Category: The good news (page 1 of 8)

Sharpening our 50+ brains.

 

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What’s a 6-letter word that means peaceful?

Silent? No, that won’t fit. Dreamy? No, not unless you’re talking like a teenager in the 1950s. Wow, do I remember watching those Beach Blanket movies…I think “dreamy” was all Gidget ever said….let’s see….6 letters…oh wait…it’s placid. Yes, that fits nicely. Wasn’t there a movie about a giant alligator that somehow migrated to Lake Placid? Who was in that again? Bridgett Fonda? Isn’t she the daughter of that guy who rode the motorcycle in the desert with Jack Nicholson? Boy, I’d love to visit the desert again….

Think I can’t keep my mind still? You’re right. But that’s a good thing. Just working a crossword puzzle forces my mind to reach back, make connections, think about new things and remember. All great exercises for my over-50-and-tired synapses.

A crossword puzzle is just one form of mental aerobics. Even better for a 50+ brain is learning something completely new. (And no, I’m not talking about how to program your new cell phone. For just a moment, let’s branch out a bit further.)

Like learning how to speak French. Taking a course in Native American culture. Enrolling in a ceramics course. Tackling Bach on the piano. Studying the classics.

Things that give your noggin a real workout.

 

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Learning new things is important as we boomers get older. But so is working our muscles.

Reports have been coming out lately saying, “sitting is the new smoking.” We just plain sit too much. Whether it’s at a desk, on the couch or even on a bench in the park, we tend to not realize how much time is going by. The good news is the same reports tell us to counteract the effects of all that sitting, all we need to do is get up at least once an hour and move about—get the blood flowing, the oxygen moving through our lungs and waking up our brains.

Exercise increases serotonin in the brain, which helps us think more clearly. (I can use that.) It’s good for fighting off depression, and helps us not be as likely to start an argument or react to a stressor. (For example, opening my cable bill.) It helps produce more of those brain cells that impact memory. It even can help make us more creative.

We joke about losing brain cells as we age, but it’s really more a matter and needing a bit more stimulation to catch our attention: like brighter light, louder volume, and more intense flavors to awaken our taste buds. I base this on nothing but my personal experience but since my 40s, I crave spicy foods. The hotter the salsa the better, which actually is good news, as studies tout chili peppers’ power to lower the risk of Type 2 diabetes, prevent stomach ulcers, boost immunity, and help lower blood pressure.

Cinnamon also has anti-inflammatory properties that help protect diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. (I had to mention this because I’m craving cinnamon toast at this very second. Hey, it’s my blog.)

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You can  continue to build and grow your brain no matter what your age.

It’s all about synapses and neurons and acetylcholine receptors and well, you get the idea.  Even something as simple as writing your name with your left hand if you are usually right-handed….see how different that feels?  Your brain is learning something new.

That’s one reason behind the push at many retirement communities to include lifelong learning on the list of amenities. These communities encourage residents to take classes, participate in activities, and access university or college libraries. You can finally study the works of Mark Twain, decipher Wall Street or explore constellations in the night sky.

Some senior living communities have the advantage of being located on or near a university campus, while others have built relationships with area colleges and encourage faculty members to conduct on-site lectures and seminars.

The more you learn, the more you think. The more you think, the harder your brain works. And that’s smart aging! And a great way to rock the wrinkle.

 

” To keep the body in good health is a duty, otherwise we shall not be able to keep our mind strong and clear.”Buddha

 

 

 

 

 

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Busy, busy, busy.

When did we get so busy?

Seriously.  When was it?  

Remember when you could get through a week, a day, an hour without checking the calendar?  Without looking at your phone to see where you were supposed to be?  Without having to respond to someone’s request for a call or meeting or visit?

How can it suddenly be Sunday night and still there is a stack of magazines and newspapers you want to read, that are dated several days before?  Why is the house never clean?  Where is that stack of mail you were definitely going to sort through?

How can there be so much to do, yet even when it’s done, we don’t feel like we’ve really done anything that matters?

Have we traveled somewhere new?  No.

Have we learned something truly important?  Probably not.

Have we impacted someone’s life?  Highly doubtful most days.

