Category Archives: Reflections

Time to Read

“Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body.” – Joseph Addison, 17th Century English writer

I joined the ranks of avid readers several years ago. This decision was driven in part by a thirst for knowledge to improve my ability to enjoy my senior years in good physical, cognitive, and mental health. I’ve been bowled over by the wealth of accessible, evidence-based materials to satisfy this thirst! It was also motivated by a quest for engaging entertainment that would prevent overindulgence in streaming video and settle my mind in the hours before bedtime.

The public library system has proven to be a magnificent resource for my reading habit. With on-line access to the Washington County Cooperative Library Services, I can order a book, CD, or movie from any of the participating local libraries and have it delivered to my home library. I can also borrow eBooks and audiobooks using my electronic devices. I can put books on hold and wait for their arrival (and even pause receipt if I’m not quite ready). And the app lets me keep track of books I might like to read.

Having declared my interest in reading, I’ve gotten lots of recommendations from fellow readers on what to read. They introduce me to material I might not have found on my own. And, of course, we get to talk about books once I’ve finished reading them. I’m especially pleased when I find book series that I enjoy as it makes it easy to figure out what to put on hold at the library!

My uptick in reading flies in the face of Gallup research that suggests Americans’ reading habits are on the decline.

average books read per year declining

I’m not surprised. As noted in a prior post, Americans watch a smidge over four hours of television per day and log another six hours on the Internet via computers, notebooks, SmartPhones, and tablets. That’s a lot of screen time! It’s easy to fall into the trap of staring mindlessly at the boob tube when streaming services automatically play successive episodes (or suggest other shows and movies). Internet content proves likewise addictive… by design. But at the end of the day, it’s not all that stimulating. Many of us are checking multiple devices concurrently to avert boredom with regular breaks to prepare snacks. Not so good for physical, cognitive, or mental health!

By contrast, when I settle in with a good book, I’m completely engrossed in the narrative. I picture all the characters in my mind’s eye and see all the scenes where the action is taking place. I can’t wait to read what comes next. I enjoy entering the characters’ inner dialog to see what they’re thinking and discern what drives them. There’s a richness there that you just can’t get on film. And, of course, I just love great writing.

Research affirms several tangible benefits of reading:

  • Fiction readers demonstrate a superior ability to process, store, and apply information about other people and social situations. Neuroscientists theorize that this proficiency relates to the fact that reading fiction and social cognition both recruit the brain’s default network, a neuro structure that supports our ability to simulate hypothetical scenes, spaces, and mental states.1
  • Reading fiction correlates positively social ability; non-fiction readers d not enjoy a similar boost.2
  • Reading promotes vocabulary development.3
  • Reading, yoga, and humor all have salutary effects on stress.4
  • Bibliotherapy has proven effective in managing depression.5
  • People who read books tend to live longer.6
  • Reading is associated with reduced risk of cognitive decline in older adults.7

With all these benefits close at hand, isn’t it time to pick up a good book?



  1. <
  3. <

Creativity, Community, and Joy

Last Saturday night, the Oregon Chorale hosted a fundraiser featuring a diverse collective of tunes from musical theater. The 80-voice group performed 4 numbers, and the balance of the program featured soloes, duets, and small group acts assembled by members of the Chorale. I was privileged to participate in one group act and lead another (Hail Holy Queen from Sister Act). We put on a great show and raised a bunch of money. Yay team!

I’ve written previously about the benefits of choral singing for mental health, community building, adaptability, resilience, and more. But these treasures are not without its costs. One must commit to attending rehearsals, working on parts outside of practice, and being a good team player in the run up to and during performance. (I really have to draw on my reserves of team spirit during lengthy tech rehearsals!) Even though all aspects of music making can be fun and rewarding, it’s still effortful to do them.

Leadership brings additional challenges. One must visualize the end product, organize the material, recruit singers, schedule practice time, and provide inspiration to help singers bring their “A games.” It can be frustrating when attendance proves spotty and/or rehearsal time must be negotiated with other groups. On the other hand, it’s incredibly energizing when group members lend their creativity to the effort and bring that extra spark of enthusiasm that makes the performance really pop.

