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.
In honor of National Family Caregivers month wrapping up this week, I’m revisiting portions of a post I originally published here a few years ago. I’ve learned even more since then and have included those additional insights. Family care giving is close to my heart as it’s been one of my roles a number of times now. Knowing how to care for myself as I cared for others was a godsend and I hope this information can be of assistance to many of you now or in the future.
Many of us care for others but don’t realize we are caregivers. We see it as our job or role as a parent, child, spouse, doctor, nurse, social worker, home health aide, therapist, teacher, manager, employer, you name it. But the giving our time, efforts and ourselves can be draining. How we care for ourselves while caring for others is often overlooked and something we all need to pay attention to, caregiver or not.
Caregivers who are paid for their efforts may think their work is done when they head home. But many of us go home to care for children, parents or other loved ones. One thing is common among caregivers: we typically put our own needs last. This may be a noble or loving gesture, but often it’s done out of a sense of duty, lack of resources or just not enough hours in the day. Whatever the reason, the practice of always putting others first as a caregiver causes undue stress. Caregiver stress is a growing national problem, one that is responsible for illness, depression and financial burden.
Caregiver stress begins to manifest in many ways: increased irritability, lack of interest in life, high blood pressure, headaches, weight gain or shallow breathing which can all eventually lead to further health issues. When a caregiver is ill, it creates even more stress not only on them but also who they are caring for-it’s a vicious cycle. This stress is a growing issue in our communities and the sooner we address it, the sooner everyone’s quality of life will improve.
- Ask for Help-As Caregivers, we think we need to do it all. But we don’t. Getting assistance from others can initially be a bit more stressful, but typically brings a needed respite. If you are a caregiver and don’t know where to turn for help, ask medical, legal, or social professionals in your area for information on resources available. There are often many paid and volunteer options. Asking family and friends to assist is also a great option. In stressful situations, many people want to help but don’t know what is needed. Allow others to help. But the first step is to ask.
- Take a breath-literally and figuratively. When caring for ill loved ones. I didn’t have time for a haircut, let alone consistently exercise, cook healthy meals or do something for myself. Sometimes, all I could do was take a deep breath. In those deep breath moments, I often prayed and found what I needed to move on. Taking time for ourselves is crucial, but those moments can be elusive. A deep breath, a few minutes of fresh air or even being in the bathroom alone can be rejuvenating. Take a moment (or two if possible) for yourself. Regroup, pray, calm yourself and breathe-you will put more oxygen into your body and brain to think and act clearly. Do it for yourself and those you care for.
- Assess your system(s). As we care for others, or even just ourselves, we develop certain ways of doing things, honed over time or necessity. But as life changes so must our way of doing things. The same way is not always the best way and different is not always bad. Fresh eyes can often bring new and needed perspective. But change is difficult, especially as we get older. Embrace change in a positive manner and over time if necessary. It may involve letting go of some patterns, people or projects to add new or needed change.
- Don’t neglect your own health. It’s important to keep our own doctor’s appointments, make time to exercise, eat and sleep well, and have a few moments to ourselves each day. If we don’t, nagging issues can turn into chronic problems which will only compound our care giving responsibilities. This is where family and friends or adding some volunteer or paid assistance is a beneficial use of resources. Taking care of the caregiver is a wise investment.
Caring for others is a joy for many of us. We see it as our life’s work and/or a precious season of life. But always giving from an unfilled bucket will eventually leave us drained. We are only given one life to live. Let’s make all our moments memorable not only for ourselves but those we care for as well.
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.