Forget Weight Loss: THESE are the 6 Resolutions You Should Be Making This Year
It’s the New Year—and like so many people (including me!) you’ve probably resolved to make a few changes in your habits and routines to get you healthier and slim down your waistline. But instead of focusing on weight loss (as so many of us always do), give these resolutions a go instead. What you’ll find: not only will they help you get healthier, they’ll also help you stay sharp and focused so you can stay on track with just about every goal you make, all year long.
1. Vow to get more sleep.
Consider sleep (at least 7 to 8 hours a night) the critical foundation for just about any resolution you make. You need enough sleep to lose weight: a lack of sleep reduces production of the hormone leptin—making you less satisfied after you eat—and increases the production of the hormone ghrelin, which stimulates your appetite … basically causing your willpower to go haywire.
And, it turns out, getting enough sleep has a restorative effect on the brain, too (keeping you alert, awake, focused, and your memories sharp)—important for just about any resolution you vow to make. Lack of sleep, researchers1 observed in one study, actually impairs reasoning, problem solving, and attention to detail. Another study2—from the University of Rochester Medical Center—suggests that sleep actually helps restore the brain by flushing out so-called “toxins” in it that can build up during waking hours.
2. Resolve to take time to relax every day—for at least 20 minutes.
Long-term stress and anxiety not only stresses your body—contributing to illness and disease—it also taxes the brain. In fact, some research suggests that long-term stress stimulates the growth of the proteins that might lead to memory loss. (This might be the reason when you’re really stressed, you always seem to be losing things like your keys…or maybe that’s just me!) One study3—done by researchers at the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital—found that it is possible to reduce stress and improve brain health with just 20 minutes of yoga or meditation a day; these activities, say researchers, may actually encourage the mind to turn off the genes that are activated by stress, which can lead to memory loss.
Also, a new pilot study4 led by researchers are Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center suggests that the brain changes associated with meditation and stress reduction may play an important role in slowing the progression of age-related cognitive disorders like Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. I’m convinced, which is why I’ve signed up for a weekly gentle yoga class—and try to incorporate some of the moves into my everyday routine.
3. Make this the year you learn something new.
Vow to sign up for a new course, learn that language you’ve always been wanting to master, attend a cooking class, or just take up a new hobby like knitting. A lack of learning causes the brain's pathways to start disconnecting, but learning something new everyday stimulates the neuron receptors that help keep brain cells functioning at optimum levels, say researchers at UC Irvine5.
In fact, when it comes to trying something new, learning a second language may actually delay the onset of dementia. In the largest study6 to date—published in the journal Neurology—researchers found that speaking more than one language is thought to lead to better development of the areas of the brain that handle executive functions and attention tasks, which may help protect the brain from dementia.
4. Pledge to exercise regularly—and stick to it.
Exercising keeps your weight down and your heart healthy, reduces stress levels, helps you sleep better, and now a new study7—conducted by researchers at the Center for Brain Health at The University of Texas at Dallas—found that exercising also helps healthy adults improve their memory and brain health as well as their physical fitness. (Exercise really is medicine as that old saying goes!)
Also, in case you need further reason to get moving: working out also allows you to just age better, found research8 published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine. What this means: exercising regularly helps you to maintain your regular activities and relationships without physical or mental disability.
But how to stick with exercise is always the question—and comes up time and time again at the end of January and February, when resolutions start to wane. The one tip I can give you that works for me: go slow and steady. Don’t vow to work out every single day if you know that’s impossible. Don’t vow to run 3 miles every day if you hate running. Do what you love and just do it for 15 minutes every day. Even if you break up those 15 minutes into 3, 5-minute slots, that counts. What you’ll find: when you do what you love slow and steady, you’ll stick with it—and find yourself actually wanting to work out more than 15 minutes. Try it, and you’ll see what I mean.
5. Vow to start exercising your brain, too.
Sure you’re worried about getting more exercise into your daily routine, but broaden your exercise focus to include brain activities, too. Just like the muscles in your body, if you don’t use it (your brain), you will lose it (as you get older).
Cross-train your brain: do exercises that alternately work the left (verbal memory and logic) and right (visual memory) sides of the brain, thereby boosting mental agility over time. Crossword puzzles, games like Sudoku, logic brainteasers, and mathematical word problems all work the left side of your brain. The right side of your brain governs the art of mastering an unfamiliar task like walking backward, learning a complicated dance step, or holding a new yoga posture. Even writing your name backward or with the opposite hand works the right side of your brain…just more reason to try something new every day!
6. Make it a point to eat more colorful foods, every day.
Plant-based foods that are rich in nutrients and antioxidants—such as berries, dark leafy greens, grapes, carrots, beets, and tomatoes—have been proven to keep your body in peak form. But now, new research9 from the University of Georgia College of Pharmacy shows that the antioxidants in these foods can fight oxidative stress (the stress that’s placed on the body by the constant production of damaging molecules called free radicals, which can be triggered by things like pollution, exposure to the sun’s UV rays, cigarette smoke, and more) that slows blood flow to the brain and contributes to the progression of Alzheimer’s Disease. The bottom line: eating these foods is just plain healthy for you all around; aim for at least five servings a day (but try for nine servings, if you can). A serving is a small- to medium piece of fruit or one half cup of fruit or veggies.
Make this your year to be the best you can be; we all have only one body and one brain and one chance in this life to get it right. My New Year’s wish for you: that these tweaks to your routine stick—and make you healthier, happier, and sharper (when it comes to your brain).
Be happy and be well!
1 “Self-reported Sleep and β-Amyloid Deposition in Community-Dwelling Older Adults,” Adam P. Spira, Ph.D., Alyssa A. Gamaldo, Ph.D., et al., JAMA Neurology, October 21, 2013; http://archneur.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=1788611; “Shorter Sleep Duration, Poorer Sleep Quality Linked to Alzheimer’s Disease,” ScienceDaily, October 21, 2013; http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/10/131021162546.htm?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+sciencedaily%2Ftop_news%2Ftop_health+%28ScienceDaily%3A+Top+News+--+Top+Health%29
2 “How Sleep Clears the Brain”, National Institutes of Health, NIH Research Matters, October 28, 2013; http://www.nih.gov/researchmatters/october2013/10282013clear.htm
3 “Genomic counter-stress changes induced by the relaxation response,” JA Dusek, HH Otu, AL Wohlhueter, et al., PLoS One, July 2, 2008; 3 (7), e2576; http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18596974
4 “Stress Reduction Through Meditation May Aid in Slowing the Progression of Alzheimer’s Disease,” Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, November 18, 2013; http://www.newswise.com/articles/view/610507/?sc=mwhn
5 “Learning Helps Keep Brain Healthy, UCI Researchers Find,” UCI Irvine Today, March 2, 2010; http://today.uci.edu/news/2010/03/nr_gall_100302.php
6 “Speaking a Second Language May Delay Different Dementias,” American Academy of Neurology, October 30, 2013; http://www.newswise.com/articles/view/609685/?sc=mwhn
7 “Shorter Term Aerobic Exercise Improves Brain, Cognition, and cardiovascular Fitness in Aging,” Sandra B. Chapman, Sina Aslan, Jeffrey S. Spence, et al., Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience, November 12, 2013; http://www.frontiersin.org/Aging_Neuroscience/10.3389/fnagi.2013.00075/abstract
8 “Taking Up Physical Activity in Later Life and Healthy Ageing: the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing,” Mark Hamer, Kim L Lavoie, Simon L Bacon, British Journal of Sports Medicine, November 25, 2013; http://bjsm.bmj.com/content/early/2013/10/28/bjsports-2013-092993
9 “The Mitochondria-Targeted Antioxidant MitoQ Prevents Loss of Spatial Memory Retention and Early Neuropathology in a Transgenic Mouse Model of Alzheimer's Disease,” Meagan J. McManus, Michael P. Murphy, James L. Franklin; The Journal of Neuroscience, November 2, 2011; http://www.jneurosci.org/content/31/44/15703