Last week I accompanied a friend and my grandchildren to the Museum of Nature to view the special exhibit on the brain. Of all the marvels this wondrous organ provides, the surprising fact that has stuck with me is the effect of even mild dehydration on the brain.
I know from direct experience if I am under hydrated during a half marathon walk or a bike ride on a hot day – I get cramps in my legs; feel faint; get anxious and want to lie down. What I didn’t realize is the effect of dehydration on my brain, particularly my executive functions. According to the Mayo Clinic and the info boards at the exhibit:
Studies show that if you are only 1 percent dehydrated, you will likely have a 5 percent decrease in cognitive function.
If your brain drops 2 percent in body water, you may suffer from fuzzy short-term memory, experience problems with focusing, and have trouble with math computations.
Further studies have shown that prolonged dehydration causes brain cells to shrink in size and mass. This is most common in the elderly, many of whom tend to be chronically dehydrated for years.
Yikes! It re-inspired my ever present interest in the basics: Sleep, eating well, moving my body, drinking water and spending time with people I love. When I don’t attend to these, many other things in my life tend to suffer. I just hadn’t specifically considered my brain in all of this.
I am not a proponent of prevention and I am not interested in “anti” anything. Like it or not we can’t control health outcomes. But I am committed to doing what I can, by attending to the basics, because they improve the quality of my everyday life. I simply feel better. And when I do take care of the basics it seems to me that I am also reducing risk of some illness and upping my chances to stay healthy. No guarantees but even when misfortune strikes, I am in a better position to deal with treatment, side-effects and healing.
This walk through the brain installation was a reminder once again of how important the basics are. I don’t always follow but when I do I feel better.
Sleep: 7-8 hrs on a regular schedule most of the time (this is my weak area that I strive to improve)
Eating well: we all know the drill while leaving room for our personal preferences. Most neglected on many plates are the veggies. Just like Mother instructed, eat more of them. The most important piece of nutritional information I received was at inspire Health in Vancouver, eight years ago. It goes like this: it is important who you chew with. Enjoy the people you dine with and enjoy your food.
Move: the best exercise is the one you will do. Find out what you like and do something every day. As we live longer and joints wear out or we face an illness we may not be able to do what we like the most. Be flexible and find something else and make it fun. There are so many ways to move. Never underestimate walking. Use poles if you have joint pains. Do what you can. Slow and steady works.
Water: tip – fill a container(s) every morning and see that it is empty by dinner time. (I finish drinking by early evening and it saves me trips to the bathroom during the night) I aim for two litres. The experts suggest a little more, especially when it is hot, and also when it is cold. Best to be adaptable and never wait for thirst to be your guide.
Socialize: We do best when we have people in our lives. We laugh and commiserate and solve unexpected problems with each other. We need each other for our minds and hearts as it turns out.
Ikigai: A reason to get up in the morning. Having a purpose that matters to you. Each of us gets to figure out what our ikigai is. This is something that always lifts our spirits and as a consequence adds life to our days.
During this summer of heat waves, from coast to coast, stay hydrated and move, but more slowly. Enjoy your lives – a few good words, nature’s beauty, some fine food and music, meaningful moments, laughter and companionship. And don’t forget the water.
Note 1: I took this photo during a walking trip with friends, in the Kiso Valley, in Japan. What a delightful surprise to come across this scene, having hiked up an incline on a forest trail, in the heat. Water never tasted so good, and we were filled with gratitude.
Note 2: I made this post a little longer. Sorry about that. I am enthusiastic about my brain and water and look forward to cognitive improvements as I drink a little more H2O. :-)) See you next week, Trudy