Have you ever heard someone say they are suffering from “mommy brain” or “pregnancy brain”? Although this isn’t an official diagnosis, the lack of sleep, stress, limited adult interaction during the day for those who stay home, and multitasking of parenting can most definitely leave someone feeling a little mushy up top.
If you have found yourself feeling this way, the good news is, you don’t have to stay that way. Just like you head to the gym to work out your muscles, you can work out your brain. But how?
Dr. Amy Mechley, a family physician with Direct Primary Care in Cincinnati, offers some information and tips for parents who want to improve their mental fitness.
Why is it important to keep your brain sharp?
It is the simple adage that if you don’t use it, you lose it. Look at how many people are now struggling with mental math, like calculating a tip in a restaurant. We need to exercise our brain just as much as our physical body. The two are so intertwined.
Just like the body, the brain needs to be stimulated and challenged regularly to stay vital. All actions start as thoughts. A clear and focused brain can be the spark that moves mountains! When they say it’s all in your head, in many ways, it is. The brain influences every system and has an effect on every cell.
What are some simple activities parents can incorporate into their days to improve their mental fitness?
Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections throughout life. Great studies have found that physical activity enhances the ability of the brain to learn new concepts. Aerobic activity in general improves brain function. I recommend the following:
Learn a new instrument alongside your child. You can have them teach you after their lessons — a great confidence builder for your child and two for the price of one!
Do mental math out loud in front of your kids — even better while you are skipping rope or dribbling a ball. They will learn how math can be used daily, and you will be working both the parietal and frontal lobes of your brain.
Learn a new language from an app while peddling a stationary bike.
Be still. Meditation has been shown to improve brain health all the way down to the chromosomes. There is a dose effect: more often is better, but even a little goes a long way.
Juggle. Not your work-life balance, but actual balls in the air!
Use your non–dominant hand when picking up toys, zipping up coats or changing a diaper. If possible, try it for a whole day.
Learn a new dance. Yes, even The Floss will not only help your brain, but you’ll also get a few good laughs, which is still the best medicine.
What are some lifestyle choices that will help improve brain health?
Good nutrition. Whole foods, lots of veggies, fruits, legumes and whole grains. Eat “clean” and avoid processed foods and sugar. Poor diet has been identified as the top contributor to early death for years in the United States.
Stay engaged socially. It’s easy to let your friends and family take a backseat when you’re in the active stages of parenting. Live, person-to-person conversations engage all areas of the brain. Studies show that maintaining a social life reduces the incidence of dementia.
Get restorative sleep when you can — sorry, parents of newborns! Most of us need 7 to 8 hours a night. Do not donate sleep to mindless TV or screens.
If you find yourself feeling a little foggy, or not quite as sharp as you once were, there is hope. Mommy brain does not need to take residence any longer. Try incorporating some of these tips, and lifestyle choices, into your day — and in no time you will find yourself in tip-top mental shape, as you build up your brain from flab to fab.