The Wellness Pyramid represents an entire lifestyle. Unlike many medical treatments, this lifestyle offers additional benefits rather than potential side effects. The drawback is the greater commitment required to adopt an entire lifestyle. This last installment for Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness month gives a few lifestyle “shortcuts” that efficiently covers all the bases.
Let’s start with two basic life orientations. The older you get the more you need to simplify, which most elderly people instinctively know and heed, but that really is good advice no matter what your age. You do not need to be wealthy or have many things to have brain health, emotional health or longevity. Having wealth increases the choices for healthy activities, but wanting wealth undermines the most important of brain health conditions, contentment. Consequently, simplifying your life to be content is a state of mind. You must not want much, whether or not you have much.
Ironically, one healthy activity for your brain would be not to retire. You can and should leave your previous career behind, but your brain benefits from having the purpose that something like a career provides. If you are able to retire financially your new “career” could be volunteering or an engaging hobby. Yet even if you do have to draw income your new “career” should be a means of enhancing, not undermining, your brain health.
The reason you should leave your previous “career” is to expand your opportunities to learn. This really is good advice for any age. The goal of getting a gold watch for working forty years at the same company may not be doing your brain any favors, unless providing continuous learning opportunities, or some other continuous benefit like joy or socialization. You should not remain employed at the same job past the point of burnout to maximize your retirement benefits, not if brain health matters to you. I personally have witnessed this retirement strategy backfire a few times.
By now you know that your lifestyle should involve moderate exercise. Different types of exercise provide different additional benefits. Trail running or brisk hiking on hilly terrain, dancing or certain types of yoga provide a variety of benefits. If you get moderate exercise in other ways then the type of yoga does not matter, all yoga provides contentment and dexterity benefits. Otherwise you might want to incorporate a type of yoga that really enhances cardiovascular fitness.
My personal recommendation for moderate exercise would be to incorporate a hobby into hiking over challenging, beautiful landscapes. The challenging terrain, especially if it includes rock hopping, will contribute to dexterity as well as moderate exercise. At least for me, hiking over beautiful terrain on a beautiful day stimulates feelings of both awe and joy, plus an infusion of Vitamin D. The right type of hobby, such as identifying plants, engages active learning as well. Hiking with someone else could add the health benefit of socializing, but this should not be at the cost of forsaking moderate exercise for milder exercise.
When creating the Wellness Pyramid I was tempted to place music on the Brain Enhancement level. Music helps the brain in a variety of potential ways, depending on the type of musical pursuit. Learning, dexterity, awe, joy, Contentment and even socializing are possible brain health benefits from music. Yet each of these benefits can be met in other ways; the advantage with music is providing multiple benefits through one activity.
If you are musically inclined my personal recommendation is to learn a new instrument and/or compose songs that you perform at open mics or small, appreciative groups like nursing homes. If you are experienced enough become part of a band of buddies, even if you only record. If you are musically challenged consider other finger dexterity hobbies such as joining a knitting or quilting circle.
Consider this in terms of three hobbies you should incorporate into your normal, daily routine. Your daily work, moderate exercise and finger dexterity hobbies each should be chosen and pursued with multiple brain health benefits in mind. Add to that lifestyle a healthy diet rich in antioxidants, plenty of rest and a minimum of stress and you will be living well.
Do you need to incorporate everything from the Wellness Pyramid for longevity and good brain health? Perhaps not, but why live long and joyless, or be sharp as a tack and alone. Brain health ingredients are appealing precisely because they are all about living well, which is its own reward.