I very nearly passed on the opportunity to lead the women’s ensemble. I’d been consumed with putting our house up for sale, downsizing (big time!), finding a new place to live, and moving. I felt overwhelmed by life and thought that I just couldn’t add one more responsibility to the mix. But I changed my tune during the inaugural rehearsal. The project had been my brain child, I knew had the wherewithal to pull it off, and, at the end of the day, it brings me joy.

At the start of our rehearsals, I only knew a few of the folks who signed up for the group number. Things came together musically rather quickly. As we started to have fun with the material, we transformed from a random group of singers to a tight little community. Casual acquaintances became friends. And with a successful performance behind us, we have a shared memory that will sustain the bonds we formed. A real blessing!

The show also helped me go from being a “new kid on the block” to someone who feels like a solid member of the group. A similar dynamic took place in my former group. Small group interactions really do build connective tissue that makes the whole organization hang more tightly together. I must have forgotten that lesson when hesitating to leap into the fray.

I know, I know. I just finished writing a piece about my tendency to be the “girl who can’t say no” when taking on organizational responsibilities. But setting and sustaining boundaries must consider what makes me feel creative, alive, joyful, and connected. I need to make sure I have plenty of that amidst all the other things on my “to do” list and start weeding out elective activities that don’t measure up.

Let Go

fall leaves

“Autumn teaches us the beauty of letting go. Growth requires release – it’s what the trees do.” – Ka’ala, native Hawaiian author

A dear friend shared a blog post the other day about distraction. It caught her attention in the wake of a missed appointment due to the competing demands of another engagement. Those of us who read the post could so relate! I haven’t missed appointments, but I’ve developed a pattern of leaving things behind after meetings rather than collecting everything up in my tote bag. Mercifully, my colleagues have had my back, and nothing has been lost. But I can’t help but wonder: What’s up with that?

The author put forth a clear remedy for this form of distraction: Slow down and lighten up your load! Autumn seems like an especially auspicious time to do just that.

The past week has seen a dramatic drop in temperature in my neck of the woods. The trees have taken notice. The green leaves are turning to vibrant Fall colors with the first of them starting to drop to the ground. They’re lowering their demands for energy in anticipation of weathering the colder, darker days of late Fall and Winter.

With nature’s clear reminder of changing times, it’ s odd (and frustrating) that I have such difficulty getting the message. I revel in taking advantage of new opportunities as they present themselves – especially if there is a strong social component to them. And when it comes to volunteering my time for the good of the organizations in which I hold membership, I have leaned toward being “the girl who can’t say no” (as my mother was wont to remind me). I leap into the fray when I see a need and have the skills and experience to do something about it. I then wonder why I’m habitually tired and stretched thin.

It’s time to take a step back and rethink my commitments and priorities. Like the trees, I need to consider my available energy and see how many commitments I can reasonably sustain during this period of my life. That process will inevitably mean that some activities I’d love to hold dear must be let go while I find a healthy equilibrium. I will remind myself that such decisions do not mean that I won’t participate actively in my community. It simply means reining in my involvement to a reasonable level.

The second half of the tree analogy considers the new growth opportunities once the light of day is allowed to shine through. I’ve clearly given short shrift to some educational and personal development opportunities in favor of my external commitments. One wonders what new insights might arise if I step back and allow for that work to percolate and insinuate itself more deeply in my life.

Maybe this old dog might learn new tricks this autumn.

Cybersecurity and the Avalanche of Logins

We received a letter yesterday notifying us of a breach in cybersecurity at a financial institution with which we do business. While our assets are intact, the thieves secured our names, social security numbers, dates of birth, and account numbers. Apparently, this institution was one of many effected by a defect in the security application they use. Oh, joy!

I covered the topic several years ago in a post entitled How to Protect Against Cybercrime. All the advice I offered still holds true. In sum: Use cybersecurity protection on all your electronic devices. Be fastidious with password management and use two-factor authentication on consequential accounts. Manage email with care. Never provide personal information to unknown parties. Check credit reports periodically and/or put a freeze on them. Minimize accounts that store your credit card information. Reconcile individual credit card slips against the monthly bill. Of course, this good advice does come at a cost.

log inWhile preparing for relocation and (finally) getting rid of our landline, I realize what a royal pain it is to have so many login credentials. The sad reality is that businesses like to interact with their consumers via on-line accounts, so it’s easy to rack up a gaggle of them. At last count, our household laid claim to 150+ login credentials. While I instituted nasty long passwords on the ones we rarely use (and can’t delete!), I still included them in a blanket review to make sure all of our accounts contain up-to-date contact information. So, I spent the weekend slogging through the accounts to make the necessary changes. It is a really tedious exercise that still remains only partially complete. Ugh!

