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Make Mother’s Day about Wellness and Self-Care

We can all agree that mothers do it all; a feat that requires a lot of brain power! As we age and the kids grow up, we often lose the efficiency that we used to have by constantly engaging in all of these activities. But a healthy mind is a happy one, and it’s important to find ways to keep your mind sharp.

If you’re stumped on what to get that important woman in your life this Mother’s Day, perhaps you should consider the gift of preventative wellness and self-care. According to Synaptitude Brain Health, there are five pillars of brain health to account for: cognition, stress, sleep, exercise, nutrition.

By taking care of these pillars, you are engaging in preventative wellness, or in other words, by effectively training your brain as you would a muscle, you are actually preventing age-related diseases like Alzheimer’s from taking root in the first place.

That’s why I have assembled some no-brainer activities for Mom’s special day that hit all five pillars of brain health, and will ensure you have her just as she is, for many more Mother’s Days to come.

Nutrition: Go Mediterranean

In a study that tracked aging adults following the Mediterranean diet, participants’ risk of getting Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia decreased by 45%-48%!

This delicious sounding diet involves high consumption of foods you probably already like: vegetables, legumes, fruits, nuts, cereals, and monounsaturated fatty acids (e.g., olive oil). It also involves moderate consumption of fish and dairy, like cheese; and lower consumption of red meat, and saturated fats.

So why not get together for a day of cooking delicious, Mediterranean-inspired dishes? Eating good food and spending time engaging with loved ones is a great way to meet the nutrition needs of brain health. Enjoy eating all of the colours of the rainbow as you chat, laugh, listen to music and admire the final result.

Exercise: Head to Yoga or Hit the Courts

Incorporating short and simple activities like walking, gardening, and cycling for at least 20 minutes a day can support brain function. The exact amount and type of exercise that you should do will depend on many factors, including your age and fitness level. The appropriate amount and type of activity for a fit 60-year-old will be very different than what is appropriate for a frail 85-year-old.

When thinking about exercise, many people would focus on cardio activities like running, swimming, or bicycling. However, scientific studies have shown that older adults who engage in strength (resistance) training also boost their brain.

A study of a group of 70 year old women in Australia showed that doing light strength training like light Pilates or weight lifting for 6 months improved participants’ cognitive health. They showed sharper muscle control and improvements in memory.

They also showed changes in brain connectivity and increased thickness in parts of their cortex. Adding resistance training alongside cardio is not only good for the brain, but it also keeps your workout routine fresh and fun.

Remember, resistance training can include all sorts of fun weight-bearing exercises like yoga, dancing, hiking, and tennis. So pick one – or pick all – and get your family moving with a group class or energizing activity.

Stress: Throw a Small (or Virtual) Party

Maintaining an active social life and diverse friendships is good for your brain because social interactions engage your memory, attention, and other cognitive abilities.

Get your kids or siblings together for a fun evening, maybe some friends or neighbours, or set up a few online calls with girlfriends and have a laugh. Don’t be afraid to get silly by throwing a themed party, wear costumes, play some games or indulge in anything relaxing and fun with a group of people you love. Your brains will thank you for it.

Cognition: Strengthen Your Brain Like a Muscle

If you target cognitive training to your weak spots, you can reduce your risk of dementia better than any drug or supplement on the market. As you get older, your brain continues to make new neurons and strengthen connections when you engage in cognitively stimulating activities and physical exercise.

Using your brain to adapt and respond to new experiences and learning is critical to its continued plasticity.

Hobbies, adventures and education are treatments that should be prescribed by medical practitioners to people as they age because of how good it is for you across so many health indicators. Instead, we’re prescribing it for Mother’s Day!

Were you and Mom planning a trip together? Maybe you can take a class on the history of that country or learn the native language. Or perhaps you’re looking to develop your green thumb and your mom is a seasoned gardener who can teach you, while strengthening her own neural pathways.

Whatever your interest, it’s a great opportunity to spend quality time with your loved ones while improving your overall health.

Sleep: Get Out in Nature to Improve Your Chances of Hitting REM Sleep

Recent science has shown that during sleep, you clear out beta amyloid (the Alzheimer plaque protein) from your brain. In addition, you actually replay and rehearse the memories of the day. Strengthening your Circadian rhythms by exposure to light at the right times of day can improve your sleep, as can exercise and stress reducing techniques.

So take Mom for a walk in the park, or practice “forest bathing” to reduce your stress and improve your sleep.

The Best Mother’s Day Gift

The best tangible gift for your mom, or whomever you may be celebrating with this Mother’s Day, is the gift of improving their brain for the long term. Not only does improving your brain help you maximize your quality of life today, but it will protect you against age-related diseases tomorrow.

Knowing your mom’s health is being looked after will have both you and her sleeping more soundly.  

What brain-stimulating activities does your mother like to do? How do you support her – and your – brain health? How can you integrate brain-healthy activities into your typical Mother’s Day traditions?

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The Author

Dr. Max Cynader is one of Canada's leading Neuroscientists. Winner of many awards (Order of Canada, Order of British Columbia, Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, Canadian Medical Hall of Fame), he is the Founding Director of the University of British Columbia's Brain Research Centre and Centre for Brain Health. His research focuses on Neurodegeneration and The Aging Brain.

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