Open the GIFT of the Present: |
We often hear the phrase, ‘be mindful,’ ‘stay present,’ ‘be fully conscious.’ But what does that mean? It simply means to become fully aware of yourself right now. It means becoming cognizant of your thoughts and feelings right now, and noticing if your mind tends to drift back into the past or if it starts to obsess about the future. The best tool to being fully present is to focus on your breath. Get in the habit of doing one thing at a time. Using all of your senses, notice your surroundings: take in the sights, sounds, scents and feelings of where you are right now. When your mind starts to wander, return again to your breath, and release your thoughts. In a very basic sense, this is the foundation of meditation. Meditation and relaxation techniques help combat stress and rejuvenate your mind and your brain, as well as your body.
The composition of our brain tissue is said to be staggering 85% water. We hear all the time, drink water, drink water, but many people don’t realize how important water really is. I have a beautiful plant on my porch that needs to be watered every day. Recently, I went away for a few days. When I returned, I saw that the plant appeared to be dead; completely drooped and flattened. I felt bad, and gave it a big drink of water anyway, and within minutes, the stems and leaves of that plant began to rise and stand tall. It was vibrant again, within minutes, just from being watered. When it comes to water, our brain is like that plant.
Next to air, water is the single most essential element for life. Just like the earth, we consist primarily of water. Our bodies are composed of 75% water, and 25% solid matter. No wonder they say the brain is like a sponge, it's composed primarily of water. Drinking plenty of pure water is one of the best things you can do to protect your brain, your mind, and your body. Water also provides our bodies with moisture and lubrication, both inside and out. Many people are dehydrated and don’t even know it. Common symptoms of dehydration are dry, itchy skin and frequent headaches and grogginess. Expert opinion varies, but the conventional prescription has been to drink a minimum of eight 8-ounce glasses of water a day—about 64 ounces, or two quarts.
Dr. F. Batmanghelidj, water expert and author of Your Body’s Many Cries For Water, insists that many people are unintentionally and chronically dehydrated and the body responds to a chronic lack of water by producing pain. He says that chronic dehydration can be responsible for most ailments, including heartburn, arthritis, back pain, angina, migraines, colitis, fibromyalgia and asthma; the common factor being a water shortage in the interior of the body. Dr. B. insists that “Pain signifies a thirst for water.”
Oil Your Gears:
You've heard the phrase, like a well-oiled machine? Well, our body (and brain) also needs lubrication in order to support health on the inside, and youthful skin on the outside. Skip the butter and margarine and reach for healthy oils. Oils may be fats, but just as bad fats can contribute to heart disease, cancer, and other maladies, there are good fats that fight those things by lowering LDL (bad cholesterol) and raising HDL (good cholesterol), reducing inflammation, and providing cancer-preventive antioxidants.
Purge your pantry of commercial vegetable oils; they are usually a mixture of unidentified oils that have been extracted with chemicals. Get rid of old oils, their shelf life is limited to less than a year. Take a whiff, if they don't smell fresh, get rid of them. Rancid oils are unhealthly to consume and can contribute to free radical damage. Toss out vegetable shortenings, they are usually made with partially hydrogenated oils, are high in trans fats, and are considered the unhealthiest of all fats. Reach for oils that have been cold pressed (not chemically extracted.) While oils like corn oil and soybean oil are high in polyunsaturates, most of us get too much of those omega-6 fatty acids. Nutritionists have learned that we should be getting more omega-3s. The best fats are those high in heart-healthy monounsaturates and other important nutrients such as oleic acids and omega-3 fatty acids.
Extra virgin olive oil is the healthiest oil, as it contains the highest monounsaturate content, and is best for dressings and drizzling. It has a low smoke point, so it should not be used for frying or high heat cooking. Regular virgin olive oil is best for sautéing and cooking foods at low and medium temperatures. Safflower oil is the high-oleic version of this light, neutral-flavored oil. It's high in monounsaturates and has a high smoke point. For high-heat cooking, reach for light olive oil, followed by oils such as canola, peanut, sesame and avocado.
For proper brain development and function, include cold-water fish in your diet. Fish such as mackerel, salmon, anchovies and sardines are rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Since it's nearly impossible to consume enough fish in your daily diet, reach for a quality fish oil supplement to provide natural omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s have been shown to promote heart and circulatory health, and they are essential for proper brain development and brain function. Research shows that diets rich in omega-3s can result in increased learning ability, problem-solving skills, focus, memory and communication between brain cells.
Just as physical exercise keeps your body young, mental exercise helps you stay alert and keeps your brain working efficiently, especially as you grow older. Keep your mind stimulated, find ways that appeal to you, like reading, jigsaw puzzles, games, playing cards, learning new skills and activities. Participating in varied activities is the best way to stimulate different parts of your brain. Try combining physical and mental activity. For example, learning to dance will stimulate the brain because you have to memorize different dance steps, moves and routines, but it also exercises the heart and gives the body a great work-out. Challenge your mind and your body!
Cultivate Community & a Youthful Mind:
Keep up on current affairs. Encourage participation with friends and family. Join a club or organization. Volunteer to help those less fortunate. Learn new skills and nurture your social network. Seek out positive people who make you laugh! Humor stimulates the parts of the brain that use the “feel good” chemical messenger dopamine. Laughter is pleasurable, perhaps even addictive, to the brain. All these things help to create a feeling of support, help to relieve stress and encourage healthy living. A youthful mind requires a youthful attitude!
Turn off the TV and Get Outside:
Watching television in moderation can be fine, but make a point to turn it off and get outside. Sitting on the couch (couch potato anyone?) and aimlessly watching TV is often called “mind numbing,” and for good reason. Increase your outdoor activities and oxygenate and exercise both your mind and your body.
Give It a Rest:
Finally, get at least 8 hours of sleep. In order to think clearly and creatively, it pays to “sleep on it.” A good night's sleep helps to clear brain fog. The value of sleep cannot be overestimated, no matter what your age.
What tips do you have for preserving a youthful mind?