Many sites actively push two-factor authentication – i.e., they place a phone call or send a text to your designated number to make sure that it’s really you trying to gain access to the account. It might seem like a no-brainer to add this feature to all your accounts. A few words of caution:

  • One institution uses an authentication application that is separate from its database to perform that security check. When we updated the phone number in the institution’s database, it did not update the number in the authentication application. If we hadn’t logged back into that account for a subsequent update, we would not have discovered that little quirk. We’d have been locked out of the account upon cancelling the landline.
  • A close friend beefed up her cybersecurity protection on one of her social media accounts and then forgot how to use it. Multiple attempts to gain support from the service provider have proven unsuccessful. Apparently, they aren’t interested in helping subscribers who enjoy their service for free. She is effectively locked out of her account and all of the groups that she once managed.

I’m still a fan of complex passwords with or without two-factor authentication. Highly consequential accounts (e.g., financial institutions, social security, medical records) call for changing those passwords periodically.

I will continue to resist adding login credentials to my ridiculously long list of access codes. Where possible, I’ll refrain from sharing my address on the ones I can’t avoid and make a notation in my records that such accounts don’t need to be updated with a move. On inconsequential accounts, I’ll let credentials for another app provide access so I’ll have one less UserID/Password combo to track.

Politics and Healthcare

Several years ago, I wrote a post that shared the high points from Dan Buettner’s book The Blue Zones of Happiness. He explored six areas in which evidence-based design principals promote happier lives: community, workplace, social network, home, financial well-being, and inner life. Given our impending move from our home of 14+ years, I’ve paid particular attention to community design. His criteria includes:

Trustworthy civil servants (politicians, police); clean environment (water, air, land, noise); minimal urban sprawl; people-friendly streets for walking and cycling; high civic engagement and volunteerism; access to nature; affordable health and dental care; healthy food (farmer’s markets); healthy public policy to curtail smoking, drugs, obesity.

We have enjoyed every one of these benefits in our current city. In fact, community design remains a strong draw for staying right where we are, yet the lure of proximity to family looms large. So, we have been checking out our neighboring state to see how it fares against Buettner’s criteria. Healthcare is a top consideration given the number of specialists with whom we have relationship.

physiciansI looked into healthcare insurance options and checked out several medical practices that accept the insurance that we were likely to secure. When reading bios of the individual physicians, I noticed that a preponderance of them were not accepting new patients. I dug a little deeper to see what was going on there. Here’s what I learned:

  • According to a 2021 report, the state has 30% fewer physicians in general and 32% fewer primary care physicians than the national average. The mean age of practicing physicians was reported to be 52 years.1
  • Given the threat of criminal penalties and loss of licensure for failing to meet legislative guidelines for abortions, a recent survey indicated that 48% of maternal fetal medicine practitioners are considering moving out of state; 73% attribute that consideration to the state’s restrictive abortion laws. 2 As Dr. Lauren Miller was quoted as saying: “If I don’t act fast enough to save your life, prevent you from getting septic, I could be liable for civil cases … malpractice. But if I act too quickly and I’m not 100% certain that the patient is going to die from the complication she’s sustaining, then I could be guilty of a felony.”3
  • Physicians fear that the new legal environment will have a negative impact on maternal mortality. Yet, the state legislature recently dissolved a committee of doctors, social workers, coroners, and emergency personnel whose efforts were designed to eliminate preventable maternal deaths, as well as health problems that result from being pregnant or giving birth.4
  • Chief Medical Officer Frank Johnson worries that physician recruitment will take a hit as a function of laws that “put an undue burden and a risk on their profession and on their practice and on their ethical responsibility.”5
  • The editorial board of a prominent news outlet decried the poor treatment of physicians (including hostile acts by political activists) and warned that the pattern of behavior would come back to bite the citizenry when it needed lifesaving caregivers.6

I am clearly not at an age for which maternal-fetal care will be at issue. Yet I am aggrieved in behalf of the women who are and fear a spillover effect among emergency room personnel.

