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7 Compelling Reasons to Build a Resilient Brain Starting Today

7 Compelling Reasons to Build a Resilient Brain Starting Today

As much as we would like to leave the worry about brain health to our older years, the truth is the biggest risk factor for brain disease is lifestyle – how we live each day through our whole life. Here are 7 compelling reasons to build a resilient brain starting today, and 12 lifestyle habits you can embrace that will keep your brain sharp at every age. 

1. The seeds for cognitive disease are planted decades before symptoms appear.

Your brain doesn’t just suddenly stop functioning when you develop dementia and Alzheimer’s, it takes many years, even decades for plaques and tangles to build to the point that they clog brain function and shut down pathways permanently. This discovery is a great gift to anyone 20-65 years old. It means you have the power to protect your brain over many years if you know how. Until, and if ever, a cure for Alzheimer’s can be found this is terrific news. In the meantime, learn the risks and do everything you can to protect your brain.

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2. Your brain subscribes to the rule of “use it or lose it.”

This rule applies to every brain, young and old. You were born with a brain full of neural networks ready to grow and spark and learn. The ideal is to maintain these throughout your whole life. If you fail to keep these neural networks active, whatever skills, aptitudes and talents you don’t use will shrink and de-activate the associated brain networks. AND the older you get, the harder it is to get them up and running again. The good news is that it is never too late, so do your very best to grow, spark and learn every day.

3. “Cognitive reserves” that protect your brain are built over many years.

The two best ways to build brain reserves are a lifetime full of learning and physical activity, so start building reserves when you’re young and don’t stop. Reserves act as a “spare battery” to protect your brain and body, and get you through hard times brought on by illness, stress, injury and other hazards in life. Life events can and do take a serious toll on both mental and physical health, so you want to start young to build a good supply.

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4. If you have a family member with dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease your risks go up.

While most neuroscientists believe there is a hereditary factor associated with dementia and Alzheimer’s, having a family member with brain disease does not mean you will succumb! Read reason #5 below to learn why…

5. You can and do influence how your genes “express” themselves.

(It’s called Epigenetics). Even if you carry a gene for a particular disease, lots of complex things go into whether or not the disease shows up in your body. A brain-healthy lifestyle can lower your risk by up to 80%, helping delay or even prevent the “expression” of brain disease. To make sure you are influencing your genes in a positive way, start brain-healthy lifestyle habits young and don’t stop!

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6. Your parents need you to teach them this stuff!

Researchers project that 1 in 3 people will die with dementia or Alzheimer’s. Modeling and talking about a brain-healthy lifestyle in your own life is a great way to teach it to your parents. Everything you can do to encourage and support brain health in your parents has the potential to save them (and you) from years of disability, heartbreak and extremely costly medical and facility care.

7. Concussions increase your risk.

More and more professional boxers and football players who suffered multiple concussions early in their careers are developing brain diseases later in life. And as knowledge expands, researchers are identifying the negative effects of concussions in all too many high school and college kids. If you suffered 3 or more concussions from sports or other injuries at any age, your risk for brain disease increases dramatically. The best thing you can do to get the odds back in your favor is to learn how to protect your brain going forward.

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12 Lifestyle Habits that protect your brain starting NOW

