It occurred to me the other day, that my cats demonstrate impeccable brain health etiquette. Well, not so much the laying around all day, every day part. OK. Let’s suffice to say that the cats collectively exhibit some behaviors that are indicative of good brain health, some of the time.
In any event, they always make me smile, give me love and companionship, keep me hopping with feeding, cleaning out the litter boxes, and vacuuming up all the hair — which is good for my brain. Let’s look at a few brain healthy tips from my furry family of six (yes, six) cats:
Get lots of sleep (in the sunshine whenever possible)
Sleep is the most important foundation of brain health. It’s absolutely essential for your brain to work properly because during sleep your brain is busy processing information, consolidating memories, making connections, and clearing out toxins. When asleep, your brain does its housekeeping and not having adequate time for this could accelerate neurodegenerative diseases.
Lack of sleep — even a few hours — can slow down your thinking, impair your memory, concentration, judgment, and decision-making, impede learning, and contribute to depression. And naps count! (read more: Skimping On Sleep Can Make You Sick, Fat, And Stupid)
Drink plenty of water (from the glasses in the sink, bathtub, plant dish, toilet bowl…)
When I get up from working at the computer, Darla scurries in front of me hoping I’ll head to the bathroom or kitchen sink and turn on the faucet for her. When I do (much too often), she perches on the edge of the sink, studies the stream of water intensely, dips her paw in, occasionally shaking it sending water droplets all over the place, and drinks intermittently.
Your brain loves water. Water makes up 83% of your blood and is the transport system to and from the brain, making deliveries of nutrients and removing toxins. Dehydration can impair attention and short-term and long term memory. (Read more: Feed Your Brain)
Find joy in the little things (I have a tail I can chase, something’s moving under the covers, there’s a hair band thingy on the floor!)
As a kitten, Smoky actually sauntered up to me and the dog one day, when we were out for a walk around the block, with no collar and decided to follow us home. After nobody called in response to the “Cat Found” flyers I posted around the neighborhood, the spunky kitty became part of our group. She delights me everyday with her silly antics as she manages to find fun wherever she is.
Similarly, we have to look for the positive that’s present in our lives daily and make a point to notice it. Your brain is busy vigilantly watching out for anything that it thinks might be a threat. It doesn’t automatically recognize the good things right in front of it. (Read more: Look For The Good And You’ll Find It)
Get out of your comfort zone (peek out from under the bed every once in a while)
I made the mistake of going to the pet superstore one Saturday morning when they had all the up-for-adoption kitties right as you walk in. Sir Dandelion Puff III, as they had named him, was the size of a stick of butter when they got him. I don’t know what happened to this now humongous, Garfield-sized cat before he came to me, but his amygdala has never calmed down. He’s the definition of a scaredy cat.
When my adult sons visit, he hides under the bed for the first day or two. Then, he might inch down the hall, giving the interlopers the stink eye. I was so proud of him when he ventured outside for the first time (I have a fenced back yard and an electronic fence for the cats).
Like Dandi’s, your brain loves routine and not having to venture out, which means safety to your brain. However, staying in your comfort zone doesn’t do anything to help your brain stay sharp. Stepping out of what’s familiar to you literally stretches your brain by forcing it to make new connections and allowing neuron’s dendrites to blossom. (Read more: 15 Ways To Kick Your Brain Out Of Its Comfort Zone)
Connect with others (head butt as many times as necessary to get someone’s attention)
Butters is my snuggle buddy. Whenever I’m working on the computer, she is often curled up in my lap, sitting annoyingly in front of the monitor, or rubbing up against my shins. She is always looking to make a connection, human, kitty, or canine.
Connecting is important to your brain too. In These are the 7 habits of highly healthy brains (in order of importance), Sarah McKay, neuroscientists, writes:
Having supportive friends, family and social connections helps you live longer, happier and healthier. Socialising reduces the harmful effects of stress and requires many complex cognitive functions such as thinking, feeling, sensing, reasoning and intuition. Loneliness and social isolation have comparable impacts on health and survival as smoking.
Move it often (sprint down the hall for no reason, if you feel like it)
Jeffrey will just take off running chasing an imaginary mouse or finds great pleasure in stalking and pouncing on the other cats. While he still lounges around most of the time and could stand to spend more time running around (and less time eating), he’s got the right idea with these spurts of activity.
Other than sleep, exercise is the best thing you can do for your brain. Research is showing that physical exercise improves mood, memory, attention, creativity, and learning and reduces depression, age related decline, and the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s. (Read more: How Exercise Helps Your Brain)
And one from the dog…
What you eat matters (Even if your taste buds tell you to eat anything, it’s probably best not to)
When he was younger, Bandit could and would eat anything. But at 13 years old, he started having seizures, serious digestive problems, and was diagnosed with pancreatitis and liver issues. I honestly thought he was on his way out. I took him to the vet for costly stays each time he had one of his “spells,” which set him and my wallet back every time.
Despite feeding him expensive prescription food, he kept getting thinner and worse. I decided to make his food. He’s been eating my home-made concoction of chicken, rice, green and orange veggies, ground flax seed, yogurt, and a probiotic supplement for over two years now and loving it. He’s still going strong, with no health problems.
Similarly, what you put in your stomach affects your overall health and impacts your brain the hardest. Your gut bacteria affect your health in many ways, from helping to build your immune system and influencing your weight and risk of certain diseases, like diabetes, obesity, and autoimmune, heart, and colon diseases, to impacting your brain, and in turn, your mental health and behavior. (Read more: How What Goes In Your Mouth Affects What Goes On In Your Brain)