“Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty.” – Henry Ford
In addition to Self Help Daily, I have a brain health and mental fitness blog, “Out of Bounds.” Mental fitness and all that goes with it (preventing dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease, brain strength, overcoming stress, dealing with anxiety, etc) is one of my greatest passions. I spend as much time reading about brain health as I spend reading anything.
If I could recommend just three things to you to incorporate into your life to improve the health of you brain, they would be:
- Eating a “heart healthy” diet – lots of fruit, healthy nuts, vegetables, and fish, while cutting WAY back on fried food, saturated fat, red meat, and sugar.
- Getting plenty of activity – whether it’s yard work, housework, walking, or yoga… don’t be a couch potato. You do not have to go to a gym or buy special equipment. If you’re moving and grooving, your brain doesn’t know (or care) whether you’re at the gym, on a trail, or in your yard.
- Keep learning every single day of your life. Use it or you’ll lose it. Literally.
I’m not going to “mother hen” you about the first two (today anyway), but I do want to encourage you with third. When my girls were little, one of the first things I ingrained into their minds was this: “A day spent without learning something is a day wasted.” Since I home-schooled them from Kindergarten through 12th grade, it was easy to make sure they wasted as little time as possible.
Like my girls, all of us have ample opportunities to learn something new every day as long as we’re in school. The challenge comes when “school isn’t in session,” whether that’s weekends, holidays, summers, or the all-encompassing rest of our lives.
A lot of people have the mistaken assumption that their work or vocation provides “enough” learning. While having a challenging job does help keep our minds active, we need MORE. Why? Well, one reason is the fact that we become programmed to respond to the challenges of our daily job.
For example, I work full-time from home as a blogger/web publisher/writer. While things such as developing a recipe for my food blog, writing a book review, or researching for an article on early-stage dementia keep my brain cells busy, it’s all in my wheelhouse.
However, if I work on developing a recipe in an area I’m not the least bit familiar with (such as Indian cooking) or research/read up on a subject entirely new to me – it’s a wake up call for my brain cells and they love it.
This “in your wheelhouse” dilemma is one of the reasons why so many educated and intelligent people are developing dementia. Each day, they stay firmly in their wheelhouse. Whether they’re afraid they don’t have the time to venture out or they lack the inclination, I honestly believe it’s at least part of their downfall.
So, the lesson for you is this – get out of your wheelhouse and learn more every single day.
One fun, inexpensive, and mentally stimulating way to do just that is to “go back to school” – or to be more precise, “go back to school books.” Get your hands on a few schoolbooks, covering different subjects, and read through them as you did in school…
- take notes as you read
- look up words you aren’t familiar with
- answer the questions that inevitably hold you accountable at the end of each chapter
While I wholeheartedly encourage finding textbooks dealing with your “old favorites” (for me, these would be History, Literature, and English), the real magic happens when you dig deep into those subjects you didn’t particularly care for (my mortal enemies were science, geography, and anything with numbers).
Recently, I sorted through some of the textbooks I saved from my daughters’ home-schooling days and found just what I was looking for Geography for Christian Schools (on Amazon for $1.14, hardback). Geography – one of my mortal enemies. Even when my daughters studied Geography in our home-school, I didn’t immerse myself in the subject – I did as I did in school, payed just enough attention to get by. Aside from the flags of the countries (which I find uncommonly fascinating), all other aspects of Geography always made my eyes glaze over. When I was in school, I’d daydream about my basset hound, Siamese cat, lunch, softball… anything BUT what was in my textbook or on the chalkboard.
I decided to go back this time and REALLY delve in – memorize the capitals of the countries of the world, the desserts, lakes, rivers, and as many other geographically-inclined facts I used to snub. Oddly enough, I’m actually finding it incredibly interesting this time around. Imagine if I’d just paid attention back then.
- Amazon has A LOT of Textbooks and many are ridiculously cheap. Anyone who home-schools today really has it made. There are textbooks and workbooks for both high school and college. If you really, really, really need to go back and brush up on a subject – start with the lowest grade level needed and move up. When it comes to math, I don’t even want to think how far back I’d have to go. I seriously think I have a math allergy.
- When you buy an “older” history or geography textbook, keep in mind that some details and information has, undoubtedly, changed. The fact that you’ll find yourself on Google double-checking information simply means you’re doing more research and using your brain EVEN more.
- A lot of used bookstores and “Teacher Supply Stores” have textbooks and workbooks. They’re definitely worth checking out.
- If you’re really brave (and we’re talking braver than I am), grab foreign language textbooks and brush up on a language you once knew or even learn a totally new one.
- When you come across a subject that’s especially interesting, go deeper. Find more books dealing with the subject and uncover everything you can find online.
You get the picture, wake up those brain cells by snatching them out of their comfort zone. So few good things happen in the comfort zone and that holds especially true for your brain’s fitness and your mental health.
Never stop learning – your future self will thank you for it.