During the holidays, I drove from my home in Chicago to the Florida panhandle to visit family. I had a romanticized notion of driving leisurely across the country and stopping in a few towns along the way. But I soon realized that dropping into an unfamiliar town, multiple times in one trip, takes lots of cognitive energy. You have to find a hotel, get your compass bearings, decide what activities to do, navigate novel streets, find some good restaurants and events, try to connect with some locals, then pack up and do it all over again.
Once I finally arrived in Florida, and after a few days of gorgeous weather, long walks along the shore, and family outings, I was antsy to get back home to Chicago (where temperatures were below freezing). I was longing for my own kitchen, bed, shower, home office, local grocery store, and rote navigation. So, I left Florida two days early sacrificing two paid nights at my Airbnb cottage.
For the drive, I had purchased the audio book, Keep Sharp, Build a Better Brain at Any Age by Sanjay Gupta, MD. If you care about brain health and maintaining your cognitive functions, this book is for you. It is packed with helpful information which makes it hard to cherry pick one or two highlights. But overall, I came away reassured that the behavioral modifications we talk about in the workshop, Movement, Meditation and Conversations on Aging, are the same modifications that can help keep our brains healthy and prevent cognitive decline.
Dr. Gupta says repeatedly – the single most important thing we can do for our brain is – wait for it –
And I was particularly pleased that Dr. Gupta discussed the brain benefits of yoga, meditation, breathing exercises, progressive muscle relaxation and guided imagery, all of which we practice in the workshop.
-Dr. Gupta explores the still somewhat-fuzzy concept called “cognitive reserve” which he likened to having a cache or hidden store in the brain that helps us continue to function normally when something damaging occurs to the brain.
To build cognitive reserve, Gupta says we need to maintain demands on our brain that keep it thinking, strategizing, learning, problem-solving.
Maybe that drive to Florida, and stopping in multiple towns along the way, was good for my brain after all and helped build my cognitive reserve.
I have a colleague at work who often says, tomorrow is not guaranteed to us. I agree and think it’s important to remind ourselves of that every day. On the other hand, many of us will likely live long lives. This book has the power to help us learn and change our understanding of what actions we can take now to stay cognitively healthy so our health span matches our life span. In the words of Mahatma Gandhi, “Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.”
My next workshop is tentatively scheduled for April 2022 at Yogaview Chicago. More information is coming soon.