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Find Your Balance - A Brain Health Forum

Puzzle shaped like the side view of a brain.

Smart goals are the key to a lifestyle for whole health, supporting one’s purpose and resilience, said Leigh A. Frame.

Frame, co-founder and associate director at George Washington University’s Resiliency and Well-being Center, was the keynote speaker at AARP Virginia’s Brain Health Forum in Leesburg.

“Many things are needed to support your purpose,” said Frame. One key component is recharging from stress, especially chronic stress.

“Stress is unavoidable, but it’s how we deal with it that matters,” said Frame. Chronic stress can lead to depression-like symptoms. One of the best ways to recover from chronic stress is regular physical activity and exercise.

Other good techniques for stress management include deep breathing, mindfulness, movement, positivity, and self-care.

Frame cautioned against relying on alcohol, which only serves as a temporary respite.

Restorative sleep, with a goal of seven to nine hours a night, is also important to help recharge from stress. Frame recommends setting a routine to signal it is time to wind down for the day. This routine could include listening to relaxing music, reading a book, taking a bath, meditation, or breathing practices.

If sleep doesn’t come easily, Frame suggests getting up and doing something relaxing. Melatonin supplements may help, but she cautioned they are not intended for long-term use.

Avoid sleep disrupters such as reading or watching television in bed, napping for more than 30 minutes during the day, and stimulating activities before bedtime, especially screen time.

Frame recommends stopping caffeine eight hours and alcohol three hours before bedtime. Finish eating dinner about two to three hours and stop exercising two hours before bed. One hour before bedtime, turn off electronics and engage in your wind-down routine.

Another key component in beating stress is natural movement. “Motion is lotion,” for the body, mind, and spirit, said Frame.

Every little bit counts, even 10-minute breaks such as taking the stairs, using a standing desk, and parking further away from a store or office entrance. Frame recommends striving for 60 minutes of activity every day.

Natural movement is important at all ages, especially with older adults, to help continue doing the things that are important. Frame recommends practicing all four types of exercise for the optimum benefit.

For example, endurance exercises like walking or biking help with daily activities like stair climbing. Strength training helps older adults lift groceries or grandchildren. Balance exercises help prevent falls, and flexibility exercise helps with daily tasks like dressing oneself.

Good nutrition is important for stress management. Diets that incorporate colorful fruits and vegetables, healthy fats like olive oil, and whole grains are best. Frame recommends “eating the rainbow,” striving for eating 30 different plants per week.

“It’s very important to get protein at every single meal, especially for people over 50,” said Frame. For proteins, focus on fish, poultry, beans, and nuts, limiting red meat and processed meats like lunchmeats and bacon.

“Water should be your drink of choice,” she added, along with tea or coffee with little or no sugar. Avoid sugary drinks.

Half of one’s diet should be plant-based, said Frame. She recommends focusing on whole or minimally processed foods rather than those that are ultra-processed.

Good support systems also help with stress management. Those who feel more connected have lower rates of anxiety and depression, higher self-esteem, and more empathy. Not only are they more trusting and cooperative, but they are also thought to be more trusting and cooperative.

“It’s not the quantity of how many friends or groups you have,” said Frame, “but the quality.”

Frame encouraged attendees to “listen to your body” to know the signs of too much stress. Look out for muscle tension, headaches, an upset stomach, or difficulty sleeping, and get the help you need to overcome the stress.

Following Frame’s presentation, AARP Virginia Community Ambassador Roland Baumann provided an overview of the Six Pillars of Brain Health, developed by the Global Council on Brain Health.

The Six Pillars are:

· Be Social: People in social networks live longer and are healthier. Keep in touch with friends and family and don’t let yourself get isolated.

· Engage Your Brain: Find ways to stimulate your thinking by learning new things and pursuing new interests and hobbies.

· Manage Stress: Understand how to recognize stress and make adjustments to manage it. Practice relaxation and adopt a stable daily schedule.

· Ongoing exercise: Move throughout the day and target 2.5 hours each week for moderate physical activity.

· Restorative Sleep: Get seven to eight hours of restful sleep each night.

· Eat Right: Choose a nutritious, heart-healthy diet of fish, vegetables, and fruit.

The program concluded with Lauren Luchi, AARP’s project manager for policy and brain health, sharing information about AARP’s Staying Sharp program, including the brain health cognitive assessment tool.

Staying Sharp is an online program that helps build habits to support brain health. The program, including the cognitive assessment tool, is free to AARP members and registered users.

The assessment takes about 20 minutes and provides a snapshot of the user’s brain’s performance based on the results of five tests. Scores are then compared with those of others who share the same age, gender, and years of education, generating a result of Expected, Above Expected, or Below Expected relative to one’s peers. Performance can vary based on several factors, like sleep, stress, and other factors.

The assessment can be retaken every 30 days. Meanwhile, the website offers a series of fun challenges, articles, videos, games, and activities to provide more education and help support better brain health. In addition to the Staying Sharp website, AARP offers a Staying Sharp mobile app that is not dependent upon a WiFi connection for content. For more information and tips, tools, and explainers on brain health, visit AARP’s Brain Health Resource Center.

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