Here at Fundamental Health Solutions, we consider ourselves wellness coaches. As we’ve shared here before, wellness is more than a healthy diet or a daily exercise habit. Both are important, but they each only address one facet of wellness. Humans are multi-faceted beings. We want to see people enjoy their best possible life, and that means taking a holistic view of wellness that includes mental, emotional, spiritual, relational, financial, professional, and social wellness.
This year, I’ve been emphasizing the importance of maintaining a healthy brain. It’s important for many reasons, including to protect against dementia and other cognitive disorders and to maintain your mobility and stability (which are regulated by the brain).
Protecting your brain is easier than you might think. I know the medical community likes to make things seem complicated, but there are proactive things that anyone can do that will have powerful and lasting effects for your brain health.
How Your Brain Works
Your brain is a network of interconnected cells and synapses, constantly rebuilding itself. Brain diseases like dementia occur for several reasons, but maybe the most prominent is that we don’t exercise it enough. Every time you activate a thought, synapses fire and form paths that connect groups of cells. Speaking triggers cognitive connections, speech connections, emotional neurotransmitter signals, and (if you speak with your hands) motor control connections. Playing a musical instrument triggers synaptic connections in several areas of the brain at once – like a pinball machine.
When you repeat a behavior, you re-tread the paths you cut the first time you performed that behavior. That is how memories and patterns are built – through repetition. Every time you activate a group of cells with thought, you reinforce it with new cells. Paths you don’t use fade away over time.
Now, it is worth mentioning that there are some environmental factors that can damage or even destroy brain cells:
- Oxidation is a process that removes electrons from cells, leaving them unable to interact properly with other cells. The damaged cells are called “free radicals” and antioxidant foods like berries and spinach help your body to detect and eliminate these damaged cells before they can damage other cells.
- Aluminum, fluoride, and chlorine are major culprits in brain cell destruction and they are important parts of the water filtration process, which is why it is so important to avoid water with these chemicals in it.
Fortunately, there are not only things you can do to remove these threats, but there are also things you can do to build and strengthen your brain.
The Power of Writing
If you attend any personal development seminars, you are going to hear about the value of writing things down. Depending on the type of seminar, they will emphasize one type or another. All of them are valuable. Over time, I have worked to incorporate each type of writing into my daily agenda (with greater or lesser degrees of success).
Keep A Journal
Most of the world’s leaders and great thinkers were journal keepers. They enjoyed several important benefits from the discipline of journaling:
It forced them to reflect on the day, recalling their short-term memory and imprinting it into long-term memory. How much of our daily lives disappear forever because we don’t go back over it in our minds?
Reflection has an emotional and spiritual benefit because it allows us to reinforce in our long-term memory what was important to us, forgive what needs to be wiped off the record of our hearts, and gain some perspective on the day’s events. It also gives us a way to view the day in the context of your whole life. You might turn your journal into a blog that you can share to encourage, inspire, or teach others.
The act of putting pen to paper, as we have already described, has several synaptic benefits to the brain. When you combine it with reflection, you improve the strength of your memories and build strong channels of cell growth.
Dump Your Brain
Many productivity books recommend the daily habit of a brain dump. Take a few minutes at the end of the day to write down everything you will need to handle the next day or everything you want to be sure to remember. It’s not smart to trust your own brain to store everything that is important to you, especially as our lives get more complicated with more inputs from media throughout the day. How many times have you driven half-way to work when you realized you forgot something important?
I think of it like this: Your mind is like a series of rooms and hallways. When you bring a thought out of your room and try to keep it active, it takes up space in the hallway. Over time, keeping more things in the hallway will clutter it up and make it hard for normal thoughts to get through. When you write everything down, your brain puts them all in a room called “written down” and it can finally relax. You will be able to think more clearly because the hallways of your mind won’t be cluttered with stuff you are trying to keep current.
Later on, you will have a visual cue to remind you of the things that were important to you, so you don’t have to worry about forgetting it. Try this habit for a few weeks and see if it doesn’t reduce your stress and allow you to think more clearly.
Create A Vision/Goals List
You were created to create. Your Creator gave you a powerful, creative mind like His. Dreaming and goal-setting is a key part of what makes you human. It grieves me when I see my older patients quit dreaming. They typically don’t have long left to live once they stop having a reason to get out of bed in the morning. Keeping a goal before you keeps you motivated, makes you feel valuable, and keeps your mind active, making connections. So, goal-setting and dreaming promote mental, emotional, and spiritual wellness. You could also make a case that the release of endorphins promotes physical wellness.
List Your Gratitudes
This is one I need to do a better job of. I think most people do. You and I have so much to be grateful for — our health, our homes, our possessions, the conveniences we enjoy, our family and friends, the ability to see and hear, our freedoms, good food and clean water, the beauty of the world. This recent Memorial Day just reinforced for me how much we enjoy and how much we take for granted. Every night, write down five things for which you are grateful. It can be the same five things each night, but I would be willing to bet that with a few seconds of creative thought, you could come up with 10 new things every night and not repeat any for months.
We are truly blessed. Writing it down reinforces it, forms an emotional connection, allows you to forgive past hurts, and keep a positive attitude. Gratitude really is the best attitude.
Another common attribute among the successful people I have studied is that they keep lists of tasks. In 1918, Standard Oil President Charles Schwab hired consultant Ivy Lee to help him make his operations more efficient. Lee’s recommendation was for Schwab and his team of managers to end each day by writing down the top six things they must accomplish the next day, and then cross off each one as they completed it.
There are several disciplines interwoven in this process (writing, prioritizing, critical thinking, organizing), but the key is that you focus on completing the most important tasks first each day. It not only strengthens your brain, but it also simplifies your life, reduces your stress, and forms a habit of order.
Not bad for a two-minute exercise.
One Thing You Can Do For Someone Else
In the meantime, I want to encourage you to share this article and others like it with your friends and family. You never know who might be worried about matters of brain health and could use an encouraging word like this to give them hope that they have the power of their own wellness in their hands. People are afraid and they are looking for answers they can trust. I think our answers are pretty trustworthy; we don’t seek to gain anything from our readers, just to educate.
Next week, as we get ready for a powerful ending to the Fundamental Foods and Friends Dinners season, I’m going to be talking again about ways to protect your brain from the effects of mold. I think that dinner will be a real blessing to you, so I hope you’ll mark your calendar to join us.
“At the end of your FEELINGS is NOTHING. At the end of your PRINCIPLES is a PROMISE.” — Eric Thomas