If you had goal or resolution to eat healthier, maybe even shed a few pounds this winter you’re not alone. But as January moves to February, opportunities bombard us to indulge in not-so-great for us food. Super Bowl parties and Valentine’s Day are just a few examples. Simultaneously, our willpower may be weakening, and we end up caving in to food temptations. But I’m here to remind you-there are ways to splurge wisely.
Habits keep us on track-they help us maintain routine, make things easier and even help us remember better. But when bad habits invade our lives, they can be difficult to change. One of the most important habits we can control that impacts our body and mind wellness is our eating habits. Lately, mine haven’t been the best and now I’m paying the price.
Stress, a busy schedule, life events, and let’s just say a bit of laziness has led me to not always make the best food choices lately. It’s a slippery slope and often one not so great choice leads to another and soon weight gain, lack of concentration and overall malaise is the result.
What we feed our bodies is what we feed our brains. Research has shown those who eat healthier often have better cognitive recall and function as they age. There are a myriad of reasons why this occurs and they probably work in tandem for our overall health. The bottom line is if we eat well, we think better.
Many of us know what good food is-fresh, less processed and includes a variety of good fats, proteins and carbohydrates. Yet convenience often trumps healthy. So let’s review some options to make healthy food choices easier to benefit our memory wellness.
Fresh and whole over processed. When on the go, this isn’t as simple a choice. But if we can plan ahead a bit, it becomes a bit easier. Stop at the store instead of the drive through. Go to the produce section rather than the frozen food aisle. Often fresh food doesn’t take much more time to prepare than the processed kind. Choosing whole grains over processed gives us more of the beneficial vitamins and fiber. Food stores and buffet lines often have salad or other fresh options right next to the unhealthier options. Choose well.
Good fat over not so good fat. Olive oil, less saturated oils like canola or sunflower give us a better option for fats. Butter is a staple in my home too, but when possible swap it out for other healthier options or minimize its usage. Our bodies and brains need fat to function well, but too much of the wrong kind can be detrimental to our wellness.
More dark fruits and vegetables! Half our plate with each meal should be fruits and vegetables. Instead of chips or convenience snacks, reach for an apple or some carrots. Add healthy almond butter or hummus and it’s suddenly a much healthier and satisfying snack. Instead of extra potatoes or meat, fill up by eating the veggies first. The healthy antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and fiber in fresh fruits and vegetables are winners for our brains.
Even though we know how to eat well, we often don’t. But in the long run, convenience causes more problems than it solves. I’m going to rededicate myself to eating healthier for my body, brain and overall wellness, using these healthy habits as a guide. Hope you’ll join me!
Turning the calendar to April always feels a bit like a new beginning. It’s the fourth month but in many ways, it feels like a fresh start. Spring is coming and April heralds its brilliance beautifully. New life sprouts from the earth, brighter colors flood the landscape, and animals are birthed in the fresh breezes of April. It’s also a great time to start anew on our memory wellness choices.
Let’s honor and begin this new month with a fresh perspective on how we approach our memory. What are you doing today to positively impact your memory in ten, twenty or thirty years? It’s not something we think of each morning, but we should. What we do today determines how well we’ll remember in our later years. Makes you think, doesn’t it?
So let’s begin this month by consciously choosing to improve and enhance our memory and overall wellness by what we do each day. These choices don’t have to be big, but they will add up to a huge impact over time. Our lifestyle choices are like compound interest for our wellness.
Here are a few ideas on how to start fresh on memory wellness choices:
- Going to work? Park further away, take the stairs, walk at lunch and/or move each hour to insert more exercise into your day.
- Eating today? Add or swap in some colorful, brain healthy foods to assist your memory and overall wellness.
- Feeling Stressed? Step back from the situation to get a better perspective. Shift your attitude and manage the stress to avoid chronic illnesses and the brain limiting effects it can create.
- Feeling Sluggish? Get up and exercise both mind and body as well as taking steps toward good quality and quantity of sleep each night.
- Can’t remember like you used to? Stop and ask yourself if you’re doing too much or not enough. Doing too much distracts and steals our focus which hampers memory. Not doing enough mentally or physically leads to atrophy of brain cells which doesn’t allow the brain to access memories successfully. Organize and prioritize your time to remember well.
All of us can benefit from a fresh start for our memories and there’s no better time as we begin a new month and season. Every choice we make matters in this life. Are we making choices that will help or hamper our memory in the future? The choice is ours; let’s choose well and make a fresh start for our memory today!
Geometry is not my thing but it seems life moves in circles or repeating cycles. The Earth revolves around the sun, the moon revolves around the Earth, seasons, time, and even our own habits are cyclical. Sometimes our circular life habits become so ingrained, we lose the wonder or stimulation of life, especially when memory wanes. But we can also use these patterns to help.
