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Discover Your Path to Wellness – Step 1: One Challenge at a Time

Discover Your Path to Wellness: A three-part series from Sky Active Living  

Step 1: One Challenge at a Time
Step 2: One Step at a Time
Step 3: One Reflection at a Time

WHAT IS WELLNESS?  

The National Institute of Wellness (NIW) defines wellness in this way:  

“Wellness is an active process through which people become aware of, and make choices toward, a more successful existence.”  

It’s an active process – which means it takes time and intentionality.  

It needs awareness – which means paying attention to the different aspects of your life.  

It requires choices – which means you’re in the driver’s seat.  

Now more than ever, people are focused on optimal health and wellness. A frequent topic these days is preventive measures and what can we do now that will best support our overall wellness, especially in the later years. Logically, a good place to start is with the brain. The brain is the body’s control center, responsible for every thought, motion and emotion, as well as involuntary functions like breathing, smelling, seeing and hearing. To keep it in prime shape, just as with the body, the more you work your brain, the stronger it will be. In addition, we’ve learned the food you put in your body also affects your brain health.  

First, it’s important to take a closer look at your current activities and how often you challenge yourself. Exercising and engaging your brain improves how it functions and promotes new brain cell growth. The goal when engaging the brain is to continually challenge it to work a little harder and learn a little more. This helps improve the brain’s ability to change and adapt, which is known as neuroplasticity, literally encouraging the growth of new pathways and connections that help us learn, remember, perform complex tasks and much more. Studies have shown that, the more you incorporate these challenges daily, the healthier your brain will be. 

FEED YOUR BRAIN WITH A HEALTHY DIET  

Various studies have shown that what you eat affects brain health tremendously. Increasing your self-awareness and determining what to keep and what to give up with your diet is a good starting point. A few simple changes can go a long way.  

What is a brain-healthy diet? The primary goal of a brain-healthy diet is to lower inflammation of the brain. Dr. David Perlmutter, author of “Grain Brain,” explains a diet high in healthy fats and low in carbs and sugar supports this goal. He suggests a Mediterranean diet or eating something similar that includes proteins and vegetables is a great way to improve brain health.  

Simple lifestyle changes can make a huge impact!  

  • Benefits of a brain-healthy diet are brain-boosting nutrients like vitamin E, folate, omega-3 fatty acids, carotenoids and flavonoids, all of which are implicated in a 35%-53% reduction in the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. In addition, risks of dementia and other forms of cognitive impairment may also decline, as explained in the webmd.com article “What to Know About the MIND Diet.” 
  • Foods that promote brain health:  
    • According to the AARP, the top five foods for a healthy brain are leafy greens (cooked or uncooked), berries, fish in moderation, nuts and cocoa.  
    • Other foods that promote brain health include gluten-free grains, fresh vegetables and fruits, and legumes.  
    • Eggs and dairy products promote brain health but should be eaten in moderation. 
  • Daily meals and snacks that incorporate brain-healthy foods are key to eating right, so try those in the bebrainfit.com article “The MIND Diet: Eating for a Healthy Brain (Detailed Guide).” 
  • Managing blood sugar levels is also essential to a healthy brain, and the mindbodygreen.com article “How These Diabetes Experts Stabilized Their Blood Sugar With Food Alone” explains why a plant-based diet can be the best way to do it. 
  • Eating habits for brain health can be as simple as 1) eat the right foods, 2) control your weight and 3) stay hydrated with plain old water, according to the totalbrainhealth.com article, “Food For Thoughts: 3 Eating Habits That Are A Real No-Brainer.” 

 

ENGAGE YOUR BRAIN  

A multipronged approach to keeping your brain healthy is your best bet. Keeping physically active, maintaining a diet high in brain-friendly nutrients such as omega-3 fatty acids and staying hydrated are some important ways to support your brain function. Beyond the basics of word puzzles, trivia, Sudoku, Scrabble and other memory games, the following are great ways to increase daily brain engagement: 

Reading  

Few activities can beat reading for relieving stress and taking you away to another place or time. Whether you love mystery, romance, history, contemporary or the classics, there is a never-ending supply of great books to enjoy, including this list from time.com.  

Learning a new language or skill  

Learning a new language or skill is not only a useful endeavor but one that is very challenging. Learning makes our brains click into high gear, opening up abilities that may have seemed lost. At the same time, learning provides a sense of accomplishment, something that is great for mood, morale and overall well-being. For a look at some possibilities, check out the lifelong learning possibilities at roadscholar.com.  

Music 

Playing a musical instrument is a great way to express yourself and at the same time boost cognitive ability. According to sixtyandme.com, playing a musical instrument is also linked to improving feelings of depression and anxiety, verbal ability, and multitasking skills, and is often a part of rehabilitation. Whether you are starting over or starting anew, here’s a look at some instruments to get going.  

Strategy games 

To really stretch your mental muscles, games like chess and checkers are like barbells for the brain. For example, The Science Times article “10 Things Chess Does To Your Brain” notes benefits like improved memory, better reading skills, improved problem-solving and even increased IQ can be expected. Similarly, the checkers365.com article “Benefits of Playing Checkers” touts checkers for improving memory, concentration, judgment, problem-solving and decision-making. 

Card games 

Perhaps the most portable and diverse of all games are card games. From Old Maid to Hearts, to Solitaire, to Pinochle, Poker and Bridge, a simple deck of cards offers an almost unlimited number of great games for players of all ages. Playing old games or learning new ones helps the brain build memory, concentration and other cognitive skills, and some of the best for seniors are listed in the anytimegames.com article “Card Games for Seniors Boost Mental Stimulation and Cognitive Function.”  

Writing 

Remember writing? That thing we used to do with pencil or pen and paper? Turns out this lost art is actually great for the brain. So refresh your handwriting skills by writing your life story or memoir and get benefits like improved mental dexterity, stress relief, better memory and more as described in the mikolmarmi.com article, “7 Reasons Why Writing Benefits the Brain.”  

Tutoring 

Sharing knowledge with others is a gift you can give that is free and also very good for you. Passing along what you have learned in life is rewarding and can boost self-esteem, while also helping students improve in school and feel better about themselves. Many local school districts appreciate volunteer tutors, as do literacy organizations. The best way to continue your journey is by taking small steps. Choose one area to focus on and keep track of your progress. For example, to track hydration, fill a container with water each morning and set a goal to finish it before evening. Another example is to have a small journal by your bedside and jot down your thoughts before starting or ending your day.  

By staying mindful of brain health, and taking it one step at a time, you’ll be well on your way to overall wellness. 

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