Habits for longevity are meta-habits; they are composed of other habits. The three meta-habits for optimizing your brain health over time are sleep, spirituality and mental exercises.
It’s hard to see sleep as a meta-habits or even a habit as it is something that we must do every night. Sleep itself is not the habit; it is the name I have given to the rituals of getting a good night’s sleep.
Adequate sleep is essential to preventing mental and physical degradation. Insufficient sleep leads to high blood pressure, diabetes, heart attack and more, including boosting your cortisol levels.
In a world where everybody has an alarm clock in their pocket, and most workplaces are happy to supply coffee, it is easy to cut sleep short. Our society seems to reward those that go without sleep more than those that sleep adequately.
Adults should get seven hours of sleep every night. Don’t follow the trend; treat sleep as a medicine because it really is one. With so many distractions available to us, it can be hard to be consistent with your sleeping schedule – especially on weekends.
This might sound familiar: You get distracted in the evening. By the time you accomplish everything you want and lay in bed, you already know you will get less than 7 hours of sleep. Then, in a fit of restlessness, you start stressing about how little sleep you will get, which keeps you up and causes you to get even less sleep.
Two solutions cooperatively solve this problem. Developing a nighttime routine and a meditation practice. The nighttime routine will help you unwind and go to bed on time. While the meditation practice will make you undistractable and help you relax when you go to bed.
Spirituality for longevity
Meditation can help you in order ways as well. In three paths to spirituality, I discussed the pros and cons of each religion, meditation and psychedelics.\
Religion and meditation have both been documented to increase your expected lifespan. I couldn’t find any link between psychedelics and longevity – probably because both fields are new and the information is not yet known – watch this space.
As for the paths to spirituality that influence longevity: meditation and religion, it is not surprising that these would have a similar effect. The only difference between them is: belief.
In religion, your beliefs are taught and fixed to whichever religion you practice; through meditation, you learn to be more mindful and present. The lessons meditation teaches you are self-learned and, therefore, more flexible.
The religious practices that improve longevity are:
- Expressing gratitude
- Frequent praying
- Being optimistic
- Recording a journal
- Learning from your hardships
Those who have read my beginner’s guide to meditation will see similarities between that list and common forms of meditation. Expressing gratitude is a common aspect of meditation sessions.
The only difference between a prayer and meditation in the context. Reciting a prayer and singing mantras have the same outcome: breathing at six breaths per minute. If you would like to see how breathing at this rate feels, sign up for my newsletter below, and I’ll send you a link to a guided meditation that includes cues to get you breathing at the right pace.
Even with all the baggage that comes with religion, there is one thing that it has over meditation: community. All religions have some sort of community associated with them.
Living longer together
Being part of a community has been shown to help people live longer by decreasing symptoms of loneliness and isolation. Loneliness leads to the release of cortisol – the stress chemical – which cascades into heaps of negative side-effect.
Social interactions are also known to increase the release of oxytocin – known as the love chemical – which significantly improves your quality of life. Meanwhile, loneliness decreases your quality of life by
When the brain is stressed, bad things happen, so it is best to mitigate stress through social interactions and other activities. While stress is bad for the brain, it needs to get an appropriate workout.
The brain: work it or lose it
The body is a very efficient system; it naturally recycles anything that is no longer getting used. Your brain – like your muscles, needs to be used to prevent it from weakening. The more you train your brain, the better it will be able to fight the symptoms of old age — which tend to impact the brain most severely.
There are many activities that you can do to exercise your brain. These tend to be constructive habits that are either a complicated task or a simple one made more challenging. Some of these tasks are:
- Solving puzzles
- Participating in sports
- Watching TV
Each of these activities can be either simple or complicated. Running could be considered a sport; while good for your cardiovascular system, it’s not the most mentally challenging activity — you just run.
Sports and puzzles are better because they are mentally stimulating and something else – a double bubble. Sports are mentally and physically challenging, while puzzles can be done as a group to train your brain and, as previously mentioned, make you happy.
Watching television is the most accessible activity on the list, making it the most tricky. If you want to benefit from television, you must watch it actively, not passively. Watching more actively doesn’t require much more energy; you simply need to be more selective about what you watch.
You could watch a documentary and use the facts learned to spice up a conversation later or watch something in a foreign language. Watching movies in foreign languages can significantly improve your language learning abilities.
Learning another language is great for the brain and has been shown to delay Alzheimer’s by four to five years. Disease prevention aside, learning a language can help you communicate with new people and experience new cultures.
Nothing bad happens when you learn a new language aside from the countless hours of frustration required between deciding to learn that language and being able to have a conversation.
It is a lot more entertaining to watch movies when they are easy, but it is far more beneficial to watch them while struggling to understand. This struggle strengthens the connections in your brain related to that language giving your brain the workout it deserves.
I’ve only scratched the surface of what mental habits you should do to maintain your brain. I have faith that you can find countless other ways to challenge yourself and, as a result, make yourself happy. The key is to work the brain but not stress it; stress is best kept for the body, which will be the topic of my post next week.
Subscribe below so you don’t miss how stressing your body can extend your life and get access to my guided meditations. Until next time – you are almost there