Maintain A Healthy Brain

For some time now I have been curious about what I can do to maintain and even improve my brain health as I grow older. Like the brain itself, this is a complicated topic. There is no single factor that makes or breaks your brain health, but rather a combination of factors. The good news is, there are some key things that we control that can make a measured difference in our brain’s health as we age. So, let’s dive in and see what they are!

I recently read an article in the Wall Street Journal by Anne Tergesen called What Science Tells Us About Preventing Dementia which does a great job addressing key brain health topics. I recommend you check it out, however, if you don’t get the chance to read the article here is a summary of the key points as well as information from additional research I did on the topic.

Tergesen starts by stating “There are no instant, miracle cures but recent studies suggest we have more control over our cognitive health than we might think. It just takes some effort”. What I like about this approach is that it encourages us to focus on things we can control, rather than just worry about things outside of our control (say our genetics for example). A recent Lancet report (Lancet is a medical journal) distilled the findings of hundreds of studies and came to the conclusion that “around 35% of dementia cases might be prevented if people do things including exercising and engaging in cognitively stimulating activities”. On the other hand, the report pointed to factors that contribute to dementia risk including “midlife obesity, physical inactivity, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, social isolation, and low education levels”.

So, let’s get right to the practical stuff. What should we be doing to maintain a healthy brain? According to the studies referenced above they are as follows:

BLOOD-PRESSURE CONTROL: Proper blood pressure control was found to reduce cognitive impairment by as much as 19% as well as resulting in less damaging changes in the brain. The stated issue with high blood pressure is that over time, it may damage the vessels needed to deliver blood to the brain. This, in turn, can reduce blood flow and starve the brain of critical nutrition.

EXERCISE: As you know if you read my blog, I am a big fan of exercise regardless of your age! Now we can add one more positive aspect of being physically active to the list, our brain health. According to the study, exercise helps increase blood flow which in turn improves the blood vessels in the brain as well as raising levels of HDL cholesterol (HDL is the “good cholesterol” as it removes harmful “bad” cholesterol from your system). Indirectly, exercise is also known to help reduce stress and anxiety and help you sleep better. These indirect benefits also promote good cognitive health.

COGNITIVE TRAINING: Yaakov Stern, a professor at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, wrote that maintaining educational and mentally stimulating activities “fosters growth of new neurons and may slow the rate at which certain regions of the brain shrink with age”. Cognitive training (also known as brain training) can be much like physical training where one implements a regular regiment of stimulating exercises for the brain. Medical News Today did a study called Five of the best apps to train your brain that you might find interesting.

DIET: Diets which include fish, fruits, nuts, and vegetables were determined to have a measurable positive impact on brain health. This is sometimes referred to by researchers as the “Mind Diet”. MIND stands for Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay. Specifically, the 10 brain-healthy foods recommended to eat are green leafy vegetables, other vegetables (ex: carrots, bell peppers), berries, nuts, beans/lentils/soybeans, whole grains, fish, poultry, olive oil, and wine (in moderation). The 5 foods to limit are butter and margarine, cheese, red meat, fried food, pastries and sweets due to the high concentration of saturated fat and trans-fat.

SLEEP: I am a big believer in the value of getting enough quality sleep every night. I believe western culture encourages a lifestyle that robs us of this very important pillar of health while trying to replace the lack of sleep with caffeine and other artificial stimulants. Some believe that sleep allows the brain to perform important synapses repair, others that the brain washes out toxic substances while we sleep. Regardless of the actual physiological activity that happens to the brain while sleeping, getting consistent sleep is vital to a healthy brain and some even believe it may help fight Alzheimer’s.  

SUMMARY: Tergesen wraps up her article by stating that “there is a growing consensus that when it comes to preserving brain health, the more healthy habits you adopt, the better”.

I hope this summary has inspired you to think about what new habits you can introduce into your daily life that will contribute long-term to a healthy brain. Rather than trying to tackle everything at once and risk discouragement at not achieving them all, I would encourage you to pick one area you know you can improve in right now and work on it until it becomes part of your lifestyle. Then, come back later and add another using these steps one at a time as building blocks to a long and healthy brain life!

P.S. Share your thoughts below on what you are doing to maintain a healthy brain, and don’t forget to subscribe to receive an email notification each time a new blog post is published!

Love & Sunshine – The Perfect Balance

It was an amazing fall day with thousands of brightly painted leaves drifting down from the canopy above through the soft rays of distant sunlight. We had picked the perfect day for a long walk through the woods!

