En español | If you're over 50, you probably know that exercising and eating right will keep your brain healthy and your mind sharp. But there's more you can do than just jump on the Sudoku or crossword puzzle bandwagon. One of the best ways to prevent cognitive decline is to free ourselves from mind-numbing ruts and routines and embark on pleasurable new adventures.
In his to-do list for maintaining a healthy brain, neuroscientist and best-selling author Dr. Daniel Amen emphasizes the importance of making time for wonderful experiences, with some excitement and stimulation along the way. Here are some strategies for getting started.
1. Set your intention and be prepared to take some risks. There's no way around it. Breaking habitual patterns involves risk-taking, which, though sometimes scary, is part of the fun. As Will Rogers put it, "You've got to go out on a limb sometimes, because that's where the fruit is." If you're risk-averse but yearn to add some zest to your life, start small. Invite a potential new friend to lunch. Surprise a loved one (this could be yourself) with a spontaneous weekend excursion to a place you've never been. Change doesn't need to be earthshaking to wake you up.
2. Unplug for a day — or an hour or a week. This may sound counterintuitive, but for many of us, unplugging from our electronic devices, including TVs and telephones (for those who still indulge in actual conversation), is tantamount to being cast out of our personal comfort zone. Without our electronic distractions, we can tune into what's going on in our hearts and minds, and clarify what really matters. What's more, in silence our five senses come alive. Suddenly, we see the numbingly familiar with fresh eyes.
3. Take a leap. Sign up for a safari, take a painting or acting class, learn to play the piano or speak a foreign language — in other words, do the thing you've always dreamed of doing but haven't had the time or courage to try. Alternatively, rediscover painting, acting, piano or any other youthful passion that you gave up to become a sensible, responsible grown-up. Your time starts now.
4. Challenge your beliefs about yourself. If you're one of the gazillions of self-doubters whose inner dialogue includes statements such as I can't, I'm not good enough, I don't have the talent, I'm too old, scared, shy, lazy, incompetent, _______ (fill in the blank), stop right now and ask yourself: "Is this belief really true?" Chances are it's something you gleaned during childhood that has no basis in reality. Identifying negative ideas about ourselves helps to free us from acting on them.
5. Never automatically say no. When presented with a new opportunity or invited to do something out of the ordinary, is your immediate response to say no? If so, take some time to reflect on your resistance. Are you reacting out of fear? Would you be interested if you weren't afraid? Is the new opportunity worth a shot despite your concerns? Very often, fear and excitement go hand in hand.
6. Take the short view and try something new each day. Walk to work instead of driving, sample a cuisine you've never tasted, go to a museum or concert instead of your local movie theater or, worse, plopping down on your living room sofa. Even small changes make us feel as though we're not sleepwalking through our days and prepare us for more significant jolts to our routine. "Do one thing every day that scares you," advised Eleanor Roosevelt.
7. Take the long view and write a personal mission statement. Some people call this a bucket list. What's yours? By now you're probably aware that time is both precious and limited. This awareness is actually a gift that can help you make choices that add meaning to your life. Mark Twain said, "Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover."