EDISTO ISLAND, S.C. (BP)–I have a really bad habit of preparing my oatmeal and walking around the house eating it. Last week I set it down somewhere and could not remember where I left it. Occasionally I misplace my car keys or lose my phone, but when I lose my food something is seriously wrong.
My brain has been on information overload this past month and is totally worn out. No wonder I am losing it! As a fitness professional I encourage people to keep their bodies fit, but I have come to realize that we need to be as intentional with brain fitness as we are with physical fitness.
Maintaining brain fitness is really not that hard; you will barely work up a sweat. Here are some proven suggestions:
1. Maintain a connection with others. Studies show that people who have an active social life can actually reduce the risk of dementia. I need a lot of people in my life! I have friends whom I pray with, another group that I exercise with, another group that I connect with on a daily basis. We were not designed to do life by ourselves. As leaders we can get so busy and become so self-sufficient that we suddenly realize we have no one in our life that stimulates our thinking. I have friends who help me see things in a different light or from a different perspective.
2. Keep learning. Every time you learn something new you develop new brain cells. I love my in-laws. They are retired Southern Baptist ministers in their 80s and still are amazing learners. I am delighted when my husband Rob talks to his Dad and tells him about a new book he has just read and Papa says, “Oh yes, I finished that one myself last month.” They never cease to amaze me. This spring, consider signing up for a course or lessons in something that piques your interest. Many community colleges offer free courses to residents over 60.
3. Seek peace. “Why pray when you can worry?” the saying goes. It’s humorous but too often true. We all live stress-filled lives. Jesus said it would be this way. The problem comes when I get into stress overload and I become “distressed.” Stress overload can manifest itself into worry. Too much stress may lead to excess cortisol in the brain which can affect memory. Seeking time with God, listening for His voice, letting Him lead me beside still waters rejuvenates my mind and my spirit and reminds me of His sure and precious promises.
4. Turn off the TV. Since we moved to Edisto Island, off the coast of South Carolina, we have a new TV provider — basically cable TV on steroids. We now have about a hundred more channels not to watch. New studies show that people who watch more than seven hours of TV a day are at a higher risk of developing memory loss. I would hate to add up all the hours in a lifetime that are wasted watching TV programs with little or no eternal value.
5. Eliminate hurry from your life. Nothing makes me crazier than having too much to do in my 24-hour day. It causes my thinking to become frantic and unclear. I tend to make hasty and impulsive decisions when I am in a hurry. I make more mistakes and tend to forget things a lot more. I have a lot to think about these days and I certainly don’t need to have my decision-making process compromised. Having my prayer time every morning and praying over my “planner” helps me keep things in perspective. I ask God to prioritize my day so that it will go according to His plan for me.
6. Keep moving. I can’t begin to tell you the studies that conclusively show how exercise keeps the brain healthy. It helps with blood flow; it lightens mood. I have discovered that when my mind is bogged down with too much information, even a short walk clears my mind.
7. Finally, let God renew your mind with His word. He has changed my mind about so many things over the years. I used to think I could not write, I used to think I could not speak in public, I used to think I could not understand the Bible, I used to think He did not love me. I have changed my mind about all of these because He has transformed my mind with a new way of thinking — His Holy Spirit is a good and kind personal trainer who is teaching me brain fitness!
Vicki Heath is associate national director of First Place 4 Health (www.firstplace4health.com) and an American Council on Exercise certified fitness professional.