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Mind, Body and Soul

The holidays are over and so is 2018, and we understand if you’re feeling a little bruised, weary, ready for a reset. January is a good time for that, and for some self-repair. Fortunately, you don’t have to look far to find soothing balm. For some, gazing at a snow-topped Mount Baker, bathed in winter’s alpine glow, can do the trick. For others, it’s art or music, a day at the spa or in a bubbly tub. Healing — the process of making or becoming sound or healthy again — sounds perfect for this time of year. Over the next few pages, we give you some ideas to start repairing mind, body, soul. So find a comfortable nook, pour a mug of hot tea, and settle in. (You might want to gather some coloring pencils, too.) Enjoy.


Ways to Exercise your Brain: Puzzles, Juggling, Even Adult Coloring

We’ve all done it — walked into a room only to forget why; forgotten someone’s name mere seconds after an introduction; kicked yourself for failing to recall the name of a famous singer or actor or movie title; or completely missed an appointment, even though you wrote it down.

Frustrating, yes. But also unsettling. Should you be worried?

In many cases, no. Studies have shown that you can help prevent cognitive decline and reduce the risk of dementia with habits like getting enough sleep, staying physically active, socializing, not smoking or drinking to excess, and eating a balanced diet, says research from Harvard Medical School. It also shows that exercising your brain — just like your body — helps maintain individual brain cells and stimulate communication among them. Companies like Lumosity use science to develop various games to sharpen your brain. But here are some other ways to do that.

PLAY CARDS

Bridge’s intricacies, strategy and social component make it good for your brain. But many card games will give you a mental workout.

JUGGLE

Scientists have found practicing this skill tweaks your brain cells. The brain’s “white matter,” the areas that hold outgrowths of nerve cells that connect different cells, grows when we juggle. Best of all, you don’t have to be good at juggling to grow your brain. “More white matter on its own might mean you can move more quickly, but you’d need the gray matter to make sure your hands were in the right place,” said Arne May, a German scientist, in NewScience magazine. Don’t worry — you don’t have to juggle forever. Even when you stop, the brain matter’s growth remains.

PLAY WORD GAMES

Number puzzles like Sudoku helps with problem solving, memory and strategy. The idea is it activates parts of your brain that you don’t normally use in everyday activity, says a story in a Humana newsletter. But to maintain the benefits, you have to keep making the games more challenging by increasing the puzzle’s difficulty. Crossword puzzles can be fine, but change your routine to do different games on a regular basis.

USE YOUR SENSES

A study showed that pairing images with, say, a smell, made it easier to remember them, said the Harvard Medical School story. Engage as many of your senses as you can: Try to identify, through smell, different spices in a dish. Close your eyes and try to name different textures, by feel, in artwork. Listen to music and pick out various instruments.

SOCIALIZE

New people, new conversations, new settings. Getting out of the house helps. Go ahead and party. It will help your brain!

CONTINUE TO LEARN

A high education level is connected to better brain function as you get older. But you can also exercise that academic brain now. Take a college class. Bellingham’s Western Washington University provides tuition waivers for people 60 and over to “audit” — or sit in on — courses. (See wwu.edu for more information.) Learn something new or refresh your memory from college or high school classes. The key is “the new.” A Harvard Medical School study found that while a job can keep you mentally active, a hobby, a new skill or volunteering for a project that involves a new skill can also help improve memory.

SAY IT OUT LOUD

Repeat what you want to remember. For instance, if you’ve just been introduced to someone, say, “Hello, Caroline. When did you meet James?”

USE A PLANNER

This frees up brain space to learn and remember more important stuff. Don’t let your brain get too cluttered with things like maps, directions, shopping lists and appointments that can easily be trusted to your phone calendar or old-school desk calendar. Keep a designated space for those annoyingly easy-to-misplace items like car keys, wallet or purse, glasses, etc.

FINALLY, COLOR

Adult coloring is said to activate the parts of your brain used for motor skills, logic and organization. Keeping your mind sharp sometimes requires giving your brain a time-out. Now socially acceptable — it IS, right? — adult coloring has come to hobby shops and dentist waiting rooms. The concept is nothing new to people who tune out with other relaxing, meditative activities like weeding or knitting, which require your attention to be focused on something other than self-awareness, according to the Cleveland Clinic newsletter, “Health Essentials.” After all, can’t we all use a break from outside events? The simple act of coloring relaxes the brain, and it’s low-stakes. Go ahead. Color outside the lines. We don’t care. Grab some colored pencils and disappear for a while. To download a free coloring page to print, click here!

To read our Fit Plan for Life Feature, click here.

"It also shows that exercising your brain — just like your body — helps maintain individual brain cells and stimulate communication among them."