To be honest, I was gob smacked when stumbling upon these articles. I realize what a privilege it has been to have access to high-quality medical care, never once giving much thought to whether or not there were sufficient doctors to accommodate any needs we might have. Since COVID, we’ve had a little more trouble booking appointments, but not at a level that has caused me concern. But rolling into a state with high growth, disproportionately low levels of physicians per capita, and the risk of flight… that gets my attention.

My takeaway from this little exercise falls along the lines of “Look before you leap.” I was excited by the prospect of proximity to the extended family and had found some housing options that ticked all the boxes. I was ready to go! But it’s time to temper that enthusiasm to make sure that all of the factors that lead to a healthy and happy lifestyle shine through in the next chapter of our lives.



Why I Believe in Early Childhood Education

enrichment activityWith the benefit of 20-20 hindsight, I see clearly that I hit the jackpot when born into my family of origin. My parents were intelligent, loving, conscientious caregivers whose life decisions were consistently in service of my brother’s and my best interests. We enjoyed stellar public education with engaged parents on the academic and social fronts. We profited from a gaggle of enrichment activities. And my folks did the hard work of molding us into independent, responsible, principled, resourceful, caring human beings.

I never thought much about the manifold blessings of my upbringing until I spent a year working with The Oregon Community Foundation on volunteerism in early childhood, courtesy of an encore fellowship. I did a lot of reading on the subject and was stunned by the extent to which one’s earliest developmental experiences set the course for future success.

In Mind in the Making, Ellen Galinsky identifies seven essential life skills for which each child ideally achieves mastery during the formative years:

  • Focus and Self-Control, which encompasses paying attention, adapting to priorities flexibly, holding information in one’s mind while working on it, avoiding distractions, and resisting temptation while working toward larger goals.
  • Perspective Taking, which enables the child discern how others think and feel, and understand what they might want and need.
  • Communicating, which entails the development of a broad vocabulary, finding the right words to express thought and feelings, and listening attentively to others.
  • Making Connections, which involves putting things into categories, noting the relationships between them, and recognizing that something can represent or stand for something else
  • Critical Thinking, which relies upon the ability to identify problems, specify desired outcomes, explore alternative solutions and their pros/cons, select and options, evaluate its efficacy, and regroup, as needed.
  • Taking on Challenges, which cultivates a growth mindset in which a child narrates abilities as skills that can be developed.
  • Self-Directed, Engaged Learning, which helps the child self-actualize through curiosity, exploration, and disciplined study.

These skills form the foundation for a child’s future across abroad range of metrics – e.g., scholastic achievement, economic independence, health outcomes, social prowess, community engagement, avoidance of juvenile justice, teen pregnancy, and substance abuse.

While the home environment accounts for the lion’s share of a young child’s readiness for learning when they enter kindergarten, early interventions in Pre-K learning environments can help course correct for disadvantaged children. Harvard University’s Center on the Developing Child highlights the following 5 numbers when articulating the importance of early childhood development:

  • Brain architecture develops rapidly during the first few years of life. The 700 new neural connections formed every second build the foundation upon which later learning, behavior, and health depend.
  • By age 3, children born to college-age parents develop vocabularies 2-3x the size of those born to parents without a high school education. The latter enter school at a substantive disadvantage absent exposure to a language-rich environment.
  • Childhood adversity increases the probability of development delays by age 3. The more risk factors – e.g., poverty, caregiver mental illness, child maltreatment, single parent, substance abuse, low maternal education, crime – the greater the chance of delay.
  • Children who experience 7-8 adverse experiences in childhood triple their risk of heart disease in later life.
  • Every dollar invested in early learning environments for low-income children reaps a $4-$9 benefit to society by reducing special education, welfare, and crime, and increasing tax revenues from program participants.

Those of us who reaped the rewards of secure adult attachments, ample resources and opportunities, effective skill and knowledge development, and social capital (connections) owe a huge debt of gratitude to the caregivers and communities who supported us. We can express our thanksgiving by lending our support to public and private programs that provide affordable housing, economic support, and equitable access to early childhood education. It’s the least we can do.