And in the midst of it all, when we feel our reserves are running low, and we actually try to sit still, decompress, breathe deeply and withdraw from the world, why are we bombarded by messages and emails and tweets that demand to know why we aren’t responding?

Think of the pioneers.  People who got up at 4 a.m. and went in the fields to plow, cut lumber, wash clothes, feed the chickens and in general toil to the point of exhaustion.  They knew how to work hard.  And they need when to rest.  And I have a feeling they all understand how important it was to rest when they could.

We seem to have forgotten that.  And for sure, we boomers know better.

Work is good.  Feeling productive is wonderful.  Some weeks are crazy.  But in the midst of it all, one thing does not change:  we have to rest.  We have to recharge.  We have to let our minds settle.

When we don’t, our motors burn out.   We get angry, depressed, and we can’t be happy.

Chances are, you’ve put in many years of working late.  Or raised children without many nights’ sleep.  Or composed a symphony or graded papers or sewed a prom dress long after you’ve reached exhaustion. You pushed yourself many times.  And you survived.

But now, maybe it’s time to take a look at what is keeping you busy now.

Is it really that important?

Can’t the call wait?

Does the email have to be answered right this minute?

Does it really matter if you don’t make up your mind right now?

Maybe take a moment.  Maybe pretend the phone didn’t ring.  Maybe for just a few minutes, or a day, or a weekend, be a pioneer.  Work hard, then sit and rest.  Listen to the birds.

And is those around you don’t understand, do it anyway.

Listen to your spirit.

Enough.   Get busy just being.

You might be amazed at what you’ve been missing.

“The quieter you become, the more you can hear.”

        Anonymous

 

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How strong are we?

Recently I was in a Sears store buying ankle weights and 2 dumbbells.  As for why, I’ll do my commercial for people over 50 needing to do some form of weight training for their bones, particularly women because we lose so much of our muscle mass as we age.  I personally want to always be able to carry my own groceries, do my own yard work and get that 40 pound of dog food from the trunk of the car into the house.  And I can.

But after a move, I left behind some of my weights so when I saw that Sears had these discounted, I decided to get them.  As I’m also a member of a gym, I only wanted small weights for use at home (dumbbells 5 pounds each, ankle weights also 5 pounds each).  So in total, this purchase weighed 20 pounds.

And the woman checking me out, who was older than me by a few years, reacted with surprised that I thought I could carry them out.

Seriously?

“It’s only 20 pounds,” I said.

She still frowned.  “You sure you can carry that?”  And then she struggled to get them in the bag.

Wow, I thought.  If you can’t carry 20 pounds, that is more than sad.  That’s serious.  Maybe her husband is doing all the heavy lifting, but what if she’s left alone?  Why would she not want to be able to do that for herself?

The ironic part is, I then went home and emptied and spread sixteen 40-pound bags of top soil…carried the bags from my car to the yard, then carried each bag to where I wanted it emptied, then spread it out.

16 x 40 = 640 pounds.

Not saying it was the easiest thing I’ve ever done, or that my back didn’t talk to me a bit.  But I still did it.  And I was glad

I know the day is coming when I won’t be able to do things like that.  Or even sooner, when I just don’t choose to do things like that.  And that’s perfectly fine.  Haven’t we all earned that right?

In fact, when you think of it, once you are a boomer and beyond, you’ve carried a great deal of weight already….work, disappointment, love, heartbreak, marriage, divorce, children, death, success, failure, and the very real desire to get even with the cable company.

So maybe we can put down a few things now and again.  But sometimes I feel the strongest when I can sense another person Is questioning my viability.  Like when a much younger person looks at me like I’m a museum piece.

Or when I’m completely ignored because of my age.

I want to say, hey, let’s talk about what real strength is…and what it takes to get it.  Years and years and years of heavy lifting.

And as long as I can carry the load, I’m going to do my best.

Because I think we’re all a lot stronger than even we realize…and sometimes it feels good to remember that.

“You’re braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.”

      A.A.Milne

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Power of the Labyrinth

Life can take us in many directions, and often on paths we never thought we’d choose.  Sometimes the way ahead is clear.  Other times, (and for me, more often than not,) the path ahead is a bit hazy…I can’t quite see the images…and when I get to that intersection I am really not sure where I’m supposed to go.