We found some hiking trails on the grounds of an old estate that sits high above the Hudson River and set out on our walk through the woods. At first, the trails brought us past some carefully groomed gardens, around the back of a historical European styled manor, and then on towards the woods where we came across a family pet cemetery. We stood for a moment contemplating the love the owners had for their many pets and then pressed on down a steep hill into the woods. Suddenly, we sprang into a small meadow with a pond flush with tall bulrushes growing at the water’s edge. As we skirted around the left side of the pond, we noticed a dog standing in the shallow water at the far end carefully watching us. We left the pond and pressed deeper into the woods where we stumbled upon a little waterfall and a rickety wooden bridge across the trickling water. After taking a couple of pictures, we continued through the woods and down the hill until we finally came to an opening where the river spread out in front of us in both directions and the stately home where we started stood for behind us high on the hill. It was a perfect day, with the perfect balance of love and sunshine.

The pond with the bulrushes at the water’s edge

When was the last time you set work aside for a day and spent time somewhere peaceful, perhaps even with someone you love, and just walked for a while? It is so easy to be consumed by all the things we must do and to forget the simple things that we really should do. I would like to encourage you to take some time, find a place to walk, and just breathe for a little while.

I thought I would share some of the pictures with you of our perfect day and hopefully encourage you to find a similar place to walk and to be inspired. For the past couple of weeks, we have been sharing on how to live inspired and taking in nature is a great way to do this, and also a way to clear the clutter out of your mind. If you have the opportunity, find a place around you away from the crowds and just walk for a while. See if you don’t find inspiration in the company of someone you love and the beauty around you. If you can’t actually get away, then walk with us through the pictures and be inspired.   

Sunshine Through The Trees
The stream we stumbled upon

Your life is like a stream, always moving but often interrupted by hard things that get in the way and throw it out of balance. If you find your life is out of balance, take action today to change that about yourself. I heard it once said, the time is going to pass whether or not you act. Wouldn’t you rather spend that time becoming the person you aspire to be?

P.S. Share with us in the comments below the things that inspire you and how inspiration shows up in your life.

A Poem of Inspiration

Inspiration

I looked to the rolling hills, and the mountains overshadowed me

I listened to the soft breeze, and a roaring wind spoke to me

I considered the flame, and fire sprang up within me

And then I understood, Inspiration is always greater than my thoughts

Steven Doggette    

I sat down at my computer today, turned on some soft piano music in the background and immediately this poem sprang onto the page. You see, I was not expecting it but there it was just waiting for me to write it down.

In my September 8th blog “Live Inspired” I challenged you to not only be inspired but to begin capturing your inspirations like butterflies so they are not lost. We talked about how inspiration is the genesis of all creativity, and how Inspiration Often Comes Early, Inspiration Sometimes Surprises You, and Inspiration Can Be Lost. But now I understand there is one more aspect of inspiration we need to cover, and it is…

Inspiration is always greater than your thoughts

Like the opening poem, whatever your thoughts are, inspiration always makes them bigger. Whatever creativity you start with, inspiration will always come back in larger form. It’s up to you to take the first step and then let it come back to you larger than life.

So, what have you been dreaming about for your life? Is now the time to improve your health habits? Are you finally ready to commit to that relationship? Is it time to start your own business? What is it that you need to step out and do? Are you living inspired?

I challenge you to find a peaceful place in the near future, perhaps somewhere outside, and dream a little. Then wait for your thoughts to find inspiration because inspiration is the genesis of all creativity.

Summary

Inspiration is always greater than your thoughts. Watch for it to show up, and then grab it!

Resources

Here are links to related resources you might find useful. If you find your life is out of balance, take action today to change that about yourself. I heard it once said, the time is going to pass whether or not you act. Wouldn’t you rather spend that time becoming the person you aspire to be?

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P.S. Share with us in the comments below the things that inspire you and how inspiration shows up in your life. 

Live Inspired

Butterfly

Inspiration is the genesis of all creativity. You first have to see it in your mind, and then find a way to make your inspiration take on some form of reality. Inspiration for me comes mostly in the form of content ideas for this blog or for my business, although I have been known to do some poetic writing as well. What are you inspired by and what form does it take in your life? Do you know how to live inspired?

Inspiration Often Comes Early

When are you most likely to be inspired with thoughts related to the things you are passionate about? For me, it’s almost always in the morning during my quiet time, when I am working out, or even in the shower. During these early hours of the day, while my brain is well-rested, my head is often full of fresh ideas, dare I say inspiration. In the past, this would frustrate me because I was on a mission to get out the door and off to work and my thoughts while inspiring, were also a distraction. But now, I have learned to build a little extra time into my morning routine in case inspiration comes knocking because inspiration often comes early!