In honor of Pi Day later this week (3/14 because the first 3 digits of pi are 3.14), I’ve been thinking of circles, life, and patterns. (Quick-remembers what pi is? Circles are the clue-answer at the end of the post.) Life’s cyclical nature is often soothing and welcoming. Spring always follows winter, day precedes night, we are born, grow, age and die. It’s the circle of life. Details and time frames shift, but just like pi, the patterns are constant. Helping our memory can be that way too.
To strengthen memory in our middle to later years, it’s important to create habits like eating brain-healthy foods, exercising our body, sleeping well, managing stress, using memory techniques and socializing. These habits help our bodies and memory age well. But what’s also extremely important is stepping out of our comfortable habits and stretching our brains.
When we act and think differently than our normal routine, we use and make more brain cell connections. This strengthens our cognitive reserve and provides a solid foundation for a better memory as we age. Making patterns is good, but using our brains to learn and grow is great.
Cyclical patterns make shortcuts that expend less energy once those habits are learned. These are extremely helpful in young to middle age when so much vies for our attention. However, as we get older these shortcuts cause us to use less of our brain power. If we aren’t doing anything additional to stimulate our brains, those unused areas will atrophy. The ideal goal is to utilize habits when needed, but continue to learn and grow brain cell connections.
Slowly, life’s circle shifts to our later years and at times, a fading memory. It’s here when familiar or cyclical patterns can be the most comforting and helpful. Change is increasingly difficult as we age and while I advocate for learning new things to increase brainpower, too much of this is stressful and detrimental to a much older person with memory loss.
So how do we balance using familiar patterns and learning new? The answer depends on the individual. For active young, middle and older adults, it’s critical to make and sustain healthy habits while continuing to learn new things. This also applies to those with very early stage memory issues without creating too much stress in the process. But for those experiencing middle to late stage memory issues, simply remembering familiar patterns is stressful and learning new can be incredibly stressful.
The cycle of life is a constant pattern in our world. Understanding how to create and use life wellness patterns is useful in life’s cycle. Even more important is learning how we can use these as we care for others and/or experience our own memory changes with age. Let’s not simply observe the circles of life, but actively utilize habits in each stage to assist us!
Answer: Pi is the ratio of the circumference of any circle divided by its diameter. The number Pi, denoted by the Greek letter π – pronounced ‘pie’, is one of the most common constants in all of mathematics.
Are your eating habits improving or declining as you age? Either way, I have some good news and some bad news about eating and aging well. If you’re like me, you’d like the bad news first so here it is:
- A fast food diet can lead to long-term aggressive inflammatory responses. This can then lead to type 2 diabetes and vascular issues like stroke or heart attack which can result in vascular dementia.
- A high salt diet produced dementia in a study of mice.
So if you salt your food heavily, stop at the drive through or eat processed foods often, you may want to change your eating habits! In both these studies, both the fast food and the higher salt food produced an inflammatory response in the body. Chronic inflammation has been attributed to many health issues-vascular, rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease and auto-immune diseases. For these reasons alone, these foods and the added salt should be avoided. But add in the dementia component and I hope you’re as duly concerned as I am.
It’s easy to pick up convenient fast food or prepared foods which are famously high in added salt. But hopefully, these studies will give us all pause and cause us to reach for a healthier option. Which leads me to the good news:
In an analysis of published studies, it was found that a Mediterranean diet high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and legumes(beans) was found to keep people healthier as they aged. It assists in maintaining a healthy weight, muscle strength, and energy level. Frail individuals on the other hand have a higher incidence of illness, fractures, hospitalizations, disability, and dementia. You’ll probably agree it’s preferable to age healthier rather than be frail in our older years.
Maybe you began this year with a resolution to change and improve your diet. If so, hopefully this research helped reinforce your desire to change. If you haven’t, maybe this will cause you to adjust your eating habits. Let’s ditch the bad news of fast food and high salt diets and embrace the good news benefits of a Mediterranean diet. Not only will our bodies thank us, but seems like our brains will too!
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- Giuseppe Faraco, David Brea, Lidia Garcia-Bonilla, Gang Wang, Gianfranco Racchumi, Haejoo Chang, Izaskun Buendia, Monica M. Santisteban, Steven G. Segarra, Kenzo Koizumi, Yukio Sugiyama, Michelle Murphy, Henning Voss, Joseph Anrather, Costantino Iadecola. Dietary salt promotes neurovascular and cognitive dysfunction through a gut-initiated TH17 response. Nature Neuroscience, 2018; DOI: 10.1038/s41593-017-0059-z
- Gotaro Kojima, Christina Avgerinou, Steve Iliffe, Kate Walters. Adherence to Mediterranean Diet Reduces Incident Frailty Risk: Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, 2018; DOI: 10.1111/jgs.15251