How do you maintain a healthy mind?
As we age, our mind ages with us – if we let it. Sure, tastes change and that’s fine. We might have loved punk rock, hard rock or acid house when we were younger and a sudden penchant for Celine Dion doesn’t mean we’re losing the plot.
As we age, there is a natural mellowing of tastes in some things and an equal and opposite abhorrence of others. We can become a tiny bit intolerant and closed off in our views if we let ourselves. We can also lapse into a sedentary lifestyle once our competitive sports days have passed.
Of course, none of this is good for our mental health long term. If we want our brain function to thrive for life we have to look after our life; and our brain.
Here are some tried and true ways to do exactly that.
Indulge in brainy activities
Let’s start with an activity that doesn’t require much activity at all; just a comfortable chair and some serious concentration on the brainy activity at hand.
That might be a crossword puzzle, trivia quiz, math challenge or any other daily mental challenge that stimulates and forces you to think long and hard. It might be a good book or trying to write a good book.
Any activity requiring intense focus, thought and delves into your reservoirs of knowledge does far more for you than you realise, especially if you do it regularly. Believe it or not, it can even give nerve cells a jolly good giddy-up and generate new ones!
Stay upwardly mobile
You might think that walking, running or going to the gym has nothing to do with exercising your brain, but we have news for you. Exercise sends oxygen-rich blood by express delivery to where it matters most; the part of your brain responsible for thought.
Imagine that; exercise your body on a regular basis and even your thoughts get fitter! And like brain exercises, physical exertion helps to develop new nerve cells.
Oh, and let’s not forget that any regular physical activity does a bunch of other equally important things: it lowers your blood pressure and helps to keep blood sugar and cholesterol levels in check.
How does any of that help your mental health? Well, it doesn’t, not in any direct, medical way. But if you feel healthy, you think healthy. And if you hit the road or dash around a tennis court, sweat won’t be the only thing your body is pouring out. You can’t see it, but stress and anxiety are disappearing in equal volumes.
And fruit, vegetables and fish for that matter; but nuts are a quick and easy snack for brain health if you don’t have the time to cook a wild salmon steak with fresh, steamed vegetables.
Stick to this simple, but yummy range of food and a diet high on plant-based proteins, unsaturated oils and fish and you’ll reduce your risk of getting dementia.
Don’t pressure your blood in your 50s
This is a biggie: the more we do wrong in midlife – our fifties – the more we increase our chances of dementia, Alzheimer’s or just a general decline in our ability to concentrate and enjoy life.
So try to keep your blood pressure as normal as possible throughout life and, especially, in that all important midlife period.
Again, exercise as often as your life allows, even if it’s a few pushups and sit ups beside your bed every other morning. If you work on the second floor, take the stairs, not the elevator. If you normally eat a home-prepared lunch at your desk, eat the same lunch in a park instead.
Oh, and limit alcohol consumption to two drinks a day. Sorry to be the Fun Police, but we all know how alcohol can destroy far more lives than our own.
Most importantly, keep a close eye on your weight in that midlife period, even when we think mirrors are no longer our friends. The leaner and healthier you look, the more likely your body and brain will give you a thumb’s up.
Get a better night’s sleep
If you sleep poorly, you wake badly and are basically set up for a less than ideal day. And if you have a mind full of anxious thoughts – money, breakups, work stress, sick loved ones, stress – you’re going to bed with a busy, stressed and over-active mind. Chances are, you’ll toss and turn until morning.
That’s no way to live and a great way to fast track the ageing process.
Thankfully there’s a sure-fire way to have you asleep in just a few minutes, it’s sweeping the internet and it works. Soldiers use this technique to get a nap between gun battles. And if they can get forty winks under fire, you can surely do the same when the biggest threat is a mosquito.
Basically, it works like this: Get nice and snuggly in bed in your favourite sleeping position and focus on relaxing every part of your body from head to toe.
Now the truly magical bit.
Once you feel relaxed, simply repeat “Don’t think, don’t think, don’t think,” over and over for 30 seconds, a minute, however long it takes for you to feel that familiar wave of sleepiness.
And it will work if you shut out the clutter. True advocates of this technique say you can shut out all your mind’s anxious chatter in about ten seconds; possibly a little on the optimistic side for most of us. But ‘Don’t think, don’t think,” are two magical words that won’t remind you of anything else or connect you with another anxious thought.
They’re two non-descript, yet powerful words guaranteed to give your mind and body the sleep it needs to stay healthy. And that means a clearer, more refreshed headspace on a daily basis. It also means, less anxiety, less depression and greatly enhanced emotional wellbeing.
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