  • Stay in school (or go back) for a minimum of 13 years. More is better. Education keeps your brain flexible, youthful and strong. Try to take some kind of class at least once a year to keep learning new things and enhancing neural networks. Do this for the rest of your life. Formal education is especially powerful. It structures your thought processes, challenges your perceptions and forces you to do things you wouldn’t do otherwise. It builds resiliency and ‘cognitive reserves’. It puts you in a social situation that reinforces learning through give-and-take. Every year you spend learning contributes to a lifetime of cognitive strength. Lack of education can be as hazardous to your health as smoking!
  • Keep it moving! Stay active and exercise, or start now if it’s not already part of your life. If you don’t enjoy athletics, find ways to move around and stay active throughout your normal day—take a walk during your coffee break, choose the stairs instead of the elevator, get up from your desk and stretch as often as you can during the day. Dance, sing, laugh, have fun all at the same time! If you stop being active your brain suffers as much if not more than your body.
  • Travel and explore the world. Once we reach adulthood, the responsibilities of work and family life can box us into a predictable routine. Travel is one of the very best ways to break out of the mold and support your whole brain in the process. By changing your environment, meeting new people, relaxing, having fun, and engaging in meaningful new experiences, you can activate a wide spectrum of neural pathways neglected in daily routines.
  • Take breaks from your routine. Even a few minutes, hours or days will make a difference. Mixing things up by stepping away from routine refreshes the mind, removes stress, and increases productivity. Brain pathways tend to “rut” in the familiar, like deep tire tracks in the mud. Over time it gets harder and harder to think outside the rut, resulting in a loss of creativity, problem-solving, and new perspectives. A lifetime of being stuck in a rut can be deadly, as the “use it or lose it” rule of neuroplasticity kicks in. You’re born with the potential to do many different things, but neural networks present at birth will shut down if they are not used.   Ideally you want to keep these pathways open across your entire lifespan.
  • Do what matters to you. If you have a passion in life, go for it! If you don’t know yet what really matters to you, this becomes a terrific excuse to try many different things until your goals and preferences become clear. Doing what you love doesn’t have to be just about a job; it’s ideally a way of life. Having a strong sense of purpose in life has been found to greatly improve cognitive function and overall health—even among people with many other risk factors for dementia.
  • Care deeply for your friends and family, and let them care for you in return. It’s really good for both your brains! Beginning at birth your brain is completely wired to respond to other people – doing so literally lights up your brain. Having loving, predictable and safe relationships in your life, as well as exciting new ones, is the best of all worlds. Work to keep your relationships strong, protect yourself from abusive or toxic relationships, and build a network of caring people around you. Being part of a community, no matter how you define it, is living the best life. You will live happier, longer and healthier.
  • Get 7 to 9 hours of good quality sleep every night. Anyone who has suffered a bad night’s sleep knows that it can leave you feeling groggy and forgetful. The impact of sleepless nights builds up over time. When you sleep, the brain flushes out waste products, including the proteins that cause Alzheimer’s disease; studies of brain activity of sleeping mice show that their brains flush out waste products twice as fast while they are sleeping as they do when awake.
  • Eat a healthy diet heavy in fruits, vegetables, nuts, olive oil and lean meats and fish. There actually is a MIND diet shown to be protective of your brain, which combines the DASH diet good for your heart with a well-researched winner, the Mediterranean diet.
  • Drink no more than 2 alcoholic drinks per day. Drinking in moderation has been shown to be good for your mental and physical health, but it’s essential to avoid the slippery slope of over-indulgence. We all know that excessive drinking leads to cognitive impairment in the short term, and many of us have felt its impact on the morning after. If heavy drinking continues over time, there are serious, long-term changes in your brain, including memory loss, difficulty concentrating, and other symptoms of dementia. Over-use of recreational and prescription drugs can have the same effect, causing long-term decline and symptoms of dementia.
  • Don’t smoke. Smoking increases the risk of a wide variety of diseases by up to 80%, and what’s bad for your body is equally bad for your brain. If you don’t smoke, don’t start. Even a few years of smoking when you are young can change the way your genes express themselves in later life. If you do smoke, the sooner you quit, the better your chances of reversing at least some of the damage.
  • Wear a helmet! Your brain has many amazing qualities, but impact resistance is not one of them. Wearing a helmet while riding a bike, skateboard, or motorcycle, or while skiing/boarding down a mountain reduces the risk of traumatic brain injury and death by 85%. Feeling the wind in your hair just isn’t worth it.
  • Relax and have fun! Breathe deeply every day, learn how to meditate and then make it a habit. Relax and enjoy yourself, be mindful, be positive, be grateful for all the good in your life. Learn how to manage your stress. It matters a lot that you do this, because brain resiliency comes from engaging in both the challenges AND fun of life, and moving easily between them.

Featured photo credit: Man With Arms Up And Sunset Behind Island – Ed Gregory via stokpic.com

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Last Updated on November 20, 2018

10 Reasons Why New Year’s Resolutions Fail

10 Reasons Why New Year’s Resolutions Fail

A new year beautifully symbolizes a new chapter opening in the book that is your life. But while so many people like you aspire to achieve ambitious goals, only 12% of you will ever experience the taste of victory. Sound bad? It is. 156 million people (that’s 156,000,000) will probably give up on their resolution before you can say “confetti.” Keep on reading to learn why New Year’s resolutions fail (and how to succeed).

Note: Since losing weight is the most common New Year’s resolution, I chose to focus on weight loss (but these principles can be applied to just about any goal you think of — make it work for you!).

