How to Minimize Mental Atrophy

Atrophy. Simply put, if something isn’t used, it can waste away. It’s often referred to the body, like muscle atrophy, but I would argue this can also apply to our mind and faith. We often begin strong with habits in January but by February, our motivation slackens and atrophy impacts our intentions. But similar to our bodies, we can minimize mental atrophy with good habits.

When muscles atrophy, the way to build them up again is with purposeful, productive use. The same is true for our mind.

How often do we misuse our minds and/or allow them to atrophy? Maybe it’s watching mindless TV or scrolling social media for hours. It could be gossiping or coveting something we cannot or do not have, yet want? We spend an enormous amount of time occupying our minds with things that don’t matter and could be detrimental to our mind wellness. Instead, here a few habits we can employ to engage our minds this winter (and into the rest of the year).

Engage your Mind

  1. Hydrate. It’s important in warmer months and while exercising, but hydration in winter is just as essential. The headaches or dry skin we notice is also a sign our body needs even more hydration. Our brain (and body’s) cells are mainly water and when dehydrated, cognition, processing, and memory all suffer. If you’re thirsty, you’re already dehydrated. Help your mind and drink some water to reap the benefits to your brain and body wellness. (A quick calculator for how much water is needed is your body weight converted to ounces/day: ex. 150 pounds= 150 ounces/day)
  2. Exercise. Try a new indoor exercise if you cannot get outside, but do something. In winter (at least where I live) outside exercise isn’t always feasible, which can be frustrating. On those days, choosing to be creative with indoor exercising is key. While it may not be our favorite, it still provides the same physical and mental benefits of better blood flow to body and brain, improved attitude, cognition, and memory. So let’s find an indoor go-to exercise and we won’t be tempted to skip it on inclement weather days.
  3. Play games or do other mental fitness daily. With shorter days and longer nights, it’s easy to watch TV or scroll mindlessly in the evening. Instead, playing a game or another mental fitness activity, especially with others, builds and connects brain cells which helps enhance memory. Not only does this build cognitive reserve, but doing this with others engages our brains differently than playing alone. So grab some friends and let’s work our brains!
  4. Eat new or different seasonal brain foods. Each season there are plenty of brain foods to choose, yet often in winter, we trend toward our favorite comfort foods. In winter, citrus fruits, hard squash, broccoli, carrots, soups and stews with different beans or grains are all brain healthy options to explore and eat our way to a healthier mind and memory. Try adding these into familiar favorites or include different recipes and/or restaurants into your routine to experience better eating for our brains!
  5. Create or maintain a consistent sleep schedule. The long nights of winter can make getting up early more difficult, but maintaining a sleep schedule is important for our brains. A consistent sleep routine helps our body and mind create and reinforce sleep and awake habits. Plus the memory consolidation that occurs during sleep is integral to our memory wellness. So let’s not push snooze or stay up too late. Keep a sleep schedule and our mind and memory will reap the benefits!

Try a few of these tips as winter winds down to minimize mental atrophy and help enhance memory. Stay tuned for tips to fight atrophy in our faith in part two of this post soon. Atrophy in any area of our wellness is never good and these tips will jump start some good habits to engage our minds this winter and beyond!

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