Inspiration Sometimes Surprises You

Then there are other times when inspiration shows up when you least expect it. Maybe it’s triggered by a song or a sermon. Perhaps it comes when you are daydreaming or is sparked by someone you see in a crowd. Sometimes it just has a way of sneaking up on you and that’s OK. It is inspiration’s job to show up now and then, and when it does it is your job to somehow capture it. Always be on the lookout because inspiration sometimes surprises you!

Inspiration Can Be Lost

Inspiration is like a beautiful butterfly fluttering around your head one moment and then gone the next. There have been so many inspired moments that I have lost because I was not ready to catch them, but not anymore. Now I am ready for that moment, that thought, that inspiration that is waiting to be caught. My little blue journal notebook has become my butterfly net and every time one flutters by, I capture it with a few words so I can come back to it later and develop the thought. Regardless of how or when inspiration comes, you must always be ready to capture it, because inspiration can be lost!

If you feel dry and inspiration does not seem to come naturally to you, you have to practice making room for it in your soul. Start by exposing yourself to the type of content that you would like to create. Listen to music or inspired speakers. Read books or listen to podcasts in your chosen venue. Make sure you are not unnecessarily cluttering your mind with stressful TV shows or unhealthy online content that will dominate your thoughts and kill creativity. Make sure you are fostering a positive, grateful outlook on life. And finally, make time in your day for it to show up. If you are always rushing from one activity to the next inspiration may come your way, but you will never see it.

So, grab your notebook, write your core values on the inside cover and start capturing your butterflies, one inspiration at a time! Live inspired! 

Resources

Here are links to related resources you might find useful. If you find your life is out of balance, take action today to change that about yourself. I heard it once said, the time is going to pass whether or not you act. Wouldn’t you rather spend that time becoming the person you aspire to be?

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P.S. Share with us in the comments below the things that inspire you and how inspiration shows up in your life.

3 Keys to Make Exercise A Lifestyle

Men Running

OK, here’s the warning! Always check with your physician before beginning any exercise program.

I was very careful in the title to indicate exercise should be a lifestyle. Starting exercise regiments based on a new year’s resolution or even jumping into hours of training for a specific event often leads to spurts of great effort, followed by long sedentary off-seasons. The only way to truly increase your physical strength and flexibility as well as improving overall cardiovascular health is to make exercise a lifestyle.

Proper exercise has officially become a discipline that we now need to schedule into our daily lives. When we were primarily an agriculture-based society, exercise came naturally in the course of hard work on the farm. Now that more jobs are becoming serviced based, too many of us find ourselves lost in the dreaded cube farm staring at a computer screen 10 hours a day. If this describes your average day remember, your body was created to move and not sit at work all day followed by an evening on the couch watching TV. It’s time for you to make exercise a lifestyle!

If you are just starting out pick a level of exercise that is appropriate for you right now and that will also build a base for a more active tomorrow. For example, I have a friend who decided to lose weight and start exercising. So, all he did was remove bread from his diet and on day one walked around his block. On the next day, he walked around two blocks and the next three and so on. Before he knew it, he had lost 20 pounds simple by eliminating bread and starting a daily walking routine.

Keys to Get Moving

  1. Create a Workout Schedule. Pick the cadence for your weekly workout (every day, every other day, etc.). Whatever it is, schedule it like you would your meals. Lay out a realistic schedule that you can stick to and then be very protective of this time. Schedule your weekly workout plan on your calendar or map it out on your whiteboard, but have it charted somewhere so you can check off each workout and track your progress. Mapping out and tracking your workout schedule will dramatically increase your success rate! You can also build in a make-up day. For example, if your schedule calls for Monday through Friday workouts, keep Saturday open as your make-up day in case you are forced to miss one of your week-day workouts.
  2. Chose a Workout Place. For me, it’s my basement. Five days a week I am in the basement at 5:40 AM working out. I keep telling myself I am going to invest some time to upgrade the space to look like a proper gym but I am not waiting for that project to complete before I get moving. For you perhaps it is a gym, the track at your local school or simply the streets of your neighborhood. Wherever it is, make sure it is accessible to you when you need it. Also, if your preferred workout location is outside, have a go-to fallback in case of bad weather. Don’t allow the elements to dictate your exercise lifestyle.
  3. Have a Workout Plan. Decide in advance what your daily workout is going to be. I purchased a couple of 30-minute workout plans (one weight lifting and one cardio) that I alternate between every other day. They are my virtual coaches that guide me daily through my workout, pushing me beyond what I would do on my own. The plans also take me through a series of workouts day after day eliminating time wasted each morning trying to decide what workout to do. Whatever your approach is, make sure you have a sustainable plan before you get started.

