The wife of my best friend from college is having a baby next week. Remembering what it was like to have a newborn, I can almost feel that gnawing pain of exhaustion between my eyes. I took three months’ leave after my son was born, but really I shouldn’t have been driving at three months post-partum, let alone going back to work. I love babies but babies are not good for your brain.
As writers we are acutely attuned to the state of our noggin. When it isn’t working, we aren’t writing. When we aren’t writing we aren’t happy. Then it becomes a chicken and an egg problem. If we aren’t happy it is hard to write. Then you are in the dreaded writer’s block situation. So today I thought I would talk a little bit about how to keep your brain healthy. A healthy brain equals a creative brain, one willing to write stories for you.
The information I’m going to share isn’t rocket science, it is advice your grandmother gave you. But there is good scientific evidence that taking certain measures may help your brain function properly well into old age.
Eat Your Vegetables
Our diet can affect our mood and cognition in numerous ways. A Mediterranean-style diet with plenty of green vegetables, whole grains, fish, olive oil and limited sweets and dairy may stave off dementia. I know when I make a colorful veggie stir fry it can pull me out of a funk. And while sugar makes me feel good at the moment, an hour later I’m lower than low.
Note to author: Don’t mention the tiramisu you are eating with your coffee while writing.
So don’t eat unhealthy foods (too often). Eat whole foods, nuts, berries, fish. Limit cheese and red meat. And alcohol? They say you can have one glass of red wine. Hmmm. Well, nobody’s perfect. Plus if you offset it by having a few with friends…
Note to author: You simultaneously digress, admit your weaknesses, and try to make excuses.
Do as I say, not as I do. Just try to drink less than your, er, friendly neighborhood doctor.
Move Your Body
Nobody needs to buy gym memberships. You can walk. With your feet. You should walk every day. Nothing helps me solidify plot lines like walking up a hill, and there are plenty of them here in Seattle. It’s almost as if when my heart beats faster and harder it moves the stagnant blood around my floundering brain cells. We were never meant to sit in front of computers all day. Our bodies were designed to play, hunt, and forage. On foot. Want to stay functional into old age? Walk. Every day.
Engage Your Brain
Sure, writing gives our brain a workout, but we need all types of mental stimulation. Social stimulation is as important as, if not more than, just doing puzzles and those cognitive stimulation apps on your phone which, despite their claims, have not been proven to prevent Alzheimer’s. So why not take a walk with a friend? Then you are doing two good things for your brain at once. If you really want to go for the trifecta, garden with a friend and grow and prepare some healthy vegetables.
As I get older, sometimes it seems the world conspires to prevent me from getting a good night’s sleep. Or maybe I just didn’t care when I was younger. The good news/bad news is that when you exercise–especially outside with natural daylight to suppress your melatonin–and you eat healthy foods and you don’t drink too much, you sleep better. A lot of people get sleep apnea as they age. Get that treated. Having it can mimic symptoms of dementia and maybe lead to more permanent cognitive decline.
What Happens Next?
Our brains will age, just like the rest of our bodies. Cognitive aging is well documented and different for every individual. We may find it harder to assimilate new knowledge and it is easy to become a creature of habit. But science has shown humans can still flex their brains, learn, and even gain emotional intelligence well into their 80s. But if we want our brains to stay in shape, we have to treat them right and keep them engaged. Don’t succumb to your routines.
Change is the only certain constant after all. The world will change around us whether we like it or not. The only chance we have to keep up with it is by continuing to learn, meeting new people and trying new things. Otherwise we might find ourselves sitting in the corner shaking our fists at young people and their modern ways while the world passes us by.
Oh, and my dear old friend became a father at age 47 of a healthy baby boy during the three weeks it took me to finish this article. He and his wife are dreadfully tired and not thinking well at all. My initial intention was to conclude this article by telling people not to have babies in midlife, to preserve their brain health. However, I can see my friends are in love and have committed to a lifetime of connection and trying new things with the next generation. In the long run it was the right choice.
Søvn Drake is an emerging writer who can be found haunting coffee shops in the Pacific Northwest of the United States. More about her and her writing can be found at: https://sovndrakestories.wordpress.com
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