BLOG: BEING WELL

Prepping Your Brain for the Year Ahead

Jennifer Dennard @JennDennard
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January 03, 2018  | Last Updated: January 03, 2018

 

As the new year gets into full swing, many of us find ourselves losing that battle of wills modern society has dubbed the “New Year’s Resolution.” Our resolve to make physical, financial, spiritual, and emotional changes tends to slowly ebbed since watching the ball drop on the final night of 2017. That self-inflicted promise instead dwindles to a mere footnote on our to-do lists. For some, it still shows up as a line item on your monthly credit card statement – a gym membership fee that seemed like a great deal at the time, until you find yourself circling the parking lot for 20 minutes looking for a space, and then pushing your way through the masses to hop on that last available treadmill.

 

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But I digress. Resolutions – no matter what time of year – can be positive steps towards healthier living if adopted with the right frame of mind. In fact, you might want to consider getting your brain in shape before committing it to new routines. Prepping the “muscle” that controls all others may just help those resolutions stick more firmly. Plus, enhancing brain health can help the new you feel more productive and stave off deteriorating conditions associated with Alzheimer’s and dementia.

Based on recommendations from neuroscientist Tara Swart, MD, here are several ways you can prep your brain for the months (and years) ahead:

Move more every day. As someone who sits for the majority of the day, I know this is something I need to work on. I seem to spend most of my time in the car shuttling kids to school and activities and at my desk working. I have taken to walking or running around my neighborhood during the middle of my work day to at least get my blood pumping and step count elevated. (I haven’t invested in a wearable because I already know what it will tell me – move more!) Studies show that increased daily physical activity (about 20 minutes’ worth) helps lower stress levels, improves memory, and encourages new cell growth.

Make sleep a priority. You don’t have to tell working moms twice that sleep is a precious commodity that we all wish we had more of. I feel almost victorious when I sleep in on the weekend and realize I’ve gotten at least eight hours. Seven is a must; achieving that amount takes preparation and sacrifice. I forego appointment television for a good book, comfy pillows, and conducive room temperature. Turns out getting between seven and nine hours of sleep each night helps our brains clean out neurotoxins that can contribute to degenerative conditions like Parkinson’s.

Make brain-friendly food choices. Did you know that smoked foods and those high in mercury can be damaging to brain cells? Cutting back on bagels and lox, plus increasing your intake of antioxidant-rich foods and beverages, will do wonders for your noggin long-term.

Make your social life a priority. It’s no secret that loneliness is becoming an epidemic. Even the former U.S. Surgeon General has opined on the dangerous health repercussions of feeling isolated. Maintaining regular contact with family and friends actually helps ward off cognitive decline. An active social life doesn’t necessarily have to mean a steady stream of lunch and dinner dates. Reconnecting with a friend on the phone once or twice a week could also do the trick, though face-to-face interaction is always a treat.

Get out of your comfort zone. Drag a friend or family member along with you to try something new. Keeping your brain stimulated with new hobbies will have a trickle-down effect on the rest of your life, keeping you open to new ideas and experiences. Plus, the more “flexible” your brain becomes, the more likely it is to thrive instead of degenerate.

Keeping your brain healthy will take some intentional action – as does any resolution worth its salt. But it’s action that you’ll hopefully find easy – and beneficial - to include into your daily routine as the year progresses. Resolutions may come and go, but a healthy brain will hopefully last a prolonged lifetime.

 

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