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Mental Health Awareness Month: how to stay mentally fit

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Mental fitness is not really about what you think about all day. You might think you’re mentally fit because you’re shopping, driving, finding parking, carrying parcels, planning the evening’s supper, working through business meetings – but even with all that engagement you may mentally exhausted, running on auto with your mind cluttered with other chores, commitments or intractable problems. The result of all your busyness may be something forgotten, a mistake in calculations and some confusion over an arrangement, or depression about a range of circumstances in your life currently. Sound familiar?

No, you’re not losing your mind or developing dementia. Nor do you necessarily need to see a psychiatrist. You’re just overtaxing a brain that has not been properly exercised. The brain needs a range of stimulants to operate at peak performance. It needs variety just like you do. It needs to engage physiologically, physically and emotionally. And not just in daily feelings and thoughts, but with purpose and focus to perform to its best capability.

Daily exercise for your brain is necessary to sustain mental fitness – especially as one ages. It’s as good as a gym workout is for your muscles. Thoughts can be good or bad – but they’re not the full picture. To stretch and uplift the mind, you need to consider some vital points leading to mental health:

The social contract

  • Firstly, we need to make an effort to connect with others. Stimulating conversations with others are key. Developing and maintaining strong relationships with family, friends and colleagues is important to alleviating any feelings of depression. The quality of personal relationships has an effect on your wellbeing – and this in turn enriches the way your mind functions.
  • Slow down, take time for things you enjoy – a walk in the park, hobbies, reading, simply playing with your pets. This gives your mind time to think at a different pace and with more clarity.
  • Keep active within a group of people who share your interests – such as sport, a book club or a choir. This gives you a sense of place and belonging and keeps the mind calm.
  • Volunteering to do good works if you have the time, is highly contributory to feeling good about yourself and bolstering your confidence.
  • Challenge yourself by learning a new skill or taking on a new job or duties. This will help you build a sense of achievement while putting your brain through new exercises.
  • You can’t avoid stress in this modern world, but you can train your brain to handle it through yoga, deep breathing, massage, listening to music, mediation, etc. There are a host of ways to calm the brain and so enhance clearer thinking.
  • Go to sleep! Yes, nothing better than a good night’s rest to repair and restore the brain’s capacity to work for you.
  • Be present: notice the here and now, feel the grass under your bare feet, the sun on your face, the air that you breathe. Practice mindfulness every day, experience each present moment with awareness and sensitivity.
  • And stop trying to do six things at once! This can actually do you more harm than good, over-taxing the brain and leading to exhaustion. Focus on one task at a time, hone your concentration and see how your productivity will improve.
  • Set a positive image. Positive affirmation is one avenue to increased mental proficiency. The way you feel about yourself strengthens neural pathways and increases self-esteem, confidence and wellbeing.

Every step you take

Physical and mental health are closely linked; it’s easier to feel good about life if your body feels good. Poor diet, obesity and a sedentary lifestyle can bring about diseases that can affect the brain’s ability to function. A regularly active body is vital to an active mind. At least 30 minutes of moderate exercise every day delivers an oxygen boost to the brain. And remember, you don’t have to go to the gym to exercise – gardening, vacuuming, dancing and walking all count. Equally important, is relaxation. So intersperse your exercise regime with meditation and quiet times – stress releases harmful hormones like cortisol which is detrimental to neurones.

Good nutrition

  • Make sure your diet contains sufficient B group vitamins.
  • Glucose is the brain\\\'s sole energy source, so eat a balanced diet and avoid extreme low carbohydrate diets.
  • Narrowed arteries (atherosclerosis) can reduce blood flow to the brain, so make sure you eat a low fat, low cholesterol diet.
  • Naturally, you should avoid smoking altogether and any drinking in excess.

The memory game

  • Try to remember short lists, such as a grocery list.
  • Use your brain to imagine or visualize pleasant things or memories.
  • New experiences can also set you on the path to mental fitness. Travel if you can, to new places – fresh experiences stimulate the brain.
  • Break routines on occasions – this strengthens neural pathways and keeps the brain young and healthy.
  • Play \\\'thinking\\\' games like Scrabble, cards, word games and chess.
  • Do crossword puzzles.
  • Take a course on a subject that interests you. Cultivate a new hobby. Learn a language.
  • Read! Whether it’s the newspaper, a magazine or a book – this is the most vital brain exercise you can do. Turn off that television!

The Helderberg Society for the Aged

The Helderberg Society for the Aged provides a variety of secure lifestyle options for elderly people in an environment of compassion and care. Entertainment and engagement of our members is vital to our approach of keeping people enthusiastic and participative in activities that will enliven, motivate and enrich. We believe in encouraging life to the fullest for all the people within our services encompassing Independent Living, Assisted Living, Home-based Care and Frail Care.

Find out more about us: www.hsfa.org.za

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Guest Saturday, 18 November 2017

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