What changes will you choose to make that will become building blocks for your future health and wellbeing? If you are not exercising today, start slow but never stop. Make exercise a lifestyle!

Resources

Here are links to related resources you might find useful. If you find your life is out of balance, take action today to change that about yourself. I heard it once said, the time is going to pass whether or not you act. Wouldn’t you rather spend that time becoming the person you aspire to be?

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Change Your Mindset – Change Your Future

Picture of positive thought

There is a proverb that says “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he”. Your life today is a direct result of what you have been thinking. More specifically, it is a result of what you have been thinking about yourself. If you are in a good place right now, it’s because you have had constructive thoughts that brought you to this point. If you do not like your current situation, it may be a direct result of a history of negative thoughts.

Change Your Thoughts 

There was a time when I was a natural at being a pessimist. I believed Murphy’s Law which is a supposed law of nature stating that anything that can go wrong will go wrong. What I did not realize at the time is that my thoughts were setting me up for future failure. This is where so many people live, constantly attracting the wrong results into their lives through pessimistic thought patterns and beliefs.

Poverty of the mind is just as real as, and often leads to, physical poverty. For example, if you think you are destined to be poor, then poverty will happily be your friend.  If you think nothing good can happen to you, then that will most likely be your experience. Your thoughts will eventually become your reality.

It’s time to change our thoughts! If you need to improve your health, start by thinking healthy thoughts which will then lead to healthier choices. If you need to improve your finances, start imagining ways you can reduce debt and increase your cash flow. Regardless of what you need to change, start by finding something positive in your life you are grateful for right now. Then start every day by consciously reminding yourself that you are grateful for this area of your life. From there, begin replacing negative thoughts about yourself with thoughts of gratitude, even before your actual circumstances have improved. You will be amazed over time at how a simple mindset shift can change your overall wellbeing.

Change Your Words  

There is a saying that sticks and stones can break my bones but words can never hurt me. This could not be more inaccurate. You may not be able to change what other people say about you, but you can change your own words. Start speaking words that serve you. For example, when I am working out each morning, I regularly say things to myself like I am getting stronger, I am getting faster, I feel younger. You might say this is nothing but mind over matter. Perhaps. But tomorrow I will be stronger, I will be faster, and I will feel younger and it will be a direct result of the encouraging words I am speaking to myself today.

What encouraging words can you start speaking today that will change your tomorrow?

Change Your Future

Remember, your life today is a direct result of what you have been thinking. In other words, your future will be a reflection of your mindset today. Teach yourself to be grateful for today and hopeful for tomorrow. Invest in learning how to change your mindset from being a pessimist to being an optimist. Leverage the Law of Attraction as explained in the book ‘The Secret’ to bring good things into your life. It’s time to change the future you, today.

Resources

Here are links to related resources you might find useful. If you find your life is out of balance, take action today to change that about yourself. I heard it once said, the time is going to pass whether or not you act. Wouldn’t you rather spend that time becoming the person you aspire to be?

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Reducing Stress: 3 Practical Steps

Stress

We all know that stress is a silent killer, impacting our wellbeing in the present and our overall health long term. So, what are we to do? If you are like most, you are likely caught in the proverbial rate race just trying to get it all done and the thought of working to reduce stress stresses you out even more. So how can one reduce their overall stress index in the middle of a crazy schedule?

I know something about stress. There was a time in my life where for almost a full year I was under so much stress I could hardly eat, much less keep food on my stomach. The impact on my health was tangible and only getting worse. In the end, I had to make the choice to address the issue head-on. Here are three keys that helped me reduce stress and change my overall health for the better.

  • Stop worrying about things you can’t control. In her article “Mentally Strong People: The 13 Things They Avoid” Amy Morin states that strong-minded people don’t waste energy worrying about things they can’t control. This is simple in form, but brilliant when applied. I have made it a personal mission to apply this principle to every area of my life. If traffic is heavy and causing me to slow down, I don’t worry. I can’t control it. If other people cut corners and lack integrity, I don’t worry. I can’t control them. Instead, I focus on what I can control, me!

Practice playing this principle out in one area of your life at a time. Before you know it, you will start to see your stress levels come down.

