by Dr. Daniel Riordan IV, ND
I think we have all seen the social media posts about 2020 not going quite as swimmingly as we had all hoped for.
There is a lot going on right now and with that, I tell my patients that currently it is okay…to not be okay.
Working from home and online learning are a new norm for at least the next while. Here at AIM we have had a lot of patients that have been concerned about focus and what they can do to keep their brain functioning at high levels and there a few things that you can be doing right now.
First of all, cut yourself some slack. As I said before, it is okay to not be okay. Social distancing is hard on all of us. Doctors aren’t immune to all of this. My partner and I just went away for the weekend for the first time since the pandemic began. It was a pretty simple trip to Eastern Washington and we did not do much other than go into the hot tub, sit down at the river, and go on a hike. However, the change of scenery alone was a breath of fresh air and a recharge.
Find your own change of scenery that can help recharge your batteries. Go on that hike on that one trail you have always wanted to do. Drive to the coast and watch the sunset. Drive through the Northwest Trek Wildlife Park. Whatever it is for you that can give you a change of scenery.
The second thing you can do for your brain health is set a routine. Quarantine has ruined any kind of routine for most people. Our brains respond well to routine. Think about all the things you were doing before you were working from home. Set your alarm. If you previously went to the gym in the morning, go for a run or bike ride around your neighborhood. Take your shower and get dressed as if you were leaving the house. Instead of snacking all day because you’re at home, take set breaks like you would have at work. I had a patient the other day said he used to bike to work and he missed the exercise. I told him he can still “bike to work” and that he should get up just like he did before, bike around the neighborhood and then come back into the house and start work.
While we are on the subject of biking, get out and exercise. Exercise that increases your heart rate increases your blood flow and consequently increases the blood flow to your brain. There are studies that have shown regular exercises helps decrease the risk of cognitive decline. Just as I said above, it does not have to be any intense workout that requires you to go to a gym. Most studies have shown that increasing your pulse to your target heart rate for 20 minutes 3-4 times a week can have a big impact on your health. Exercise can also decrease cholesterol, high blood pressure, and your risk for diabetes, which studies have shown that those also negatively impact your cognitive health. If you need help understanding what your target heart rate is or what is a safe amount of exercise is for you, your AIM doctor can help you with that.
The next area that is important for your brain health is sleep. This is no surprise to any of us. Of course, when we get a good night’s sleep we have energy and we feel better. Part of that could be because sleep seems to play an important role on the functions of our brain. Our brain stays very active while we sleep. Newer research is also pointing that sleep is extremely important in cleaning out toxins of our brain. There are large amounts of cerebral spinal fluid that moves through the brain during sleep and scientists are hypothesizing that is what is responsible for carrying away harmful proteins which collect during our wake hours which may reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
Finally, another great way to keep a healthy brain is to keep learning. One of the few advantages of COVID is that learning opportunities have been made free or greatly discounted. Research has shown that when you learn something new and it is challenging to you as opposed to just busying your mind with something like a crossword, your memory actually increases. It is easier now than ever to find those classes that can help you with self improvement that you have always wanted to do such as learning another language, public speaking, or painting.
Most of the things I listed off are all things we already know and are either low cost, or even better, FREE. The cost is mostly just effort. Putting in a little effort now can make a lifetime of difference later.
Take care out there. Be safe, healthy and remember that we’re here for you!