An Imperative I'm Grateful For. What About You?
Gratitude for Wisdom from Other Women
This is Day 6 of sharing wisdom from other women. The previous five days revealed:
Day 2: Take Charge of Your Life
Day 3: Look on the Bright Side
WISDOM 6: “Stay Mentally Alert”
You Can’t Follow the Wisdom from Day 1-Day 5 Unless You Take This Advice
It is impossible to follow through on the previous five imperatives without healthy cognitive abilities. When you are young, you feel you can remember almost everything. But one great fear of aging is change in our mental capacity. Even without concerns for extreme changes such as Alzheimer’s or dementia, we need to all do whatever we can to stay mentally alert.
I’m an optimist about what medical solutions there may be in the future. And yes, medical research may bring a cure for the more severe cognitive conditions in our lifetime. But for now, we all need to pay attention to what we can do today--with what we have now.
Mental and Physical Alertness Go Together
These actions include the same general advice for a healthy life—maintain an appropriate weight with a low-fat diet and food rich in omega-3s, exercise, control of high blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Other keys to maintaining cognitive alertness include mental exercise and lifelong learning.
The brain can be successfully stimulated through a variety of activities—playing a musical instrument, visiting museums, reading, writing (including memoirs), journaling, and working on crossword puzzles are just a few.
Research also shows that the brain needs the stimulation of new activities and regular challenges. “Variety is the spice of life” was one of my mother’s sayings. Little did I know that this spice was a critical ingredient of the recipe for a long life with a sharp mind—something both my parents had until they died at the ages of 90 and 95. Some of their simple advice such as “learn something new each day” and “keep making new friends” suddenly has great value to me.
Most of the women I interviewed for the collective memoir Rosie’s Daughters: The “First Woman To” Generation Tell Their Stories were past the years of formal education. I say most because some returned to school quite late in their lives. One woman who stayed in contact with me went back to college to get a master’s degree in counseling in her 70s. And several others told me of taking courses that allowed them to continue their professional credentials. But they all seemed to understand what everyone needs to know—learning can happen in many ways and needs to keep happening. Although I frequently heard “keep learning” from the women I interviewed, the words of one woman in particular bear quoting:
“Learn constantly. Educate yourself because that keeps the neurons active. Equally important, learning keeps you open to new ideas.”
It is learning and new ideas that will keep you engaged in discovering and enjoying new beginnings for your life. It is learning and new ideas that will help keep you mentally alert.
Learn One New Thing Each Day
I find myself frequently quoting my father these days. I think it is only recently that I’ve discovered how much he influenced my life.
For example: On day, when I lived in Gilroy, California, I was talking with my father on the phone and looking out toward the garden. A large quail family with newly hatched chicks was making its way across the front of the property. We had many quail on the property and had become aware of their habits. One adult stayed in front of the young chicks -- leading the way -- while another stayed at the back, making sure that none got lost or wandered off. One of the two adults would get on top of a large volcanic boulder to be able to see the brood better. We had many boulders of various sizes and these were the source of these perches.
I described the scene to my father. He paused and then said,
“Well, I just learned something new today.”
This was a phrase he often said. He didn’t require a formal class or a textbook to mentally log new information.