  • Set reasonable boundaries for work. I listened to a work coach this morning explain how to tell if you are a workaholic. He said to ask yourself the following set of questions. 1) What do you talk about most when you get home? 2) How much do you think about (or revert to) work after hours? 3) Are you able to take guilt-free vacations?

It is essential to set proper work boundaries for yourself. After all, your employer is not going to do so but instead continue to push for more efficiencies out of you. Do you have an established time you plan to leave work each day? Are you prepared to negotiate with your boss when they assign you that additional project you do not have the bandwidth to take on? What other ways can you address work scope creep? Remember, you work to live, not the other way around.     

  • Visualize what ‘stress-free’ looks like. What does a stress-free environment look like to you? Perhaps it’s a sunny day at the beach, or the sunset glowing across a calm lake. Maybe it’s that vacation you have been dreaming about. Visualize whatever it is in your mind, then go in search of a photo that accurately represents what you are picturing. Print it out and post it in the environment that is a know stress trigger for you. Whenever you feel yourself beginning to stress out, take 30 seconds to look at the photo and imagine you are actually in that place.

Now, take a look at the picture below that I have included as an example and just breathe for a minute.

Sunny ocean view
Stress free moment

The principle of reducing stress is so important to me now that I have incorporated it into my core values. It will take some practice but if you consistently incorporate these steps into your daily routine, you will begin to see a noticeable improvement to your stress index.

Resources

Here are links to related resources you might find useful. If you find your life is out of balance, take action today to change that about yourself. I heard it once said, the time is going to pass whether or not you act. Wouldn’t you rather spend that time becoming the person you aspire to be?

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Healthy People: The 3 Things They Do

Healthy People Jogging

For me, a healthy person is by definition a well-balanced individual. “Healthy” comes in a lot of flavors including physical well-being, mental soundness, the strength of one’s relationships, and the list goes on. For the sake of this example, let’s focus on physical health. What are the keys to living a healthy physical lifestyle? Why do some people appear to achieve this state with relative ease while others yo-yo between food fads, diets, and the latest workout craze but with no lasting results? Here is the answer in three not so easy steps!

They make healthy living a core value. Bottom line, healthy individuals tend to define what their core values are and healthy living makes the short list. They may not have a written list of core values (which I highly recommend) but they live by them just the same. As you age, you will not naturally fall into a healthy physical lifestyle. The fact is, it will come through careful planning and a core value that is set to some extent on defying the natural aging process. Planning for physical health must by default include a solid definition of the core attributes that define you. Once you incorporate living a healthy lifestyle into your core values, you will be on your way to realizing success.   

They have habits. I heard someone say that people do not fail for lack of goals, they fail due to lack of systems. This is why new year’s resolutions, like joining the local gym, are a complete waste of time. Setting goals without the necessary systems and routines required to support them are actually harmful as it tends to reinforce a track record of experienced failure. Living a healthy lifestyle requires systems that turn into routines that lead to habits (systems > routines > habits). You don’t argue with yourself about brushing your teeth each morning. This is because you have transitioned from learning the system of how to brush, then when to brush, to finally making it a lifelong habit. Once a healthy lifestyle becomes habitual, you will be successful in this area for the long term.

They have a vision. A wise biblical sage once said something to the effect that without vision, people perish. Vision (the ability to think about or plan the future with imagination or wisdom) provides the underlying energy your core values and habits will need in order to succeed. Can you clearly imagine the healthy lifestyle you will be enjoying 5 to 10 years from now? If so, you have an initial vision. Can you apply wisdom to your imagination and envision why you need to be healthy 10-15 years from now? If so, you have a mature vision. This skill is absolutely necessary for long term success and has the potential to fuel a healthy physical lifestyle for years to come.

Vision for a healthy lifestyle
Vision for a healthy lifestyle

At the end of the day, people living healthy lifestyles have characteristics that brought them to this well-balanced place in life. Whenever I read about someone who has achieved health in an area of life, I look carefully for signs of the underlying principles that have contributed to their success. They may not specifically be the ones listed above, but if you look hard enough, they will always be there in one form or another.

So, what healthy, well-balanced goals do you have for life and do they align with your core values? If not, find ones that do then seek out systems that lead to routines which turn into habits. Finally, energize your habits with your life’s vision. If you consistently apply these principles, there will be no stopping you.

Resources

Here are links to related resources you might find useful. If you find your life is out of balance, take action today to change that about yourself. I heard it once said, the time is going to pass whether or not you act. Wouldn’t you rather spend that time becoming the person you aspire to be?

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