It seems everyone has an opinion when it comes to longevity and lifelong fitness……including me.
Fitness gurus are always telling us which exercises to do to get a serious six pack, which muscles to use to strengthen and pop our core, build our biceps or achieve those rock hard glutes and calves.
And as if that isn’t enough to contend with we also have to navigate the continual bombardment of information about the latest new superfood you “must have” or the latest lifestyle diet which is as easy as popping in a shaker, adding some low-fat milk or water, a quick shake then down the hatch……..all without even thinking.
So it may come as a subconscious surprise when I say the oftentimes underappreciated brain, although not technically a muscle, is a powerhouse force in achieving health and fitness goals that should not be overlooked (but usually is).
Here are some compelling reasons why brain fitness is often overlooked.
There are well over 600 muscles in the human body and every one of them plays an important contributing role in an individual’s strength, energy level and overall health and well-being.
Perhaps not surprisingly to some, the most important muscle when it comes to overall fitness and weight-loss isn’t really a muscle at all.
The first exercise to perform if you have any hope of losing weight, toning up or increasing your level of overall well-being, starts with your brain. And added to that is another piece of breaking news: Heart health and brain health linked – that’s what the the Alzheimer’s Association now believes.
If your brain hasn’t been sold on the idea of making significant changes in your behaviour that will lead to long lasting improvements, then the rest of your body is going to be fighting a losing battle.
Unfortunately for most of us, getting your brain on board with fitness goals and lifestyle changes is seldom an effort that results in overnight success.
After all, there’s a lot of appeal in eating a whopping great big pepperoni pizza, being a couch potato watching sport all weekend and throwing back a few cold ones with your mates at your local bar. Under the best of circumstances, success will come at the high price of effort, self-control and more than a little self-sacrifice.
In the battle of mind over matter, here are 6 small steps that should help make the process of brain fitness a little easier.
1) Don’t try to climb Mt. Everest on the very first day.
In other words, don’t expect to achieve all your goals right away. Start with a small, simple and easily attainable goal. After all, nothing succeeds like success. If you decide you need to lose twenty kilos and fail to come anywhere close to that goal, you may find it very easy to give up on the effort and settle for status quo.
But if you set yourself up to lose five kilos and you actually accomplish it, you will be very strongly motivated to try for another five.
2) Seek outside stimulus in your brain fitness efforts.
Books, videos, supportive friends or a Personal Trainer can all go a long way to putting your brain on the right track. A few words of inspiration and someone to make you accountable for your actions may be all it takes for you to believe in yourself.
Never discount the powerful value of some expert help and knowledge when it comes to structuring your self-improvement program or to find the motivation to exercise.
3) Surround yourself with positive images.
Your brain is a visual organ and responds well to results that are highly visible. A past picture of yourself at your best can create the desire to return to your former state of glory.
Inspirational words or phrases displayed in hard to overlook places (fridge door, bathroom mirror) will reinforce your brain with a positive message and prompt you to continue the struggle forward when you’re feeling overwhelmed and are underachieving.
4) Banish negative talk from your life.
Take a moment to reflect on what Lisa M. Hayes said, “Be careful how you are talking to yourself because you are listening.”
Your brain will believe what you tell it. If you tell it what you want to achieve, you can expect positive outcomes. If you fill it full of doubts and excuses for failure, you will experience a self-fulfilling prophesy.
There is no greater champion or more dastardly enemy when it comes to directing your brain than your own powerful thoughts.
5) Create an environment coinciding with the results you want to achieve.
If you want to eat better, clear your kitchen of all the unhealthy food choices that brought you to your current state of personal dissatisfaction. If you want to exercise more, prepare an area of your home for your workout program or set up standing time slots for going to the gym.
Make these firm appointments with yourself that you will only break in case of family emergency, personal hospitalization or other (real) critical circumstances.
6) Last and definitely not the least important, spend some time exercising that wonderful non-muscle known as your brain.
Read something that takes effort. Learn something new. Be aware of the larger world around you and the way it impacts your own small space on the planet. Or maybe you would like to enjoy some brain training created by scientists and game designers.
I noticed where WebMD also believes it is vitally important to train your brain with exercise; “Exercise is really for the brain, not the body. It affects mood, vitality, alertness, and feelings of well-being”.
I couldn’t agree more, regardless of your age.
Maggie Morehart over at BreakingMuscle also had some thought provoking words to say about exercising the brain.
Here is a short extract from her 7 Ways to Train Your Brain article which I recommend you read as it backs up what I have already said with 7 great ideas you can easily incorporate into your daily exercise program……..and baby boomers, it’s ideal to add to your Active Ageing routine.
“With Alzheimer’s on the rise and expected to nearly triple in incidence by 2050, it’s amazing how many people continue to hit the gym with the same goals they’ve always had: a smaller waist, bigger biceps, and six-pack abs. But while they’re sweating it out on the elliptical, they’re forgetting one of the most important muscles in their body – the brain.”
So when you take some time to smell the roses and reach out to understand the wonder of the world around you, you will almost certainly become a better, stronger and healthier person. In other words, a nicer and more lovable you.
It’s enough to make it all worthwhile don’t you think?.
Enjoy the journey – help a friend , like and share.
Cheers – John, your Active Ageing Coach and Activist.