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How to Keep Your Brain Happy, Healthy, and Strong as You Age

Use it or lose it.

We hear that phrase a lot when it comes to keeping our bodies healthy and strong. Use it or lose it is just as true for keeping our brains healthy as we age.

Learn Something New

People used to think that our brains stopped growing once we hit maturity. Science has discovered, though, that our brain changes throughout our entire lives.

Every time we learn something new, we activate or “fire” the neurons in our brain to communicate with one another. As neurons communicate, they create neural pathways that make sense of the learning experience and hold onto it. The neurons are now “wired” together. They are there when we revisit the experience, either to practice a skill or to build upon it.

The more you fire and wire your neurons, by challenging yourself to learn something new, the more networks you create and the stronger they become. That all translates into healthier brain function.

There are endless opportunities to learn something new that can both be enjoyable and help maintain cognitive health. Many of them can be found online or through phone apps.

  • Learn an instrument Think it’s too late to learn a new instrument? Think again! You can learn to play an instrument at any age. The only things you need are some decent instruction and the time and discipline to practice. You can find free beginning piano lessons or guitar lessons all over the internet. If your become more advanced most free programs have a paid option to match your skill level.
  • Learn to code You probably didn’t grow up with computers, but that doesn’t mean you can’t at least try to match wits with the younger generation. There are a ton of online sources for learning how to code for free.
  • Take an online course Many top universities offer free courses  Other good sources for academic courses include the Great Courses and Coursera.
  • Use your hands You don’t have to go the academic route to keep your brain sharp. Skills such as woodworking, knitting, and mechanics use different parts of brain. Vary your learning experiences and you can keep all areas of your brain in fighting shape.
  • Learn a new language Apps such as Babble make learning a new language fun and convenient. In bursts of ten or fifteen minutes, the apps give you daily practice that builds on previous lessons. Local libraries sometimes have access to free language-learning apps.

Keep Your Body Fit to Keep Your Brain Fit

We know exercise and staying active provide a ton of health benefits. Staying active helps you maintain a healthy weight, manage stress, and promote a sense of well-being. What you may not realize is that physical exercise is also good for your brain.

Studies have shown that exercise can have a protective effect on cognitive functioning. Physical exercise can impact the structure of your brain, increasing gray matter and preventing damage to it. Exercise increases bloodflow to the brain which helps prevent age-related cognitive decline and reduces the risk of dementia.

If you’ve been sedentary for a period of time, it’s important to speak with your doctor before increasing your level of activity. Reaping the benefits of physical exercise doesn’t have to mean trips to the gym, or hours on a stationary bike. Do something you enjoy. Take a walk in your neighborhood. Take a bike ride, play tennis, toss a ball around. Check with your local senior center to find out about local fitness classes and online classes for seniors.

Stay Connected Socially

Late adulthood can be a lonely time. We no longer have the structured interactions that happen at our jobs. If we have children, they are busy working and raising their own children. It all adds up to a lot of time alone.

Being alone can be enjoyable, but being alone too much of the time can lead to loneliness. In fact, an AARP Foundation survey found that one in three older Americans reported being lonely. Loneliness is a risk factor for many mental and physical heath conditions, so it’s a good idea to put your relationships front and center.

Staying connected with others can keep cognitive functions sharp and possibly reduce the risk of dementia.  Here are some ideas for staying connected:

  • Schedule a weekly phone call or video chat with important people in your life.
  • Volunteer for something you care about. You can help out at park clean-ups, teach English as a second language, or mentor a young person.
  • Take advantage of social media to correspond with others with similar interests.

Eat Right and Get Enough Sleep

What happens in one part of your body effects your whole body. If you want to maintain a strong healthy brain, you need to take care of the basics. With regards to nutrition, follow the 80/20 rule—aim to make 80% of what you eat nutritious food that will fuel your whole body. Save room for dessert and enjoy the indulgences up to 20% of your diet.

When we sleep, our brain consolidates knowledge from the day and flushes out toxins. Lack of sleep robs our brain of the opportunity to build neural pathways and to create memories. Sleep is essential to concentration, and learning. Be sure to catch enough zzz’s to keep your brain, happy, healthy, and strong.

 

Check out our services at Smooth Transitions.

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How to Manage the Stress of Moving

It’s no secret that moving is stressful.

For one thing, there is an avalanche of tasks that have to be performed in a fairly short time frame.

Then, there is the emotional aspect of moving. Every move involves sifting through belongings to some extent. Whether it’s photos, books, or dishes, the things we have in our home are a storehouse of memories which can bring up a range of feelings.

You don’t want the stress of moving, though, to get the best of you. There are a lot of ways you can ease the stress of moving and make sure you’re taking care of yourself as well.

Stay Focused on Your Health

It’s easy to let moving take over your life.  Sometimes you just want to power through so that things get done. Don’t push yourself too hard, though, or you may pay the price by getting sick.

First and foremost, you have to be vigilant in prioritizing your health.

  • Keep your medical appointments.
  • Make sure you are taking all of your prescribed medications and doctor-recommended vitamins.
  • Continue with your normal exercise regimen. (Exercise relieves stress and helps you get better sleep. A double-whammy you don’t want to miss!)
  • Eat nutritious food and eat enough of it. That will keep your immune system from taking a hit.
  • Take time for relaxation, and continue to do the things that you enjoy.
  • Above all, be sure to get enough rest.

Try Relaxation Techniques

One of the best things you can do for yourself is to learn some relaxation techniques. You can try deep breathing exercises or do some guided meditations.

When we get stressed, we tend to take short, shallow breaths. By slowing your breathing, and doing “belly breaths,” you can slow your stress response.

To do belly breaths, place your hand on your upper abdomen, under your rib cage.  Inhale through your nose and count to four as you allow your belly to expand as you inhale. Your belly will flatten as you exhale. If you do even three rounds of belly breaths, you’ll feel more relaxed.

Apps, such as headspace or calm.com, offer simple guided meditations that you can do in about 10 minutes. Both Headspace and Calm.com have paid versions, but you can do a lot of meditating on just their free versions. Search for ‘guided meditations’ on YouTube, and you’ll find a ton of videos there as well.

Break Large Tasks into Smaller Actions

Moving is a huge endeavor, and it can seem overwhelming if you think of it as one big job.

The way to make it manageable is to break it down into smaller chunks that are doable.

One way to do that is to write a list of all the different type of things that need to be done for your move. Start with larger categories (find a new home, sell my home), and work your way down to smaller tasks.

For example, the category of “sell my home” could be broken down like this:

Those categories are still huge.  Break them down further.  “Get rid of old junk” might look like this:

  • Gather boxes, markers, and tape.
  • Label some boxes: Donate, Keep, Trash, Recycle
  • Schedule two one-hour sessions to declutter kitchen.
  • Ask a friend to come and help.

The idea is to break the jobs down into manageable tasks that you can accomplish in a fairly short amount of time.  You’re still getting it all done, but you won’t exhaust yourself in the process.

A spiralbound notebook or legal pad might be helpful for this.  There are also task-management apps, such as rememberthemilk and Trello that can help keep you organized.

Ask Others for Help

Don’t be afraid to ask others for help.  Start with family and friends.  They can help you think through how to break down tasks, make necessary calls, and start sorting and packing some of your things.

It’s important to have others involved in the process.  Not only can it ease the load of work, but having social interaction is good for your mental health.

You can also work with a senior move manager. A senior move manager can help oversee the whole moving process or help with certain parts of it.  They are invaluable for making the moving process less stressful.

If you’re looking for ways to keep stress down during your move, take a look at our services page, or give us a call at 216-381-7418. We’re here to help!