July brings us into the heart of the summer. The kids are out of school, workdays and sometimes work weeks are shortened (one company I recently heard of is closing their office on Fridays throughout the summer as a way of going “green”). We look forward to taking some well-deserved down time, however it may come our way.
Yet for all those who relish the dog days of summer, there are others who worry that our American affection for down time during hot times leads to languishing minds. This concern is most evident in our education system, resulting in the advent of summer homework, assigned reading, and other well-intended activities to keep young minds from receding back a grade level or two. Is it any surprise that most kids (and often their parents) meet these programs with little to no enthusiasm? After all, isn’t school out for summer?
Here’s an idea – Let’s stop worrying so much about summer brain drain and try instead a “Great Summer Brain Build”.
How would a “Great Summer Brain Build” work exactly?
We all – young and older — commit to taking on something new that will build our brain fitness. Why? Research clearly demonstrates that there are many things we can do across the physical, intellectual and social dimensions of wellness that are critical to building better intellectual performance and promoting better brain health across our lifetimes.
For example, there is ample evidence that regular physical activity significantly improves academic performance in kids, overall intellectual ability in adults, and is associated with a reduced risk for dementia. Given that research, now that we all finally have some extra time, shouldn’t we all go for a hike or a swim instead of staying at our desks? Similarly, a number of studies have found that ongoing intellectual or creative pursuits may stave off memory impairment later in life. What better time to build those interests than the summer? Finally, life isn’t all about school or work (yes, kids, I did just say that). We need other skills to help us develop and stay lifelong learners, creative thinkers, and good partners and friends.
Our “Great Summer Brain Build” would establish the summer as a great time to flex our other mind muscles and build better brain habits that have nothing to do with work, school or otherwise. We could assign ourselves something completely different to try that we never can get around to doing. Finally, we would have a clear reason and opportunity to dig into a new interest, indulge an old passion, or simply learn how to do something we really want to master.
Need some ideas for your “Great Summer Brain Build”? Try some of these:
Get Creative. Summer is a wonderful time to get those creative juices going. Indulge is activities that get your mind to think out of its usual box. Try writing poetry, macramé (remember that?), taking a pottery class or cartooning.
Get Physical. With the warmer weather and longer days, summer is the perfect time to get moving, or even just change up our moves. Get out for a walk or take the family for a hike. You can try something completely different that gets your body and mind to coordinate in a new way, such as juggling, balancing exercises, or rock climbing.
Get Away. What could be better for your brain than a good trip? Plan a vacation that offers you lots of opportunity to engage your body, your mind and your spirit. In planning, think about ways you can fulfill some of those brain healthy habits in your travels. Can’t go too far? Day trips to a local historical site, recreation area, or city can be a great mini-break for everyone.
Get Together. Several studies have found that staying social can reduce your risk for memory loss over time. Make plans to spend time with your family and friends. How about a “Great Summer Brain Build” night each week? You can play board games, do jigsaw puzzles, or even have a themed movie night, such as favorite baseball films (complete with the ball park refreshments).
Get Healthier. Have something you’ve always meant to do to get healthier, but you never can seem to find the time? Make your “Great Summer Brain Build” commitment to a better health habit and get it going. Try meditation (increasingly shown to benefit focus and creativity) or yoga. Take a healthy cooking class, use the extra time to plan out more yummy, nutritious meals, or finally get moving to that Zumba tape.
Get Helpful. Unfortunately not all of us catch a break with the summer months. Volunteering gives us a chance to use our minds, our muscle and our hearts to help others. Look for ways you can help out in your community, either on your own or with your whole family.
Re-posted from Total Brain Health Blog
Cynthia R. Green, Ph.D., is one of America’s foremost memory fitness and brain health experts. Dr. Green is the founder and president of Memory Arts, LLC, a company that provides memory fitness and brain health training to organizations, corporations, and individuals. She is also an acclaimed author, respected lecturer, and sought-after spokesperson known for her engaging and personable presentation style. Dr. Green has appeared on Good Morning America, The Early Show, 20/20, Fox News, CNBC, and National Public Radio’s “Talk of the Nation,” as well as in the pages of Time, Newsweek, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The London Standard, Good Housekeeping, Prevention, and Parenting, and is a regular contributor to the Huffington Post. Dr. Green received her Ph.D. in clinical psychology from New York University. Since 1990, she has served on the faculty of the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, where she is currently an assistant clinical professor in the department of psychiatry. Dr. Green is a recognized expert in the diagnosis and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease, having served as co-principal investigator on a number of clinical trials that evaluated treatments for this condition.