We all do it. Hit the snooze button at least once instead of rising with our alarm. It’s a mechanism many of us use to grab just a few more moments of sleep. While we may drift off for a few seconds, more often we lie in a semi-conscious fog, simply not wanting to get up. Soon, ten, twenty, even sixty minutes are snooze buttoned away. Enough! Don’t hit the snooze button-let’s get up, address our sleep issues and enjoy more memorable moments.
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.
Did you watch the Super Bowl? I am always impressed with the athleticism of some of the players. Their agility, strength, and speed inspire. But it doesn’t just happen. Years of practice, repetition and habits lead to the athleticism culminating in Super Bowl moments.
Becoming more physically fit is a priority goal for me this year and maybe for you too. The best method for us is also to create a habit. If you know me, you know I love discussing habits! Various lifestyle habits will be on tap here for the next few weeks and exercise is a great place to begin.
Started planning yet? Thanksgiving lists have begun, invitations are out and I’m knee deep in recipe testing. Now that it’s November and our jack-o-lanterns have turned to mush, the holidays are officially upon us. That typically means more gatherings with friends, family, and new or old acquaintances. It also means having to remember so much more.
This can be a good or a not so good thing. It’s good to exercise our minds and memories as we meet and gather with new and old friends and family. We use different parts of our brain as we engage with others and it’s a way to exercise our brains we cannot do alone. On the other hand, as memory issues slowly or dramatically make their appearance, social gatherings tend to highlight the problem. Often as family and friends, we tend to make excuses for those we love and chalk up memory lapses to many things, least of all an official problem.
Now this isn’t if Great Aunt Nellie can’t remember every great niece and nephew. All of us have some trouble with names, and when pressed, it can be difficult to remember everyone’s vital information. But if Aunt Nellie seems to have a hard time remembering even the simplest things, especially her favorite things and people, it may be time to seek some professional help.
So often, memory loss occurs for years before anyone seeks help. We explain it away as stress, grief, or old age. All of these can contribute to episodic memory loss. It’s also difficult to point out to our loved ones that their memory doesn’t seem to be what it once was. But the longer we put off the conversation, the more damage is done. The sooner it’s addressed, the sooner treatments and strategies can be implemented to improve memory and quality of life.
The holidays are busy and paying attention to our elder loved ones can seem like one more thing to do. But one way to truly honor them and their importance in our lives is to really pay attention to their memory and overall wellness. A fantastic resource to review before the holidays is the Know the Ten Signs resource by the Alzheimer’s Association. It can provide some vital background information to have on hand to help anyone with memory challenges.
Socializing with those we care about is one of the best parts of the holiday season. Engaging with others stimulates all of our memories and brains in a healthy way. But if any troubling signs are noticed in our loved ones, let’s not hesitate to begin a discussion. Early detection can save precious moments and make them more meaningful and memorable.
Do you use all of your brain power? Probably most of us could put more of our brains to good use daily. It’s estimated we only utilize a tip of the iceberg amount of our brain’s capacity. Yet most of us are okay with this. Why?
Is it because thinking deeply or doing complex things is more difficult? I suspect this may be part of the reason, yet we also realize hard things usually get easier the more we do them. Still, we drag our proverbial feet toward improving our mental fitness and increasing our brain’s capacity.
I’m drawn to the path of least resistance, yet I also have experienced doing what’s outside my comfort zone often becomes my most rewarding accomplishments. Yes, at times I failed or didn’t achieve all my goals. But when truly worthwhile, I kept trying. It’s scary to not succeed or do complex things that make us feel physically or mentally inadequate. It’s simply easier not to do them. But this only creates more problems now and leads to less cognitive ability later in life.
Remember the law regarding inertia? A body at rest tends to stay at rest and a body in motion stays in motion. A similar concept can be applied to our brains. The more we use it, the more we have to use. I’d encourage us all to go even farther and use our Whole Brain-not just the parts we’re used to or enjoy.
When we explore the areas of our brain not typically used often, they’re strengthened and function better later. If we only do simple things, it’s like walking in someone else’s footprints. It’s easier but we’re not blazing any new mental trails.
We all know people who remain mentally and physically sharp as older adults. Why do you think this is? It’s not simply their genes. The physical and mental exercise they did when younger allows them to have improved cognitive function as older adults. What are we waiting for? Let’s blaze our own cognitive trail and do some hard things!
Here are a few simple examples to get started. Take a look, then make up some of your own based on your own unique experiences and where you want to take your brain power!
- Start with what you love. Take an interest and go farther. Love cooking? Try a difficult recipe or a new, more complicated technique. Love reading? Try something outside of your favorite genre, join a book club or simply read aloud to activate different parts of the brain. Take what you already love to the next, more complex level.
- Do your opposite. Stretch the opposite side of your brain. Use your non-dominant hand/side (safely of course). Hate math and numbers? Do some mental math, balance your checkbook without a calculator, or try a numbers puzzle. It doesn’t have to be for a long time, but doing that which we don’t enjoy strengthens underutilized parts of our brain.
- Push past what’s comfortable. We’ve all heard of the ‘wall’ runners feel when distance running. When they ‘hit’ this and run through it, they usually succeed at their goal or at least feel better trying. We can do the same with our brains. Do another problem, read a few more pages, try to grasp one more concept or play one more song. Don’t push yourself into a stressful situation, but do challenge yourself and ALL the parts of your brain.
- Do it for your future. Whether it’s more independence later in life, enjoying loved ones, and/or simply desiring a better quality of life, how we use our brain now will impact how we can use in it our future. Don’t wait for tomorrow, do it now.
Doing hard things in life is well, hard. It requires more brain power, willpower, and physical and mental stamina. But the reward for doing so is the improved brain function we’ll have both now and in our future. Let’s push past comfortable by blazing a mental trail into a better cognitive future.