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In Blog 1/5 we took a look at the 1st of the 5 areas in which all humans should thrive, at age-appropriate levels: Physiological. This blog will focus on Cognitive thriving.

What do we even mean by thriving on a cognitive level? Well, I suppose remembering is the biggest issue for everyone from schoolkids through young adulthood, parents and grandparents.  COGNITIVE HEALTH refers to the health of the brain and its overall function. Specifically, cognition is the combination of several critical brain functions, including memory, judgment, language, intuition and the ability to learn.  Wow!  Intuition. Judgement. Really?  It seems that cognitive health is much more than remembering to put the milk back in the fridge.

Having good judgement and appropriate reactions to people and events is very much a part of being able to thrive, at any age.  The opposite would be to feel continually fearful, over reacting and exhibiting symptoms of anxiety and even depression… sounds like a lot of us, actually.

Cognitive thriving, while age dependent, is also a waning gift – Cognitive Decline is the terminology used to describe forgetfulness and irrational behaviours that seem to be a ‘natural part of aging’; but could anxiety and depression also be signs of Cognitive Decline? And does aging have to mean loss of this mental capacity? A psychiatric evaluation is a core component in cognitive therapy techniques used by top doctors.

The answer is a resounding

Functional Medicine has introduced us to the concept of Brain Plasticity – also known as neuroplasticity, it’s a term that refers to the brain’s ability to change and adapt as a result of experience.  For a long time, it was believed that as we aged, the connections in the brain became fixed, and then simply faded. Research has shown that in fact the brain never stops changing through learning. Plasticity is the capacity of the brain to change with learning.

Changes associated with learning occur mostly at the level of connections between neurons: New connections form and the internal structure of the existing synapses change. Did you know that when you become an expert in a specific domain, the areas in your brain that deal with this type of skill will grow?  And you can grow new neural pathways any time, all the time.

Like all growing things, your brain needs an environment that is conducive to growth.  Starting a veggie garden requires preparing the ground, adding fertilizer, watering your seeds, companion planting and pesticide control and weeding.  Growing your brain is no different….

🌱 Prepare the ground – make sure the environment is healthy.  Let the sun shine in ♪

🌱 keep thoughts clean and positive – plant healthy companions and don’t allow for weeds – negative self-talk, jealousy, hatred and other negatives all sully the environment and stunt growth.

🌱 add the nutrients required for growth.  Feeding your brain on a diet of processed food, take-aways, sugary snacks and drinks, and alcohol, cigarettes and drugs, will result in poor  growth and even poorer long-term outcomes as your capacity to repair over time is compromised.

🌱 keep your whole area well hydrated, ensuring even distribution of nutrients and efficient cleansing of waste.

🌱 don’t allow toxins to interfere with natural growth. Pesticides, hormones, food additives, heavy metals – all these can cross the blood-brain barrier and encourage decline

🌱 keep an eye out for weeds, bugs, monkeys and thieves.  Growing new neurons and keeping your brain healthy is a lifetime’s work.  The steps you take today are contributing towards your future mental health!  Think about the time you spend on social media vs the time you spend doing what truly lights you up.  Consider the energy you put into what you ‘have to do’ vs ‘what you’d love to do’.  Do you spend time with people who talk about people? Or people who talk about things – experiences, joys, things that matter?  Is there an energy vampire in your circle?  When they drain you, it’s your brain growth that will also suffer.

🌱 Last but not least, learn to manage your stress!  Stress is our flight response and robs our resources to feed itself – because if you’re running for your life do you need to remember your pin number?  No, all your brain’s energy is sent to your muscles to help you run.  It’s how stress works, biologically.  It’s not going away, but Functional Medicine Health Coaching can provide you with tools to manage it all better

So the good news is Cognitive Decline is a choice.  You do not have to go down that road.  Better choices are available.  You just have to make them….

If you’d be interested in a free 1 hour workshop on Preventing Cognitive Decline, drop us a line at 039 315 5351 or send us an email at healthcoach@1smallstep.co.za and we’ll email you the information.