New Year / Fresh Start Personal Well-being
As we get out of one year (sometimes by the skin of our teeth) and move into the next year, we have very high hopes of creating a better, healthier life. But, like other lofty goals, by the time February rolls around we are back into our bad habits. 2020 showed us how many bad habits we live with every day. We were isolated and quarantined, and we worried. Put the stress, the worry, the lack of sleep, lack of exercise all together and you get weight gain, lethargy, and lots of guilt over how we let ourselves go. Time to start all over.
I am using the Virtual Brain Health Center’s Model of Brain Wellness. The first two entries were Physical Activity and Cognitive Engagement. This blog is about Personal Well-Being. This is a very big category. But it speaks to what we need right now. Let’s get started.
Lifestyle Behaviors and Choices
We are so depleted in body, mind, and spirit right now. Unfortunately, we weren’t living the healthiest of lifestyles before the pandemic hit. We were too busy, and too tired to take care of ourselves. Our lifestyle choices have some drastic consequences. The majority of Americans are stressed, sleep-deprived, and overweight. As a result, we suffer from largely preventable lifestyle diseases such as cancer, heart disease, stroke and diabetes. As our health declines, our healthcare expenditures escalate. About 90% of the nearly $4 trillion Americans spend annually for healthcare in the U.S. is for chronic diseases and mental health conditions. Since I look at the issues associated with chronic diseases and the brain, Americans are also putting themselves at a high risk of developing dementia.
There are new disciplines that look at nutrition and lifestyle choices as a root cause of health issues. Lifestyle medicine is the clinical application of healthy behaviors to prevent, treat, and reverse disease. Research in this area underscores that physicians should be prescribing the six domains of lifestyle medicine: whole food plant-based eating, regular physical adversity, restorative sleep, stress management, addiction reduction or elimination, positive psychology, and social connection. These are the pillars to lead a brain healthy lifestyle. If you lead your life within these parameters, your brain will function better, and you will feel better all around.
There are a lot of factors that make up personal environment. Externally, are you living in a safe area in a house or apartment that is not making you sick. Are you too bored to get up and do anything? Our brain is constantly adapting to our environment – good or bad. In a novel, complex environment we can actually grow new neurons and synaptic connections. We are creating brain resilience. What is novel and complex? Your brain needs to be stimulated. If you go to a museum and see exhibits that are new to you, you have created a novel environment. You brain loves that. If however, you never leave your house and sit in front of the TV every day, your brain will shrink. You are not challenging your brain and the ‘use it or lose it’ principle comes in to play. The pandemic has caused a lot of people to live in a negative environment. New start – find new books to read, get some jigsaw puzzles, research your next vacation destination. You will feel more energized if you put your brain to work for you.
Right now, the push to get a vaccination shot for Covid. Every year we are told to get a flu shot to protect us. These are proactive. There are people who don’t believe that vaccinations or other preventive medicine mean anything. By not taking care of themselves, they are putting the rest of us in danger.
We should be getting an annual physical, getting our vision checked, getting our hearing checked, and go to the dentist. We are whole beings with many moving parts, and we need to take care of each and body system. The old adage holds true here: “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” We have to be responsible for ourselves.
If you have a chronic disease, such as diabetes, you have to follow all of your medical team’s directives, such as, diet, exercise, not going barefoot, getting your eyes checked. And, you have to be diligent in checking your blood sugar and taking your medicine.
Nutrition (Diet and Hydration)
The role of nutrition is getting more attention as the research on nutrition and brain health is expanding. Our brain and body need specific nutrients to function on all cylinders. When we eat poorly – we get sick, and we function poorly. So, as difficult as it is to give up fast food and processed food, we are giving ourselves the gift of health.
The following Healthy Eating Plate is an evidence-based eating guide for creating healthy, balanced meals.
· Healthy Oils
o Use healthy oils (like olive and canola oil) for cooking, on salad, and at the table.
o Limit butter.
o Avoid transfats.
o The more veggies and the greater the variety, the better. Potatoes and French fries don’t count.
o Eat plenty of fruits of all colors
o Drink water, tea, or coffee (with little or no sugar).
o Limit milk/dairy (1-2 servings per day) and juice (1 small glass/day).
o Avoid sugary drinks
· Whole Grains
o Eat a variety of whole grains (like whole-wheat bread, whole grain pasta, and brown rice).
o Limit refined grains (like white rice, and white bread).
· Healthy Protein
o Choose fish, poultry, beans, and nuts
o Limit red meat and cheese
o Avoid bacon, cold cuts, and other processed meats.
Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health
The Nutrition Source; www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource
Dehydration occurs when more water and fluids leave the body then enter it. Even low levels of dehydration can cause headaches, lethargy, and constipation. The body is roughly 75% water. Without this water it cannot survive. Water is found inside cells, within blood vessels, and between cells.
Fast Facts about Dehydration
· Around three-quarters of the human body is water
· The causes of dehydration include
o Diarrhea, vomiting, and sweating
· Individuals more at risk of dehydration include:
o Athletes, people at higher altitudes, and older adults
· Early symptoms of dehydration include:
o Dry mouth, lethargy, and dizziness
(Peter Crosta, 12/20/17, Medical News Today)
Prevention is really the most important treatment for dehydration. Consuming plenty of fluids and foods that have high water content (such as fruits and vegetables) should be enough for most people to prevent dehydration.
Restfulness (Sleep and Meditation)
Physically, sleep helps the cells, organs and entire body to function better. It is recommended to get uninterrupted sleep of seven hours per night. There is evidence that high-quality sleep can reduce inflammation, immune dysfunction, oxidative stress, and epigenetic modification of DNA, all of which are associated with or cause chronic disease.
Our brain is very busy while we are sleeping. The hippocampus, center of learning and memory, encodes, or consolidates new memories that have come in during the day. This is a critical part of memory formation and if we do not get enough high-quality sleep, we will find that we are having trouble recalling memories.
Also, while we are sleeping, our brain goes through a deep cleaning. The glial brain cells form channels throughout the brain. Cerebral spinal fluid flows through these channels and cleans toxins, cell debris, and any other end products left from brain
processing. We need uninterrupted sleep to allow the glymphatic system to do a thorough cleaning of our brains.
Meditation and mindfulness induce a heightened state of awareness and focused attention. Research has revealed that this practice can relieve stress, as well as manage anxiety, reduce inflammation, and improve memory and attention. Studying Tibetan monks, it was shown that there are decreases in activity in the medial prefrontal cortex, and the posterior cingulate cortex. The longer a monk had been practicing, the bigger the reduction in activity. The belief is – that the longer you do meditation, the better your brain is at self-regulation.
Crosta, P. (December 20, 2017). What you should know about dehydration. Retrieved from www.medicalnewstoday.com
Sukel, K. (April 19, 2019). Understanding the power of meditation. Retrieved from https://www.www.brainfacts.org/thinking-sensing-and-behaving/thinking-and-awareness/2019/understanding-the-power-of-meditation-041919#
Vodovotz, Y. & Parkinson, M. (January 20, 2021). They don’t come as pills, but try these 6 underprescribed lifestyle medicines for a better, longer life. Retrieved from https://theconversation.com/they-dont-come-as-pills-but-try-these-6-underprescribed-lifestyle-medicines-for-a-better-longer-life-152791?utm_medium