5 Ways to Promote Brain Health in Retirement

5 Ways to Promote Brain Health in Retirement

“There is no fountain of youth, but there is a fountain of health” states Dr.Carol Ward, geriatric psychiatrist for Interior Health, BC. That Fountain of Health™ is a national initiative “to promote brain health and resilience” particularly for adults in their Next3rd. The science has revealed 5 ways we can protect and improve our cognitive function.

The Good Doctor

Dr. Ward, whom I call Carol, a friend of many decades, has had a passion for helping the elderly ever since she began practicing geriatric psychiatry in 1992. She provides leadership at the national and regional level to enhance mental health care for seniors, and practices what she preaches in her patient care. “Seniors have a whole life story to share and I love learning about their lives.” Carol enthusiastically alerted me to the Fountain of Health™ (FOH).

What is the Fountain of Health™?

Simply put, it’s a fabulous resource for you and your doctor. Founded in 2010 by Dr. Keri-Leigh Cassidy, FOH is collaboration of several research and medical organizations focused on mental health, brain wellness and ageing well. It’s science-based, practical and easy to use. FOH’s findings highlights the 5 actions you can take to improve your brain health.

“It’s a tool and a culture change. It promotes positive aging.”

Dr. Carol Ward

If that’s not cool enough, the FOH has The Wellness App which is a simple tool designed to help you succeed in making small changes that stick. More about that later.

The Five Ways

The 5 ways, highlighted by FOH are key areas where you can “make change” to protect and promote your brain and overall health. The benefits of each area are explained and practical tips for implementing change are suggested. You don’t have to choose all five, just pick one to start if you like.

“Genes account for only 25% of your health condition. The rest is in your hands.”

Dr. Ward

1. Physical Activity

If you’ve read anything about ageing well, this is no surprise. The science is there. Exercise promotes your brain’s neuroplasticity and resilience to stress. “You don’t have to run a marathon” Dr. Ward explains. Just move everyday. Exercise helps reduce the risk of vascular disease including high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol and stroke. Discover more benefits and tips for success here.

Ideally, aim to raise your heart rate for 30 minutes, 5 days a week.

FOH

2. Social Activity

Loneliness is a risk factor to your health, yet as we age we are more likely to encounter social isolation. “Face to face is best.” Research has shown that socializing improves your mood and brain function. Having a “positive confidante”, someone “who has your back”, reduces your risk for stress-induced illnesses. Go for a walk with a friend, join a club, or volunteer are actions you can take to improve your social interactions. Learn more here.

“Figure out how you’re going to stay connected to the world, to people.”

Dr. Ward

3. Brain Challenge

Erase that image of declining brain function as you age! Your brain is ‘plastic’ and can continue to grow through old age … as long as it is exercised! Challenging your brain helps you build your “cognitive reserve”. Sudoko or crosswords, music or languages – get started! Discover more.

“Education and lifelong learning actually improves brain function over time and lowers your risk of developing memory problems and even dementia when you are older.”

FOH

4. Positive Thinking

The messages we give ourselves can make a huge difference to our mental and whole well being. Positive thinking (not the rose-coloured glasses stuff), can help you recover faster from health set-backs, improve your mood, memory and longevity. Think … “ageing is good” (not bad)!

In other words, be kind to yourself (and others). It’s not easy to change the way we think, but it can be done with practice. Actions such as writing your gratitudes, reflecting on your strengths, and blocking time chunks to practice problem-solving can help. Click here for more ideas.

“Changing the way you think about yourself as you age might be one of the most important things you can do for your long term health!”

FOH

5. Mental Health

“Our brains are not pre-wired to fail.” Poor mental health can translate to poor overall health. The good news is that mental health and life satisfaction can improve with age. Taking care of your mental health is a sign of strength, not weakness. The key is to act now if you have concerns about your mood, alcohol use, anxiety, and the like.

“There’s a movement out there. Positive psychiatry. “

Dr. Ward

Instead of just treating mental illness, positive psychiatry provides a whole approach to mental well-being using additional practices such as meditation, mindfulness and yoga. The goal is to improve optimism, resilience, and an overall sense of well being. The FOH offers these ideas for you to act upon.

Making Change Stick

This is the beauty of the FOH and its Wellness Project. It provides tools like The Wellness App or downloadable worksheets to help you make change in small steps. You can sign up for positive encouragement from the App if you like, or share the worksheets with your doctor. It’s like having your own brain health coach!

The key is small change. Following the principles of SMART goals (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-stamped), you are encouraged to choose one clear goal. Maybe you decide you want to increase your social activity. Your one small change is to call a long-distance friend once a week. The app and worksheets help you stay on track and see measurable progress!

“You don’t have to overwhelm yourself with change. Narrow it down to one thing that’s tangible and measurable. That’s the elegance of FOH.”

Dr. Ward

Final Words of Wisdom

Dr. Ward sums up what we can do to set ourselves up for a brain-healthful Next3rd:

  • “Managing your risk of vascular disease is truly one of the best things you can do for your health. Move your body.”
  • Take care of your hearing and eyesight; this helps mitigate cognitive loss. “The impact can be quite significant. Hearing aids are almost invisible now.”
  • “Look after your brain. You can always learn something new.”
  • Build your social connections to prevent loneliness. “Get out there.”
  • Enable a good sleep. “There is interesting research on lack of sleep and cognitive impairment.” Natural light helps your sleep rhythms; get outside. Be mindful of caffeine and alcohol use.
  • “The drive to be well is in us, even if we are unwell. You CAN make positive change.”

“Move your body, move your brain, move your mood!”

Dr. Ward

Care to share?

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