The Big Purge Is Upon Us

I’ve written several posts on the merits of Spring cleaning in concert with annual efforts to rid our household of unneeded items. With a clear intention to downsize, I’m glad that we chipped away at the task over the years. This week, that rooster has come to roost.

We put our house on the market a week ago in hopes that we might attract interest prior to the coming school year. We’d spent a week-plus cleaning and decluttering before photo shoot and made sure the yard was in tip-top shape. I dreaded the placement of the lock box on the front door and the implied requirement to keep the house tidy consistently. But that’s the deal when selling a house.

The opening day for showings brought three couples to the house all of whom were interested in buying it. By the end of Day 2, we were under contract for sale! We’re slated to close escrow by month end and have up to 59 days thereafter to rent the place back. Now the real work begins.

downsizing decisionsMy sister-in-law preceded us in this daunting task by a few months. I am taking her stellar piece of advice: Do something every day to make progress toward moving.

While I have a high degree of confidence that this deal will go through, I’ve decided to focus on activities that are nearly invisible to a prospective buyer’s eye. Should the house have to go back up for sale, I want it to look appealing. As such, I’m tackling the closets, drawers, cabinets, and garage shelving first. First up: Going through all of our files. I’m on Day 3 of that exercise. Who knew we had so much stuff! In file-by-file and paper-by-paper, I’m figuring out what we need, what we can scan, what we can recycle, and what must be shredded to protect sensitive information. Almost finished!

A good friend has made prolific use of Internet-based marketplaces to sell things (or give them away). So, my next stop will be a coaching session to get me familiar with options for ridding the house of things I know we will not need. (Some negotiation may need to take place when it comes to garage stuff!) She has offered to help, and I’ll gladly let her keep the proceeds for the sake of paring down my “to do” list.

My husband and I need to take another tour through our closets to make sure we still want the clothes that we have and that they still fit. I see a Goodwill run in my future.

Upon close of escrow, we’ll start tackling the large pieces of furniture and the artwork. A few questions have popped into mind:

  • Do we really need to have a full bedroom set in the guest room given that the drawers are always empty?
  • Do we really need to have desks given that we’re both retired? Could we make do with a simple table, a computer stand, and a filing cabinet?
  • Do we really need a kitchen dinette and a dining room set?
  • Should we keep all the home exercise equipment or move into a place with easy access to a gym or workout room?
  • Do we need to keep all those D.I.Y. supplies given that we rarely D.I.Y. anymore and will likely have access to my nephew’s treasure trove?

Since we have a general idea of the type of place we’ll rent or buy next, we already know that a fair amount of what we currently own just won’t fit. (And we don’t really need it!) Some we’ll try and sell. Some we’ll donate to charity. And some may be of interest to the new homeowner. I’m not concerned about finding new homes. I just need to bake in plenty of time to attend to the mechanics of bidding them all goodbye.

For the most part, I’ve faced this downsizing challenge with aplomb. I’ve shed some tears all the while knowing that selling the house is the right thing to do. I’ve had “déjà vu all over again” as I recall doing this same activity with my parents over the years. It’s a bit jarring to come to terms with the fact that it’s my generation’s turn to pare back on the things we’ve owned and make changes to the lives we’ve led. On the plus side, I anticipate a sense of relief when I’m on the other side, having substantially lightened my load.

When Change Comes A-Calllin’

“Change is the only constant in life.” – Heraclitus, Greek philosopher

Everything changes. Geopolitics. Economies. Climate. Weather systems. Bodies. Emotions. Thoughts. Relationships. Jobs. Life circumstances. Housing. It’s a fact of life. We best get used to it.

The good news: Change is good for the brain. As noted in Cultivating a Healthy Brain at Any Age, purpose, learning, and discovery provide stimulus for the brain that increase the density of neurons, synapses, and dendrites. Brain networks that operate with greater efficiency, complexity, and reserves are less susceptible to disruption or decline. When we break out of habitual patterns, our brains step up to the challenge and adapt and grow in response.

