.
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