Look after your mind

2.1 Keep your brain active – use it or lose it

This seems to delay the onset of dementia - perhaps by building what researchers describe as a ‘cognitive reserve’ in your brain.

There’s also a well known, large, and persistent association between education and health (which exercises our brain). That’s according to a 2014 report by the National Bureau of Economic Research  in the US.

Practical tip – Learn a new language, sport or musical instrument. Explore the arts, humanities or sciences. Develop your IT or craft skills.

2.2  Have a sense of purpose

Feeling you have a sense of purpose in life may help you live longer,whatever your age. It may even delay the onset of Alzheimer’s.

Most studies have shown that religious involvement and spirituality are also associated with better health outcomes. This includes living longer and health related quality of life, as well as less anxiety, depression and suicide.

Practical tip – Asking these questions may help identify or reinforce our sense of purpose: What beliefs, skills and interests do I have? What goals and objectives would I like to achieve? When do I feel most motivated? When do I feel most spiritual?

2.3 Think Positive

A number of studies have suggested that optimistic people live longer than those who are pessimistic – as in a 40 year follow up study of 7000 College students.

Practical tip – Here’s a link to some practical suggestions to help you think more positively.

2.4 Stay prudent, conscientious and persistent

These are factors likely to help you live longer. They mean you are less likely to take health threatening risks and more likely to make healthy life choices. There may even be a biological influence, due to different serotonin levels in the brain. That’s according to The Longevity Project, based on 20 years research.

Practical tip – You can’t change your character overnight. However, if you know there could be serious health consequences this may help you take fewer risks and follow through more often on things you’ve started.  

2.5 Manage stress

The Mayo Clinic suggests long term stress may have both a direct health effect (e.g. on blood pressure) and an indirect health effect (where it leads to smoking or overeating due to nervous tension). 

Practical tip – Tai Chi, exercise, a Mediterranean Diet and not smoking all seem to help manage the symptoms of stress.

2.6 Laughter the best medicine?

Is laughter the best medicine? It is associated with a number of health benefits, like pain relief, a healthier heart and a stronger immune system. However, is laughter itself the cause or is it the symptom of other health promoting factors, like social interaction and a positive approach to life?

Practical tip – Whether symptom or cause laughter seems to be good for our quality of life. So, enjoy a laugh with family and friends or watching your favourite comedy on TV. In emergency there’s even laughter therapy.

Michael Baber

Published July 2014, Review date May 2017