Valentine’s Day is here. We’re all used to showering our appreciation on the ones we love on that day. But what if we shifted our focus to loving ourselves instead?
The past year has been tough, but taking time for ourselves can lead to self-fulfilment and longevity. You might be surprised to learn that brain-health science has a lot to say about how you can do so this February 14!
In the winter months, it’s not unusual for us to feel in a constant slump. The shorter day length conspires to make us see less sunlight and so produce less vitamin D, which affects our immune system, promotes osteoporosis, and leads to depression.
A shortfall in sunlight throws our internal clock, otherwise known as our circadian rhythm, out of sync. We become more prone to sleep disorders, stress, and anxiety. Regulating sleep is particularly important as we enter our golden years, since we become more susceptible to disorders like Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, and poor sleep is a big risk factor.
But by addressing the five pillars of brain health (sleep, diet, exercise, cognition, and stress), we can show our brains a little tenderness, love, and care.
Getting adequate amounts of sleep is one of the most beneficial things you can let yourself do. While we sleep, the brain is restored, and a network of vessels that have recently been discovered, called the Glymphatic system, removes toxins from our brain. The removal of these toxins reduces cognitive decline and improves memory.
However, getting the right amount of sleep is critical, rather than simply as much as possible. Rather than staying inside with the curtains closed until sundown, expose yourself to plenty of natural light during the day, and make sure you get a 10,000 lux dose of light (moderate sunshine) in the morning.
Be careful not to overuse any devices with screens an hour before bed. Device screens produce a lot of blue light, which disrupts your circadian rhythm and can make getting to sleep more difficult.
It’s normal to feel stressed by life’s events. But you know what’s a good stress reliever? Sex!
When we engage in this pleasure, a tiny five-gram part of our brain called the Hypothalamus is activated. The Hypothalamus is the “master gland” of the body, and plays a critical role in controlling eating, drinking, sex, body temperature, sleep, and biological drives in general.
Think of it as Freud’s “id.” Having sex triggers reward circuits that pass through the Hypothalamus, and just like exercise, causes endorphins to be released, giving us a mental boost and alleviating stress.
There’s also an important emotional benefit to having sex: It makes us feel more connected to our partner and helps us to ward off feelings of loneliness.
As we enter our golden years, it’s normal for us to find some difficulties in enjoying sex the way we used to. Menopause can be associated with thinning of the vaginal walls, making intercourse painful for some women. And for men, erectile dysfunction becomes more likely as the years go by.
Fortunately, there are ways to combat these issues. Talk to your doctor about treatments that can get you back in business.
And after 50 years as a brain researcher and neuroscientist, I can confidently tell you that when it comes to brain health, you do not have to accept a lesser you. There are sensible, evidence-based strategies that will make you feel better today and protect your brain for the long term.
That is why we created Synaptitude, a brain health assessment tool and improvement program to help people understand their risks and take practical steps to reduce them.
Looking to treat yourself? How about some dark chocolate? Chocolate with a cacao content of over 60% can improve our learning, memory, and cognition thanks to flavonoids, the antioxidants found in this treat. So, go ahead and buy some heart-shaped dark chocolate at your local grocery store!
Don’t have a sweet tooth? How about some cheese? According to a study that tracked aging adults who followed the Mediterranean diet, moderate consumption of dairy reduced participants’ risk of getting Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia by between 45% and 48%!
Whether it’s Brie, Cheddar, or Gouda, eating a bit of cheese can reduce your risk of cognitive decline.
Give your heart the love it needs this Valentine’s Day by doing some cardio. Simple activities like walking, Pilates, and stationary cycling can have enormous health benefits. Getting your body to move helps you to relax, improves your ability to learn and remember, enhances your attention span, and makes you less susceptible to stress.
If you are going to do your exercise outside at this frigid time of year, make sure to warm up, and cover your nose and mouth once you’re outside.
Invest in yourself and fall in love with a new hobby. Studies show that individuals with greater cognitive reserve, developed by a lifetime of education and curiosity, are better able to prevent the brain changes associated with dementia.
And learning to play a new musical instrument or to speak a new language can slow the rate of dementia, regardless of age. Whether it be the ukulele, the violin, French, or Russian, find something new to be passionate about!
What better way to celebrate this holiday than to give yourself the love you deserve? Taking care of ourselves can lead to better relationships, happier aging, and a healthier mind.
Sleeping, getting a little frisky, eating chocolate, jumping around, and learning a new skill are all simple things we can do for ourselves to boost cognitive function and decrease the risk of decline.
Love can come in different forms. Sometimes we need a little reminder that one of them is loving ourselves by adopting new habits that will keep us healthy and happy now and in the future.
We created the Synaptitude brain-health program so you can personalize and optimize your sleep, diet, exercise, stress, and cognitive function, as well as track your progress. To learn more about the program, check out our brain-health assessment.
How are you planning to stimulate your brain this Valentine’s Day? What can you do for yourself – regardless of whether you have a partner or not – to feel special on this day?
Tags Brain Health