Is better health and wellbeing on your radar this year?
Determining to do better in the health department is a noble pursuit as countless media articles; books and health practitioners keep advising us.
But is your program to improve your physical fitness and mental wellbeing complete?
Because wellness is a trifecta, that also includes your cognitive health.
Your cognition is how well you think, learn and remember.
Enjoying better cognitive health is a must because it provides you the adaptability, resilience and mental flexibility required to be effective at learning, consistent in your decision-making and quick at problem solving. Staying fit, fast and focused is essential in a world that is changing faster than you can say knife.
What does cognitive health look like?
It includes your ability to pay attention, your working memory; the ability to hold onto information for long enough to manipulate and use, your episodic memory for those times and events that were significant to you and often have a strong emotional component, your speed of processing and executive function or ability to mentally regulate your thinking.
It sounds a lot, but of course your magnificent brain is a dab hand at looking after your thinking prowess. The trouble is things can start to fall apart in the thinking department if you’re experiencing too much stress, are feeling chronically overwhelmed or are just plain exhausted.
Just like our other types of health, taking care of our cognition is about that daily routine that keeps you thinking well in all weathers, come rain, hail or shine.
How do your know if your brain is working well?
Good question and up until fairly recently the answer would have been an embarrassing “we’re not sure.”
Unsurprisingly, the latest digital technologies have provided a solution with cognitive assessment tools now readily available that provide a snap shot view of just how good your cognitive ability is on a given day, compared to others of your age, gender and educational background.
That’s all very nice to know, but so what?
The so what is firstly it can be hugely reassuring to know your brain isn’t broken, especially if you’re been under what feels like indeterminably long and horrible levels of stress, or you’ve been ill, depressed, anxious, sustained a head injury, had chemo or other significant event that feels as if it’s dampened down your ability to think.
As recently revealed, baby brain for example has now been shown by the research to be real – well I guess we knew that, but it’s good to have it validated. Then there’s menopause brain, parent of non- sleeping toddler brain, parent of risk-taking adolescent brain and the I’ve just been promoted to a position I’m not sure I can handle brain to name just a couple of variants.
The truth is worry, stress and lack of sleep account for a lot of mistakes, distracted behaviours and bad decisions.
Secondly if the assessment does highlight an area of weakness it provides the opportunity for a conversation; is this an area you’ve always had trouble with, is there something else going on that might be contributing to this, or is this an unexpected finding?
Then, depending on the outcome of the debrief, a tailored program can be provided to help you improve in that area of cognitive performance over the course of three to six months of cognitive training.
What if the test tells me something I don’t want to know?
No one likes to be told there’s something wrong. While the vast majority will be relieved to know all is well or possibly in need of just some minor adjustment, picking up a problem on this type of assessment means it’s probably being picked up extremely early, which gives you time to start putting in place those lifestyle choices and cognitive training as shown by the science to best support your thinking skills.
As the technology continues to improve it won’t be long before attending for your cognitive health assessment will be just as normal as those other well-woman checks.
What helps to boost cognitive health?
- Look after your physical health
Two slightly scary statistics to be aware of.
Cognitive decline is now believed to start in our mid forties. Yikes! Your cognitive peak is at age 24, which means the time to start looking after your cognitive health was yesterday.
Secondly many of modern society’s chronic health problems; obesity, type-two diabetes, midlife hypertension, heart disease, smoking, inadequate physical activity and low educational attainment all contribute to cognitive decline.
Quitting the smokes, keeping your weight to the healthy range and your blood pressure and blood sugar well controlled all help.
Choosing to get more physically active is one of the best things any of us can do to support our brain health and can start with something as simple as deciding to walk more.
- Look after your mental wellbeing.
Loneliness, stress, anxiety and depression all contribute to poorer thinking.
Taking time out to socialize, engage in regular stress busting activities such as listening to music, meditation, breathing exercises, physical exercise, getting creative and spending time outside can all make a positive difference.
- Choose your lifestyle
It’s easy to blame the world, our partner, our kids or the boss for us not being as switched on and super brain fit as we’d like to be, but the truth is it requires our conscious decision to place high value on those non-negotiables, the things you know make the biggest difference to how you show up every day – like getting enough sleep, taking sufficient time out for you, making healthy food choices and spending time with those who mean the most.
Enjoying greater cognitive health means you’re more focused, productive and get more out of everything you do. The result?
A greater sense of pride, purpose and better relationships. All of which lead to greater happiness in life and work.
To make 2018 your best year ever, it’s time to add in cognitive health to your wellbeing program, starting from today.
Dr Jenny Brockis is the Brain Fitness Doctor, specialising in brain fitness and mental performance and the author of the best seller Future Brain (Wiley) She works with business leaders to create workplace cultures that enhance and support all brains at work www.drjennybrockis.com