The bad news: Change can be uncomfortable, sorrowful, stressful, unwelcome. We may face an uncertain future that calls into question our sense of stability and calm. We may worry about our ability to come out the other end whole. And we may lose a lot of sleep while in its grasp.

home for saleI find myself in the midst of a big change. The lovely home in which I’ve shared so many wonderful times with family and friends goes up for sale tomorrow. My husband and I have realized that it’s just too much house and too much yard. In addition, we face the realistic possibility of a relocation to another part of the country to be close to family as we enter the next chapter of our lives. My heart tightens as I gaze into my verdant backyard and watch the squirrels, bunnies, and birds pay their daily respects. I grieve the potential loss of a community in which I have very deep roots. And I dread all the work that it’ll take to downsize and pack all the while hoping that the things we will no longer need might be repurposed.

I’m leaning into my mindfulness training to cope with this turn of events. The practice of R.A.I.N. helps me bring an interested attention to what is going on with body and mind. In particular:

  • Recognize: I’m paying attention to grief as it arises rather than stuff it down.
  • Allow: I’m letting those sensations just be without judging them. It’s OK to feel sad. That’s part of the human experience. And it’s OK to just sit with that sadness. Resistance would only increase and prolong suffering.
  • Investigate: I’m bring an interested attention to the experience. I try to locate where I’m feeling grief in my body and see how it changes over time. I’m naming the other feelings that go along with grief – fear, anxiety, trepidation, anger. I’m exploring the assumptions that undergird the feelings as well as the stories I might be telling myself about it. (My worrying mind can spin quite a yarn about what the future holds!) I can say to myself: “Oh, those are just thoughts or feelings or sensations.”
  • Nurture: From the wisest and most compassionate part of myself, I can serve up love and support.

It’s a simple practice yet surprisingly powerful. It acknowledges and provides attentive care for the difficult circumstance without getting ensnared by it. As I sit with whatever arises, I notice that the sensations don’t last very long. They come and go like waves in the ocean. And with a little bit of distance, I can simply observe their movements.

Mindfulness also teaches me to live my life moment-to-moment – to simply take in the experience of life through the sensory doors. As such, I needn’t spend much time grasping for a former existence that has seen its glory days. I needn’t fixate on what is yet to come. I can experience this day, right now and meet new challenges and opportunities as they arise. I’ve been down this road before. I know that I can handle it.

I’m still not wild about change – even if it’s good for my brain. But I’ll confess to having a bit of excitement over what new adventures lie on the horizon.

Slow and Steady

tortoise and hareA Greek storyteller named Aesop receives credit for a collection of fables that transmit moral lessons. Among my favorites is the tale of a race between wildly unmatched participants: a tortoise and a hare. The hare expected an easy victory and did not take the tortoise’s challenge seriously. After amassing a clear lead, the hare elected to rest by the sidelines while awaiting the tortoise’s arrival. He planned to dash to the finish line just ahead of his opponent. Unfortunately, the hare’s slumber proved so deep that he failed to awaken in time and forfeited the opportunity to claim victory. The tortoise’ slow and steady progress won the race.

When it comes to personal transformation, most of us would prefer the endowments of the hare. We want to be swift and nimble in effecting change, and we want the river of change to move swiftly. Forward progress encourages us to stay the course and gives us hope that we can achieve our desired end state within a reasonable amount of time.

Transformation change generally doesn’t accommodate our need for speed. It favors the tenacity of the tortoise over the impertinence of the hare. Most of us find that bias exasperating. It may even derail our best intentions and efforts.

At tea with friends last week, I talked about some chronic issues that I’ve been having with my singing voice. After working with a coach for a year and a half, I’d engaged a vocal habilitation specialist to help me in the attempt to recover my lost form. The process involves painstaking attention to the fundamentals of vocal production – posture, breath control, suitably relaxed musculature in the throat, mouth, and tongue, and appropriate formation of vowel sounds. It’s quite effortful, and improvements seem to arrive at the pace of oozing tree sap on a winter’s day. Both friends resonated with that experience and the frustration that comes with it.

I’ve faced a similar life-long challenge with respect to attaining a desired level of fitness. During bouts of monitoring my diet and going to the gym, I’d waited expectantly for the bathroom scale and post-shower reflection to provide a resounding “You go, Girl!” When the hoped-for magazine cover image was not forthcoming, I’d lose heart and get back to business as usual. It was only when a health imperative lit the fire of motivation so strongly that I stuck to a rigorous diet and exercise program and achieved the desired result. It took two years (and counting!) of daily workouts. And I’m still on that path.

