This article originally appeared in Evolving Magazine and is reprinted with the kind permission of Jude LaClaire.
Feeling bored, frustrated or out of sorts with the winter doldrums? Let’s have some fun with ways to make your brain happier and healthier. Dr. Peter J. Snyder, professor of neurology at Brown University, tells us to get moving. “Starting moderate aerobic exercise, at any age, will absolutely help protect brain health. Recent research has convincingly shown us that a regular program (such as fast-paced walking for 30 minutes, three times per week), for just six months, leads to the growth of brain cells and their connections in parts of the brain that are critically important for learning and memory.” Makes me feel more motivated to go on those early morning and late night walks with our eager dogs!
Here’s another easy fix. Make sure you are taking between 600-800 IU of vitamin D per day. EFAs (such as fish oil) are a necessary boost for the depressed and anxious brain and also help support your immune system. Multi-vitamins also help brain health as well as many other benefits.
Using mental imagery can also be helpful. We know that the same neural pathways are used when we are experiencing something or imagining it. For example, if you want to take a trip and do not have the time or money, try this. Take a moment to breathe and imagine yourself in a relaxing beach scene feeling the warm sun, the grainy sand and the soothing sound of the waves. You can get an even more powerful boost by adding some words like, “My whole body is feeling warm, heavy and relaxed. My body is giving into gravity. I am happy and healthy!” You do not need to believe these things for them to have a positive effect on your brain and body. Practicing multisensory imagery, meditation, or relaxation exercises can all help you go to the brain wave/body-mind state that changes brain chemistry positively.
Any kind of word game by yourself or with others can help. Games like Scrabble, Boggle, or Scattergories, to name a few, are fun and brain stimulating. Do things like turning your pictures upside down, automatically sending your brain into alert mode so that you are more attuned to details. Use your non-dominant hand, making you think a bit and boosting creativity. Involve other senses in your routine like getting dressed with eyes closed and feeling the textures.
Help your memory by talking to yourself! So, I am not crazy, I am improving my memory. Also memorizing directions, phone numbers (who does that anymore?) or other information can improve memory. Read and try to remember and understand what you have read. Learning new things like a language, a dance step, exercise routine or a new computer system will help your brain stay young and vigorous. The brain thrives on novelty.
Remember the basics like getting enough sleep, exercising regularly, eating healthy foods especially fruits and vegetables, having social interaction, quiet time, taking those supplements and getting enough sunlight (can use full spectrum lights and take Vitamin D). All these things stimulate positive and happy brain activity and brain chemistry.
Music is another powerful sensory stimulus that can jog our memory, awaken brain cells that may be dormant and make us feel better. Research has shown that by listening to old familiar songs, Alzheimer patients have become more verbal and physically active. Stroke and brain injury patients respond to music with improved coordination, movement and language skills. So, break out some favorite happy tunes and have fun with better memory, movement and more fluid oral expression!
Remember to stay curious, active and step out of your comfort zone occasionally. You will be healthier, happier and have a very fit brain.
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Jude LaClaire, PhD, is a counselor, educator and author; she lives in Kansas City.