1. You’re treating a marathon like a sprint.

Slow and steady habit change might not be sexy, but it’s a lot more effective than the “I want it ALL and I want it NOW!” mentality. Small changes stick better because they aren’t intimidating (if you do it right, you’ll barely even notice them!).

If you have a lot of bad habits today, the last thing you need to do is remodel your entire life overnight. Want to lose weight? Stop it with the crash diets and excessive exercise plans. Instead of following a super restrictive plan that bans anything fun, add one positive habit per week. For example, you could start with something easy like drinking more water during your first week. The following week, you could move on to eating 3 fruits and veggies every day. And the next week, you could aim to eat a fistful of protein at every meal.

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2. You put the cart before the horse.

“Supplementing” a crappy diet is stupid, so don’t even think about it. Focus on the actions that produce the overwhelming amount of results. If it’s not important, don’t worry about it.

3. You don’t believe in yourself.

A failure to act can cripple you before you leave the starting line. If you’ve tried (and failed) to set a New Year’s resolution (or several) in the past, I know it might be hard to believe in yourself. Doubt is a nagging voice in your head that will resist personal growth with every ounce of its being. The only way to defeat doubt is to believe in yourself. Who cares if you’ve failed a time or two? This year, you can try again (but better this time).

4. Too much thinking, not enough doing.

The best self-help book in the world can’t save you if you fail to take action. Yes, seek inspiration and knowledge, but only as much as you can realistically apply to your life. If you can put just one thing you learn from every book or article you read into practice, you’ll be on the fast track to success.

5. You’re in too much of a hurry.

If it was quick-and-easy, everybody would do it, so it’s in your best interest to exercise your patience muscles.

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6. You don’t enjoy the process.

Is it any wonder people struggle with their weight when they see eating as a chore and exercise as a dreadful bore? The best fitness plan is one that causes the least interruption to your daily life. The goal isn’t to add stress to your life, but rather to remove it.

The best of us couldn’t bring ourselves to do something we hate consistently, so make getting in shape fun, however you’ve gotta do it. That could be participating in a sport you love, exercising with a good friend or two, joining a group exercise class so you can meet new people, or giving yourself one “free day” per week where you forget about your training plan and exercise in any way you please.

7. You’re trying too hard.

Unless you want to experience some nasty cravings, don’t deprive your body of pleasure. The more you tell yourself you can’t have a food, the more you’re going to want it. As long as you’re making positive choices 80-90% of the time, don’t sweat the occasional indulgence.

8. You don’t track your progress.

Keeping a written record of your training progress will help you sustain an “I CAN do this” attitude. All you need is a notebook and a pen. For every workout, record what exercises you do, the number of repetitions performed, and how much weight you used if applicable. Your goal? Do better next time. Improving your best performance on a regular basis offers positive feedback that will encourage you to keep going.

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9. You have no social support.

It can be hard to stay motivated when you feel alone. The good news? You’re not alone: far from it. Post a status on Facebook asking your friends if anybody would like to be your gym or accountability buddy. If you know a co-worker who shares your goal, try to coordinate your lunch time and go out together so you’ll be more likely to make positive decisions. Join a support group of like-minded folks on Facebook, LinkedIn, or elsewhere on the internet. Strength in numbers is powerful, so use it to your advantage.

10. You know your what but not your why.

The biggest reason why most New Year’s resolutions fail: you know what you want but you not why you want it.

Yes: you want to get fit, lose weight, or be healthy… but why is your goal important to you? For example:

Do you want to be fit so you can be a positive example that your children can admire and look up to?

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Do you want to lose fat so you’ll feel more confident and sexy in your body than ever before?

Do you want to be healthy so you’ll have increased clarity, energy, and focus that would carry over into every single aspect of your life?

Whether you’re getting in shape because you want to live longer, be a good example, boost your energy, feel confident, have an excuse to buy hot new clothes, or increase your likelihood of getting laid (hey, I’m not here to judge) is up to you. Forget about any preconceived notions and be true to yourself.

  • The more specific you can make your goal,
  • The more vivid it will be in your imagination,
  • The more encouraged you’ll be,
  • The more likely it is you will succeed (because yes, you CAN do this!).

I hope this guide to why New Year’s resolutions fail helps you achieve your goals this year. If you found this helpful, please pass it along to some friends so they can be successful just like you. What do you hope to accomplish next year?

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