The brain is a wondrous thing. It remains plastic well into old age. This surprised neuroscientists when they discovered the brain’s ability to form new brain cells ( neurogenesis) well into our 80s and 90s. It seems you can teach an old dog new tricks.
One easy way to change your brain is to change your environment. I don’t mean you have to move. Well, I do mean you have to move, but that doesn’t require a change of location. Exercise is the closest thing science has found to the fountain of youth. Exercise increases blood flow to the body and brain that is protective to the brain and curtails age-related brain shrinkage.
Exercise doesn’t just happen at the gym. Whatever you like that gets you moving will work. Whether walking through your neighborhood or taking a dance class. For me, it's kickboxing and martial arts. If you haven’t been working out, I recommend starting for a short period of time. Maybe five minutes.
Everyone can handle five minutes of exercise. It’s enough to get your heart pumping, but not so long of a time period to make excuses to yourself to put off exercising.
Suppose you don’t have any exercise equipment, no issue. You can do five minutes of bodyweight exercises. Here are a few ideas. Push-ups, squats, lunges, mountain climbs, sit-ups, crunches, leg raises, burpees. Need more ideas, get an exercise book.
If you’re out of shape and haven’t been exercising, you will exhaust yourself pretty fast. That’s okay; we can work with this. If you commit to five-minute workouts I would recommend doing one set of an exercise then rest a minute. Then do one set of another exercise, rest a minute. Continue in this manner until you have completed five exercises.
You may be thinking, well, that’ll be longer than 5 minutes. Yes, it will, if you add the rest time between exercises. But in reality, you’ll probably be exercising for less than 5 minutes. I doubt if starting, you can last a full 60 seconds doing consecutive push-ups, or squats, or whatever.
Benefits Of Meditation
- Slows Brain Aging
- Lowers Blood Pressure
- Improves Stress Response
- Lowers Anxiety
- Improves Heart Health
- Increases Happiness
To get started, go for a five-minute mediation. I know five minutes may not seem like anything, but it is a start. If you don’t have time for a five-minute meditation, then ten minutes will more than suffice.
Set a timer for five minutes. I know some people recommend not using a timer; I prefer it. I can close my eyes and focus on my breath without sneaking peaks to a clock to check the elapsed time. Find a comfortable position, sitting, or lying down. Eyes can be opened or closed, your preference.
Meditation Is Not Passive
Generally, people think of meditation as a passive endeavor. It is not. It takes focus to keep your mind quiet. There are a few methods to stop your thoughts from racing around in your head. One is a mantra. A word you repeat to yourself slowly with each intake and exhale of breath. What’s your mantra? Anything you want it to be. If you go this route, choose a positive mantra, like inhale “healthier,” exhale, “calmer.”
Others focus on their breath, focusing on the inhale and exhaling of every breath. A good deep breath is a belly breath. It moves your belly out on the inhale and in on the exhale. Chest breaths are shallower.
Invariably when you meditate, you will lose focus. You will find yourself thinking about an upcoming event, dinner, a conversation you had or are going to have. Know that this is normal and should be expected. Don’t berate yourself for losing mediation focus; gently bring your mind back to your breath or mantra. Even experienced meditators, I mean monks who have meditated for over twenty years, lose mediation focus, and need to refocus. They just lose focus less than the rest of us.
Learn Something New
Want to learn something, but feel you don’t have time? A little bit of learning each day, maybe 15 minutes, can make great strides over a year or two. It's a compound effect.
Don’t Be Afraid To Suck.
Everybody sucks when they’re first learning something new. Don’t be afraid to suck. It will stop you from being all you can be. Think of it, a great piano virtuoso who plays concerts sucked when he first sat down at the piano. Think of any top musician, artist, engineer, whoever, who didn’t suck when they first learned their craft. The difference is they didn’t let their level of suckitude stop them, and neither should you.
Embrace the Suckitude
I’m writing an article using this 15-minute technique to learn a song on the piano. The most important thing to know at the start is that I am not a piano player. I need to hunt and peck every key on the board. Fifteen minutes a day, let’s see what I can do. I’m halfway through the 30 days, and there is an improvement. I recorded myself playing the song at the start of the 30-day practice run. I only recorded about 15 seconds, it was that bad. I will re-record myself at the end of my 30 days of practice.
You can learn to draw, paint a picture in oils or acrylics, crochet, sing, foreign language, write, play a musical instrument, learn to dance, golf, or play tennis. Learning something new keeps your brain’s synapses firing, making your brain more plastic and resilient.
There has never been a better time in history to involve yourself with learning something new. There are hundreds of on-line classes, schools like MasterClass, where you can literally learn from masters. Imagines learning the ins and outs of writing from James Patterson, Margret Atwood, or Dan Brown. You can! How about photography from Annie Leibovitz? That’s available too.
Aside from a wealth of information online, you also have the added advantage of online tutors. Sometimes you need or want one-on-one mentoring. Many instructors make themselves available through Skype or Zoom. You can find online instructors for yoga, learning guitar, bodybuilding, fitness, weight loss, computer programming.
Journalling only takes about five minutes a day. Some people write first thing in the morning as they start their day. Others write again at night, reflecting on the day.
Journaling helps in many ways. For me, a journal creates a period of introspection, gratitude, and planning. It’s a personal space where you can write down your thoughts, new ideas, and feelings about events, both happy, sad, or angry, your wins and losses. Writing about negative feelings can be a cathartic process for some events that may help you keep a positive mind frame.
Keep your journal private. Being personal means you ought to keep it private. It’s easier to write if it's for your eyes only.
But there are so many types of journals that are targeted toward a specific area. There are goal-setting journals, happiness journals, women’s journals, pregnancy journals, men’s journals, project journals, personal development journals, gratitude journals, travel journals, family journals, and lately even pandemic journals.
Benefits of Journaling
Keeping a journal has been said to be good for your mental and physical health. At a basic level, it may help keep you organized, unstressed and improve the quality of your life.
If you follow all the suggestions in this article will only take 30 minutes a day. A small investment in yourself that can reap large benefits in a few months.