Hello friends, and welcome to this month’s Joyinmovement newsletter,
Two wellness tidbits for you this month: surprising sleep facts and creative ways to keep your cognitive skills sharp. If these two tidbits don’t interest you, please scroll to the bottom of the newsletter where I talk about how to live life knowing life is short.
Surprising Sleep Facts
I know, I know, the holiday season isn’t the best time of year to address the benefits and importance of sleep hygiene. But then again, as you review 2019, maybe sleep is exactly where you need to start your 2020 wellness planning.
We all know sleep is a valuable, though often scarce, commodity. It’s exactly because of the importance of sleep that science keeps researching and expanding its understanding of sleep. You may find the newest research surprising, especially if you’re not an early bird.
The Early Bird Does Not Always Catch the Worm
Have you ever heard that you’re SUPPOSED to get up early and “own the day”? Did you know that this advice has no basis in science or the historical human experience? What is it then that this advice is meant to do? Maybe it’s an attempt to box us in to the modern workday and school schedule. Let’s look a little deeper into why the early bird myth doesn’t fit for everyone.
In sleep research, there are different “chronotypes” that refer to genetically predisposed best times to wake up and best hours of focus. An “early chronotype” (commonly referred to as an “early bird”) refers to someone who likes to rise very early, usually before sunrise. A “normal chronotype” typically rises around sunrise or just after. A “late chronotype” refers to what we commonly call a “night owl”. Most people fall naturally into one of the three types.
As a result, there are genes for staying up late, getting up super early and everything in between. Allowing for genetics we optimize our health when we follow what works rather than what we “should” do. In other words, if you’re not in the “early bird” group, it’s best for you if you stop trying to be one. I’m relieved, how about you?
When you are asleep, your body may be resting, but your brain is busy taking out the trash. I’ve written about this before.
The network that drains waste from the brain is called the glymphatic system. It works by circulating cerebrospinal fluid throughout the brain tissue and flushing any resulting waste into the bloodstream, which then carries it to the liver for detoxification. Brain cells even shrink when we sleep, allowing cerebrospinal fluid to enter and flush out the brain. It’s fascinating what happens as we sleep.
Getting good quality sleep is essential, and thinking about which chronotype you are definitely helps you create a sleep and wake up schedule to maximize sleep’s benefits.
Keeping Your Cognitive Skills Sharp While You Exercise
One of the next big trends in fitness is combined physical-cognitive training. Older adults are concerned with staying mentally sharp and avoiding dementia as they age. Younger populations are eager to get an “edge” on their competitors (sports or business) and are now more aware than ever of the benefits of training their minds as well as their bodies. There are many ways to include cognitive training, but here’s my favorite tip for introducing cognitive load into your exercise routines.
This one is my favorite! Dual-tasking occurs when you perform a physical activity and an unrelated cognitive task at the same time. For example, walking while counting backwards by 7s; performing repetitions of a resistance exercise while naming words that start with the letter “S”; or solving basic math problems while riding a stationary bike. During these activities, the brain is being nourished with blood, oxygen, glucose and other positive neurotrophins that can enhance cognitive performance. Several studies show that dual-tasking can improve cognitive performance.
Life is Fleeting
We’d all agree that life is short, so this begs the question: how should we live knowing this is indeed the case.
I’ll offer up three ideas.
First, eliminate as much, how shall I put it, baloney, as possible. Some of it will be obvious, but some of it will trick you by looking like important stuff. One way to think of it is by living a life that feels most authentic to who you are.
Second, seek out things that matter. Distinguish what matters by asking yourself whether you’ll care about it in the future. Fake stuff that matters usually has a sharp peak of seeming to matter. That’s how it tricks you.
It’s hard to ask what will matter to you in the future. Very hard to know. But don’t second guess yourself. Decide and move on.
Third, savor the time you have. As I’ve gotten older I’ve gotten much better at this. But I’m still learning. I try to stop work every day at a decent hour, no matter what. I’m working on taking Saturdays off. Really off! I do things that bring me joy every day. I stop and look around a lot more than I ever did before.
Life’s shortness can take us by surprise and very often does just that. We take things for granted, and then poof, they’re gone. We think we can always visit with friends or family later, or hike that mountain, or learn Spanish, and then we realize the window has closed. The saddest windows close when other people die. Their lives are short too. After my brother died I wished I’d spent more time with him.
I can’t help but feel a sense of regret about some things. Only natural, I suppose. Honor whatever talents you have and use them to make yourself and others happy. I started out tap dancing and though very young when I started, as I got older I felt shy about dancing and performing, so I turned to sports. Always regretted not continuing to dance.
And maybe I should have gotten that PhD instead of stopping after my Masters. Who knows, right? But whatever I did, it brought me to you. That’s been a very good thing for me, and I’m grateful to you.
Thank you all for another amazing year of Joyinmovement. I hope these monthly newsletters have educated, entertained, and inspired you in some small way. That’s what matters!