May is Mental Health Awareness month. From genetics and neurochemistry to lifestyle and aging, there are countless variables that go into mental well-being. At Brandermill Woods, we’re particularly concerned with mental health of seniors, who are vulnerable to depression, social isolation and more.
In our retirement community, we promote an active lifestyle and maintain a full calendar of social events to keep our residents engaged and in good spirits. But day-to-day lifestyle also plays a strong role in keeping the mind in good working order. Like any other machine, the brain can be overworked and sapped of energy—yet contemporary neuroscientists know more than ever about how to re-charge your batteries and strengthen your mental health.
Here are five recommendations drawn from neuroscientific research:
1. Take a “brain break.” If you’re performing an activity that requires concentration, Edutopia recommends taking “brain breaks”—a 3- to 5-minute rest every half an hour. In your brain, neurotransmitters carry information from one cell to the next, but neurotransmitters can become easily depleted. Taking a break allows your brain to re-charge and will improve your performance when you return to the task.
2. Take a walk. Old nature writers like Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote about the value of getting back to nature, but now cognitive research shows that talking a walk in the woods rejuvenates the brain. Studies indicate that walking helps improve blood supply to the brain through the force of the feet against the ground. So if you’re feeling blue or sluggish, try starting your day with a brisk walk to improve blood flow and optimize brain functioning.
3. Exercise for 20 to 30 minutes. Everyone touts exercise as a cornerstone for healthy living, but more and more research is showing just how powerful exercise truly is. Harvard reports that exercise slows cognitive decline, improves mental health and sharpens decision-making. It also helps you control blood pressure, reduces the risks of cardiovascular disease, and generally improves mental and physical well-being.
4. Meet up with a friend. The neurochemical oxytocin is a “feel-good” hormone that gives you a boost and improves your general mood. Neuroscientists believe that meeting up with a friend stimulates the release of oxytocin—thus promoting good mental health. Humans are social beings, and face-to-face relationships make us feel better and, as recently reported in the Boston Globe, may help us live longer.
5. Get a good night’s sleep. Americans are famous for our workaholic tendencies, and in our fast-paced world of multi-tasking, sleep is often the first thing to go. But sleep is crucial for allowing the brain to “reset,” interfering with memory, concentration and mood. While scientists still have much to learn, it’s clear that 7-8 hours of shuteye every day is a crucial ingredient for mental health.
We recommend these techniques to everyone, young and old, retired or working. For more information about Mental Health Awareness Month, visit the National Alliance on Mental Illness or Mental Health America.