“What makes the desert beautiful,’ said the little prince, ‘is that somewhere it hides a well…”
― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince
Scientists were surprised when they found the tangled yuck of Alzheimer’s and dementia in the autopsied brains of people who had never lost functionality. These people had some memory loss and confusion, but nothing that prevented the deceased from living a full and happy life. What was the difference? In one group of nuns, the difference was language dexterity. The nuns who had learned to speak fluently in a different language were more functional than those without this background.
People who learn instruments or new languages, engage in a vigorous course of study and teaching, or other new, challenging activities as they age, might ward off the symptoms of dementia and Alzheimer’s, even though their brains are afflicted by these diseases. The way this works is complex but we can work with the science in some very simple ways. Omega 3 fatty acids ( fish oil, flax seed), memorization ( grows your hippocampi, preventing the tangles caused by these diseases), and meditation ( literally grows the essential gray matter in your brain and musical practice ( one of the best exercises for your brain, using both halves and engaging you in the most productive, beneficial way possible-it’s like planks for your brain!)
I though about this on my hike yesterday, when I was walking backwards, down a hill. I walk downhill this way for four reasons:
- It’s really good for my calves
it protects my knees and
It helps with balance ( when I trip or stumble is regular life, I don’t fall) and mostly,
It’s a proven confidence builder
Although the studies don’t mention this, I am pretty sure that confidence is a major factor in brain health and functionality as we age. We need confidence to learn a new language, make the mistakes necessary to learn or practice a musical instrument, or to speak up when we need something or we can’t hear. It’s hard to push the button near your hospital bed to get your pillow adjusted just right or get a ride to the corner store if you feel bad asking for help!
I dated a man in a wheelchair who was very happy and I really think his main strength was confidence-he asked for help when he needed it and did not feel obligated to return every single favor. I want to be more like him as I age. I want to get better at managing impatience, criticism and other reactions to my requests in others, since I might have to ask someone to repeat something 3 times before I understand it! So, for me and for you, here are some good ways to add confidence building into your life, before you need it!
- Look up, way up, as you walk, up through the trees even, just for a moment– it’s not as easy as it sounds.
- Close your eyes on a safe pathway and MOVE-reassure yourself and your brain that you don’t need to see every micro thing in front of you to take a step
- Walk frequently in nature, and walk backwards at least part of the way- the neurochemical impact of trees, bird sounds and vastness are not replaceable by any other means, and making your way through the “wilds” even on a pre-made path, is another way to build confidence
- Meditate-it literally increases the gray matter in your brain, and naturally instills confidence and self-reassurance over time
- Learn a musical instrument-this is like planks for your brain-there is no-good substitute and learning a new skill is a great confidence builder
- Create something – writing, painting, sewing, photography, and encourage someone with more talent to give you feedback. Practice responding to criticism and improving your performance. Get better at managing impatience in yourself and other people.
- Memorize- the dictionary, some facts, poetry, each and every day. Make a goal to recite “the Raven” by Edgar Allen Poe or some other long prose. We want our hippocampi in fighting form as our brains get attacked by all the environmental and internal threats as we age!
- and, this is not a confidence builder directly, but Eat WELL – 3 cups of leafy greens, 3 cups of colorful veggies and fruit, 3 cups of cruciferous veggies every day and lots of omega three fatty acids- I know this sounds impossible, but 3 cups of spinach sautees down to an easy snack, and smoothies are a great way to get in kale,etc.- supplements are NOT the same, althought they are better than ignoring nutrition. (You can start small but just remember your mitochondria are starving for this nutrition and they will strike and quit if you don’t address their demands which means you won’t be able to move or think very well!)
There are many different ways to build confidence, BEFORE you succeed at your next challenge. Just remember, it is not going to be easy to develop if we don’t keep learning and growing. Our priceless wisdom, mostly available when we are OLD,(imagine how much life a 90 year old has seen!) benefits no one if we don’t have the confidence to ask someone to speak up or move closer.
Good luck to all of us as we grow into our respective ages. I am embracing old ladyhood with all my heart, and my habits; Hopefully, confidence will be my trusted ally to help me get the help I need!
Thank you for reading; I am confident, as always, that you are fabulous, so please, keep being YOU