If you’re hoping to foster new habits this year that will increase your health and happiness, we’re here to help. Daily exercise, meditation, and even flossing can boost your brain health, but not all habits work in your favor. You probably already know that smoking, sugar and a sedentary lifestyle can wreak havoc on your cardiovascular and cognitive functioning, but what about your drive to work or your morning crossword?
Making Healthy Actions Automatic
Habits and routines give our lives structure and direction. Turning healthy behaviors into habits is important because you want to follow through on those actions even when your motivation is low. That’s one reason the Tiny Habits method is so successful. Often those habits become part of our daily routines, and are so engrained we don’t even have to think about them. In general, that’s a good thing. However, you certainly don’t want to go through life on auto-pilot. Your brain craves novelty and challenge to stay sharp and agile.
Pathways in the Forest
Every new thought or experience sends a tiny spasm of electricity that stimulates dendritic growth and expands your brain volume. Dendrites are like tiny pathways through your brain, and the more of them you have, the greater your cognitive reserve. If a thought or action is repeated, the pathway becomes stronger and it takes less effort to send a signal through. “Neurons that fire together wire together,” as neuroscientists say, and this is exactly how habits are formed: by repeatedly following a trigger with an action, that pathway is solidified in the brain and the action becomes more automatic each time.
Building Cognitive Reserve
Establishing strong pathways that reinforce healthy habits is a good thing. However, you don’t want your brain to become so accustomed to its most well-worn pathways that stagnation sets in. As we age, the plaques and tangles that cause Alzheimer’s disease can choke off even the most established of routes. If one pathway becomes bogged down, it’s good to have plenty of other options. As you continue to learn new things and challenge yourself throughout your life, you increase your cognitive reserve, creating a brain that is both resilient and adaptable.
This Is Your Brain On Novelty
Psychologists call it the “novelty response”, and in some ways it’s the opposite of a habit. Where a habit is so engrained you don’t even have to think about it, a novel experience requires your attention and engagement, but this is precisely why it’s so effective. When you challenge yourself to learn a new word every day, cook a new recipe or take a new class, you activate new neural networks that keep your brain alert and engaged. For the best results, be sure there’s a method to the madness. Build novelty into your day by periodically establishing new habits that challenge your brain in new ways.
Building cognitive reserve doesn’t have to be costly or time-intensive. Come back tomorrow to learn how you can increase your cognitive reserve on your drive to work or even in the shower. Click here to join our groundbreaking new course, Habits for Brain Health. This live, interactive course combines the Tiny Habits method with powerful, practical recipes for keeping your brain sharp now and throughout your life.
If 5 Ways to Improve Your Brain Health in Under 30 Seconds inspired you to care more for your brain in the coming year, click here to receive information about our upcoming course, Habits for Brain Health. If you’re ready to plant some new seeds today, try one or more of the habits below.
These habits may seem simple, but don’t be deceived. Every one of these actions can have lasting long-term effects when they become a part of your everyday life. But you don’t have to wait until your senior years to reap the benefits. The habits that support long-term brain health will also help you to feel healthier and happier while you’re still young. For information on our upcoming brain health course, click here.
Like a thriving coral reef, a healthy brain is the product of millions of tiny units and connections. Every minute of the day you’re making choices that either strengthen that network or tear it down. Exercise, sleep and a nutritious diet have a big impact on brain health, but many brain-boosting behaviors take less than a minute a day.
Over time, these small acts can make a big impact on your brain health. If you’re interested in learning more, sign up here and you’ll receive a special invitation to our upcoming course, Habits for Brain Health.
If only your brain could get a sunburn.
Most of us have neglected the sage 90s advice to “Wear Sunscreen” at least once in our lives. However, a single searing, skin-peeling sunburn is often all it takes to inspire a lifelong commitment to protecting our vulnerable flesh. The lesson may be painful, but it is immediate and effective.
When it comes to our health, most of the negative consequences of the choices we make are not so immediate. If you choose to eat a cheeseburger, you’ll probably feel full and happy afterward. You will not feel the excess fat clogging your arteries and clinging to your midsection or the sodium boosting your blood pressure. A single cheeseburger won’t destroy your health, but if the majority of your meals come wrapped in paper, you’ll feel the effects eventually. Unfortunately, by that time the damage is done and can be difficult to reverse. If the results of an unhealthy habit were as swift and painful as a sunburn, making healthy choices would be much easier.
We now know that our brains change throughout our lives. While the most drastic development occurs in childhood, our brains retain the capacity for growth and change for as long as we live. Our habits can support our brain health or stymie it, but, unlike a sunburn, the consequences may take years and even decades to manifest.
At Tiny Habits Academy, one of our biggest priorities is helping people to build healthy habits for a lifetime of physical and mental wellbeing. If you have a brain and are getting older (and we’re pretty sure that covers all of our readers here) then you are making choices every day that may determine whether you become one of the 5.3 million people who suffer from Alzheimer’s disease each year.
Doctors and scientists are still working to understand Alzheimer’s disease, which afflicts one in nine people over the age of 65, and over half of seniors over 85. However, they have been able to pinpoint a number of contributing factors, including:
Some of these risk factors are beyond our control, but many are not. A healthy brain at 65 (or 85) is the product of a lifetime of heathy choices. Over the next few weeks and months we’ll feature blog posts and special webinars to help you build the kinds of habits that act as heavy-duty SPF for your brain, protecting it from damage now and in the years to come.
We are launching a new Habits for Brain Health course. What to be the first to know when that happens? Click here —> http://bit.ly/Brain-Health-Habits