What are some things you do to keep your brain active?
What got us thinking about this subject is that we recently attended a party graciously hosted by Paul and Debbie Annett at their home in Victoria. The party was to celebrate another year of Marsh Winds Toastmasters and the induction of new officers. In case you’re unfamiliar with Toastmasters, it’s an international organization that helps people improve on speaking and leadership skills. All this, and it’s also lots of fun!
As we thought about it further, we realized that neuroscience talks about five habits to help keep your brain healthy. Attending Toastmasters each week has been helping us meet two of the five ways.
First, let’s look at three important health habits not directly connected to Toastmasters. These are no surprise: exercise, healthy eating and sleep.
Regular exercise has benefits that are physical, emotional and, also, cognitive. With exercise, cognitive processing speed can improve and exercise has been shown to possibly slow down and even reverse cognitive decline. We admit we need to do better at exercising regularly but maybe you get some exercise, as we do, by activities such as gardening or walking. Experts say exercise doesn’t have to be running or high-intensity, but get enough exercise to get the blood pumping and the muscles working.
Diet is important, too. Nutritionists suggest eating more fruits and vegetables, protein, omega-3 fatty acids and whole wheat. Stay away from sugar, carbohydrates and trans fats. You can check with your dietitian to get recommendations for the best foods.
Feel groggy when you don’t get good sleep? That’s because sleep is also key to brain health. Getting at least eight hours per night is recommended and research shows that if people get less than seven hours of sleep per night, it increases the risk of cognitive decline over time. That’s a reason to get to bed earlier! Even though Toastmasters doesn’t directly help us with exercise, eating right and sleeping well, at times we hear some very informative talks on those subjects.
Now, here are two ways that going to Toastmasters does help us with brain health. One way is that socialization is important for brain health. In Toastmasters, we make new friends and socialize. When we do activities with friends, our brain is kept busy processing different personalities, events and places. Connecting in positive relationships produces oxytocin, called the happy hormone, and oxytocin raises mood.
The other way Toastmasters is helpful to brain health is that it encourages stepping out of our comfort zone. Research shows that many people find public speaking to be a very big fear. Children readily try new things, but later in life we fear getting out of our comfort zone and being embarrassed or rejected. Trying new activities is stimulating to the brain and increases brain function.
We talked to a Marsh Winds Toastmasters’ member, Niles Austvold. Niles and his business partner, Sonja Bjork, have a financial services business in Eden Prairie.
We asked Niles what encouraged him to get out of his comfort zone and join Toastmasters. He answered, “ Well, I went to Toastmasters at age 70. I wasn’t too excited about it but it was interesting. I found a nice group of people. I found that all of a sudden I was dealing with fears that I hadn’t had since I was 16 in speech class in high school. It was terrifying. I had a horrible time. The first speech was unbelievable — I never thought I would get through it! But today it’s been just a wonderful event of learning how to speak. What I was afraid of was being judged, criticized and not going to measure up. I found that by people being willing to listen and being positive and encouraging, I was able to get rid of that fear that really should never have been there in the first place.”
We recognized that Niles certainly confronted his fears. He’s now president of the Marsh Winds Toastmasters Club and a wonderful speaker.
What about you? What do you want to do to boost your brain health?
Here are some ideas: If you realize that you are lacking in any of the five ways listed to boost brain health, take time to start building healthy habits in those areas. There are many new activities you could try to see if they’re a good fit for you to help you socialize more and even get out of your comfort zone. We encourage you to let us know what habits you’ve adopted to help you have a healthier brain.