I still believe in having “stretch goals” that take time and effort to attain. With a nod to Dr. Teresa Amabile, PhD and Dr. Steven Kramer, PhD and their work on the progress principle, I try to find ways to chunk the larger goals into smaller pieces so that I can celebrate victories along the way. Their research suggests that orchestrating small “wins” on a consistent basis stokes motivation. But there’s something to be said for doing the work simply as a matter of habit. It changes the activity from a transaction (“I’m doing X in order to gain Y”) to a statement of identity (“I do vocal exercises because I am a trained singer… and that’s what singers do.”)

I still yearn for progress and am still impatient when it doesn’t arrive on my timetable. But the simple act of incorporating various vocal and physical workouts in my day as a matter of course silences the inner critic who would otherwise question the efficacy of the work. In the immortal words of Nike, I “just do it.” And, guess what? I’m making forward progress… slowly and steadily.

Our Minds Matter for Healthcare

I’ve sounded the clarion call to be attentive to cognitive health in earlier posts. Admittedly, I’m sensitive to the issue given my father’s geriatric dementia and my mother’s Alzheimer’s disease. I witnessed first hand the devastating impact of faltering intellective capacity, and I’m determined to do everything in my power to keep my household mentally fit.

I’ve strengthened my resolve in the past year as my husband and I dealt with a substantive uptick in engagement with the healthcare system. While we’re both in great shape for our ages, we’ve had referrals to various specialists to attend to chronic conditions, perform diagnostic testing, and deal with “upgrades” to eyes, ears, and voice boxes to enable us to enjoy full and active lives. We’ve got great doctors, but it remains challenging to avail ourselves of their services:

  • Appointments book out several weeks/months. Even schedulers have become hard to reach. As such, we’ve had to become all the more proactive in arranging our visits and any associated tests that make those engagements productive.
  • The provider’s payment system has proven complex and error-prone for a year-long series of treatments that my husband has endured. It took months working with the clinic and billing supervisor to straighten everything out. It only works smoothly now because I send reminder messages every month to have the system tweaked before our visits.
  • While pre- and post-procedure protocols are essential for successful outcomes, they take a bit of effort to create processes on the home front to ensure we follow through on all the requisite steps.
  • Physicians are routinely squeezed for time and simply don’t have the bandwidth for in-depth conversations about our health. They do a great job with diagnosis, monitoring, prescribing, and executing procedures. But they don’t bake in time for discussing lifestyle factors that could bolster the effectiveness of treatment… or even make medical intervention unnecessary! (Note: Some may not have all that much to say in that regard. It may not be in their wheelhouse.)
  • And don’t get me started on the teensy tiny print on the prescription bottles, medication notes, medical ID cards, et al. I have to keep a magnifying glass handy to read them!

Mercifully, I’m a nerd. I read a lot about health from reputable sources and really amp it up if there’s a specific condition for which my husband or I require treatment. But I can’t help but wonder: What do you do when you aren’t prone to letting your nerd flag fly? And what happens when those vaunted mental faculties start to fail you – just as you really need them to navigate an increasingly complex healthcare system?

So, I return to five pillars of good cognitive health and heartily encourage persons of all ages to partake in them:

  • Eat well, preferably a predominantly whole food plant-based diet devoid of processed foods and limited on sugar, salt, and fat intake.
  • Sleep well to give the brain time to regenerate, consolidate memories, and clear out its refuse.
  • Exercise to bolster neurons, oxygenation, brain-derived neurotropic factor (BDNF), and sensory and motor cortices.
  • Be a lifelong learner to sustain and build neural connections; focus on activities that demand concentrated effort (e.g., reading, studying a musical instrument, dancing, playing complex board games).
  • Socialize to keep the mind sharp and memories strong.

Remember: Living neurons can form in us until the very end of our lives. We need to be as attentive to our brain fitness as our physical fitness to enjoy healthy longevity. Failing that, set your sights on a capable ombudsman or two who’ll engage in your behalf when and if you need them.