Don’t let the triple digit heat send your brain on vacation

imagesCATD1WDHA predictable pattern emerges when the mercury climbs: We stay inside and scrap some of the normal activities we would otherwise do. Instead of going for our daily walk or chatting with neighbors over the fence or heading to lunch with a friend, we end up staying inside, watching too much television and eating too much for our increasingly sedentary activity level.

So what’s the problem with taking a little break?

Think about what happens when you stop going to the gym. The next time you get back on that treadmill or lift weights, it’s a little harder. You’ve lost some ground.

A bicep muscle and a brain are similar in that way: It’s really important as we age to maintain a certain regimen or structure in our life.

Particularly for those who already have cognitive, mental health or physical challenges, letting routines and networks lapse tends to lead to faster decline.

We know that brain health is directly tied to cognitive stimulation. If those brain connections aren’t engaging, people tend to develop new problems, including depression, which is particularly common among older people who live alone and may be facing sadness, isolation and loneliness.

Here are a few suggestions on how to maintain brain health despite the heat:

  • Tap a passion. What is it that  stimulates you cognitively? Do you gravitate to crossword puzzles, chess, checkers or bridge? Do you like to write? Then continue to do that in the summer, even if it means changing your schedule to take advantage of the cooler mornings or evenings.
  • Get wet. Take advantage of a friend’s pool or a community pool, or try a water aerobics class at a local gym. Get a noodle and get kicking.
  • Stay social. Instead of meeting a friend for lunch, go for breakfast. Take an early morning walk and chat with your neighbors. If you have Skype or FaceTime, use them! Eye contact is vital in relationship-building. If you like online games, they’re a good option when taking refuge from the midday heat, but just remember they’re no replacement for human connections.
  • Connect with your community. Neighborhood cleanup crews or park docents may not be the right fit for this particular season, but there are lots of air-conditioned opportunities to volunteer for a church or a nonprofit. Consider visiting the library or joining a book club or a conversation circle.

This is not to say you shouldn’t take time for high quality downtime. Science is showing the benefits of taking time away from constant mental challenges to allow the mind to daydream and wander. Power naps can also be restorative.

But summer vacation typically isn’t synonymous with vast amounts of downtime anyway.  Think about previous breaks from your everyday routine. You might have taken a book with you, visited a museum, tackled a new project or had new cultural experiences. That’s the recipe for healthy brain function, no matter the season.

Terri Waldman

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