Why a healthy brain improves wellbeing
We hear a lot about healthy ageing. Put simply, it means being able to do the things we value for as long as possible.
Bolton Clarke supports healthy ageing through its free Be Healthy and Active community education program, which started in 2015 and this month reached its 20,000th attendee across 7,000 sessions nationwide.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, older people are generally aged over 65 (or over 50 for indigenous Australians). Average life expectancy is 85, so on average we have around 20 years of life as an older person.
Research now shows that the quality of those years is increasingly dependent on brain health.
Why it’s important to take care of your brain
At the start of the 20th Century, infectious diseases were the primary cause of death worldwide. Improved sanitary conditions meant these gave way to chronic illnesses such as heart disease and cancer. Today, brain-related illnesses are the leading cause of disability in ageing. According to Alzheimer’s Disease International, someone in the world develops dementia every three seconds.
Although there are no guarantees that dementia can be prevented, scientific research suggests leading a healthy life- particularly during mid-life- may reduce your risk.
Six steps to improve your brain health
You can take these simple steps to improve your brain health at any age – it’s never too early or too late to start.
Connect – Enrich your days with a bright outlook
Friendship has one of the highest positive correlations with self-rated happiness.
People with stronger social relationships have a 50% increased likelihood of survival from conditions such as vascular disease and cancer.
The health impact of having good social relationships is comparable with quitting smoking.
The most significant difference between those with a mental illness or depression and those without is social participation.
Learn or mentally challenge your brain
Scientists have found that challenging the brain with new activities builds new brain cells and strengthens the connections between them.
Dancing, learning a new language or musical instrument, reading a book, cooking a new recipe, or just having a conversation about current affairs will stimulate the brain.
A simple thing to try at home to grow some new brain cells is to brush your teeth with your left or non-dominant hand or stir your coffee and open doors with your other hand.
Physical activity increases the blood flow to the brain, stimulating the growth of brain cells. Regular physical activity results in a greater sense of wellbeing, stress reduction and lower rates of anxiety. It also protects against depression.
Be a tourist in your own town, visit places you’ve never been to, join a fitness group, take the stairs rather than the lift and touch your toes every morning.
Try to achieve 2.5-5 hours of moderate intensity physical activity per week – the good news is that walking is considered moderate intensity.
In this world of multi-tasking it’s easy to race through life without experiencing it.
Training the mind to pay attention to one thing at a time IS possible and this stimulates new nerve cell growth in the brain, improving long term memory.
This concept, called mindfulness, is explained in our Master your Mind session where we talk about the benefits of paying attention to the present moment.
Our brain is a survival tool. If we go back to early man, we know that people had to be constantly scanning the environment for threats. What’s that over there? What’s that rustling in the bushes? Because of this, we developed a negativity bias. Researchers estimate that we notice and remember about seven times as many unpleasant or negative things as positive things. And for survival reasons we had to do that.
These days we don’t have those same threats - no sabre-toothed tigers in the bushes - but when our mind does wander off into this default mode we are not engaged in the present. We very easily get caught in a loop of worrying about things, judging or self-criticism. We also tend to do a lot of things on automatic pilot when we are in this default setting. How easy is it, once you are familiar with something, to do it without paying any attention?
This is the opposite of Mindfulness – it’s mindLESSness.
Some examples of mindLESSness:
- Forgetting someone’s name as soon as you hear it.
- Listening to someone with one ear while doing something else at the same time.
- Eating without being aware of eating. Like when you are watching TV, opened the Tim Tams and before you know it the whole pack is gone!
- Being preoccupied with the future or the past
- Doing several things at once rather than focussing on one thing at a time.
Most people experience some or most of these things.
Remember, it is possible to do many things at once, but the fullness of each experience is lost. In that sense, even if we fit more stuff into our day, what we get out of it is much less. Do your best to practice mindfulness.
Energise – rest and replenish
Fuel your body with nutritious food (you can learn more about this in our Healthy Eating and Nutrition session).
Cook for your friends. Follow the Australian Dietary Guidelines – two serves of fruit and five serves of vegetables a day – and keep well hydrated with water. If you drink alcohol, keep it to no more than two standard drinks on any day, with at least two alcohol-free days each week.
Don’t forget to sleep either! Getting the right amount of rest is very important to keeping your brain and body working at its peak.
Do things that you enjoy, control your thoughts, only worry for five minutes a day, be grateful and count your blessings.
A wonderful demonstration of positive thinking is the beautiful story of an elderly woman, Mrs Jones. At 92 she moved into an aged care home after losing her husband of 70 years.
After waiting patiently in the lobby, she smiled sweetly when told her room was ready. As she was shown to the elevator, the nurse provided a visual description of her room, including the eyelet curtains that had been hung on her window.
"I love it," she stated with enthusiasm.
"But Mrs. Jones, you haven't seen the room yet ...,” said the nurse.
"That doesn't have anything to do with it," she replied. "Happiness is something you decide on ahead of time. Whether I like my room or not doesn't depend on how the furniture is arranged... it's how I arrange my mind. I’ve already decided to love it ...”
Happiness is a choice. By doing the little things we can make a big difference to our wellbeing at any age.
To find out more about healthy ageing, come along to one of our Be Healthy and Active sessions.