It’s like hiking, which has always been my favorite thing though these days my feet don’t want to cooperate.  I hike a trail. I can tell where it’s going.  Then I come to a point where it seems to split into many options.  Obviously only one is “really” the trail.  But the others look kind of okay…are they options?

If I choose one I’ve never done before, will it bring me back to where I am right now?

 Or will I get lost and never find my way back? 

The movies want you to think that it’s easy to figure out moments like this.  There’s a sudden vision.  Or the music changes and the sun comes out and you just know.  More likely is you are tired, distracted and you’d just like someone to come along and tell you which way is which.

file000143069688That whole fantasy about how things get easier as you get older…hmmm…how’s that working for you?  I agree we have more wisdom as we age.  But I’m not sure it always makes things easier.

When my mind won’t settle enough for me to figure out what’s next, or there’s just no peace because it feels like I’ve backtracked and messed up and soon I’ll even up living under a bridge, I try to find experiences that quiet it all.  Meditation is good.  Tai chi is restorative.  Nature is always a balm.

And then there’s the labyrinth.

According to The Labyrinth Society, a “labyrinth is a single path or unicursal tool for personal, psychological or spiritual transformation.  Labyrinths are thought to enhance right brain activity.”    Labyrinths are considered walking meditations, where your psyche meets your spirit.

Labyrinth enthusiasts believe that as you enter the labyrinth, you release.  When you enter the center, you receive.  Then as you leave, you give back to the world what you have received.

One of the most famous labyrinths is that found at Chartres Cathedral in France.  This labyrinth is 42 feet in diameter and is thought to have been constructed in the early 13th century, though no one is sure.  What is known is that up to 1,000 people have walked the path and the numbers continue to grow.

What is it that pulls so many people to walk this design?  Does it really have a power all its own?

Many years ago I was at a point in my life where I could not figure out what was my inner self giving me direction, or what were the messages I’d absorbed for years from well-meaning but negative people I was around.  I just wanted to clear my mind and get a feel for what my path should be.  I had heard of a large labyrinth laid out at a church near me, and I decided to try it.  A friend had suggested that before I walk the labyrinth, I say a prayer or meditation of what I hoped to find…what answer I was looking for.  And be sure to enter the design with as clear a mind as possible.

Easier said than done, but I followed her advice.  And it was, for me, an amazing feeling.  As I entered the labyrinth, I felt what I can best describe as a force field…an energy that seemed very real and very strong.  I took my time and let thoughts come and go.  What most impressed me was how just as you think you’re about to reach the center, the labyrinth takes you back out to the outer edges, slowing you down, making you revisit where you have come from, not allowing you to just quickly find that golden egg.

In other words, you can’t get where you going without circling back to where you’ve been. 

I find that to be a huge lesson.  We don’t just come out of the rodeo shoot and never look back.  We make progress, we accomplish things, we lead our lives…but we’re always calling upon where we’ve come from.

Some reject this idea, as they have come from places or environments that were abusive or so negative they never want to look back.  I understand that.  But I think even that pain has something to teach us and if we boomers ignore it, it’s just going to keep popping up and block our forward motion.

dioI also noted how once I reached the center of the labyrinth, I felt peace.  I could just breathe and be for a bit.  (How often do we do that??)  Then as I was ready to leave the center, I once again had to follow a path that picked up speed, then slowed, and again, took me literally full circle…to the outer edges and back.

Maybe this all sounds weird.  But lately, I’m in a place again where my inner self is a bit off-balance, where it is easy to give in to the notion that because I’ve returned to an earlier address, I’ve failed or walked backwards.  Yet my conscious mind knows that’s not the case; I’ve just taken one of those spur trails to see where it will take me.

I’ll still get where I was going, but I will take an unexpected route.  And it might be one that for a while doesn’t feel quite right, like putting on shoes that don’t fit or a sweater that itches.  But if I trust a higher force to get me through the dark parts, then surely there’s a vista at the end of this trail that’s far more beautiful than I could have imagined.

I let go.  I receive.  I give back.  And maybe in the process, I return to who I am so I can be even more.

“Methinks the moment my legs begin to move, my thoughts begin to flow.”     

       Henry David Thoreau

 

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