Is Beauty A Brain Health Recommendation?

What if the things we focus on become our reality?

There is a ready supply of Brain Health Recommendations on how to keep our brains healthy.  Typically they include;

  1. Physical activity.  Aim for 150 minutes of physical activity a week. 
  1. Hydration.  Drinking water and juices can help keep our brains in good shape. 
  1. Novel challenges.  Confronting ourselves with learning opportunities that are new and interesting.
  1. Living a Mediterranean lifestyle.  Eating fresh vegetables and fruits, especially those with vibrant colours. Getting out and socializing with others.
  1. Restfulness.  Sleeping at least 7 hours a night, and enjoy the benefits of relaxation, perhaps meditation during the day. 

From: Brain Health in Memory Care by Krystal Culler, Cathee Steghl, Patrick Cleary & Caroline Larimore.  Today’s Geriatric Medicine, July August, 2020, 22-25.

Who can argue with those five suggestions? But as Shakespeare put it (Hamlet, Act 11, scene 2) ‘there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.’

Harvard psychologist  Ellen Langer had undertaken a couple of studies involving elderly patients. In one, she found that nursing-home residents who had exhibited early stages of memory loss were able to do better on memory tests when they were given incentives to remember — showing that in many cases, indifference was being mistaken for brain deterioration. In another, now considered a classic of social psychology, Langer gave houseplants to two groups of nursing-home residents. She told one group that they were responsible for keeping the plant alive and that they could also make choices about their schedules during the day. She told the other group that the staff would care for the plants, and they were not given any choice in their schedules. Eighteen months later, twice as many subjects in the plant-caring, decision-making group were still alive than in the control group. Ellen Langer back in 1979 and subsequently has demonstrated just how much our mindset influences our physical and mental ageing, and that body of evidence grows and grows. 

Langer then ran an experiment with a group of men in their 70s that has come to be known as “the counterclockwise study.” 

For five days, they lived inside a monastery that had been designed to look just like it was 1959. There were vintage radios and black-and-white TVs instead of cassette players and VHS. The books that lined the shelves were ones that were popular at the time. The magazines, TV shows, clothes and music were all throwbacks to that exact period.

At the end of five days, the men stood taller, had greater manual dexterity, and even better vision. Independent judges said they looked younger. In 2010, a BBC show recreated the experiment with ageing celebrities to similar effect. Langer’s research has led her to conclude that we can prime our minds to feel younger, which in turn can make our bodies follow suit.

“People with more positive feelings towards ageing walk faster, they do better on memory tests, they heal quicker, and they live longer. Even with brains full of plaques and tangles, some people stayed sharp to the end. What did they have in common? A sense of purpose. And what’s the biggest obstacle to having a sense of purpose in late life? A culture that tells us that getting older means shuffling offstage. That’s why the World Health Organization is developing a global anti-ageism initiative to extend not just life span but health span.”Ashton Applewhite TED Talks 2017

I would also mention all the work around the Polyvagal nerve that runs from the head to the gut, and  Gabor Maté who has studied the impacts of trauma upon our bodies.

So, here is just one tip beauty. Beauty?

You might be surprised by all the evidence ( https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/147470490500300109) that shows how beauty impacts positively upon our wellbeing. The gift of a bunch of flowers has  a powerful impact upon mood. A gift of any sort can lift someone’s mood but flowers have a longer lasting ability to lift mood. We know that a walk amongst nature is beneficial and is increasingly prescribed by doctors.

Eco-therapy – “Being able to connect with nature has positive mental health benefits. And it has been shown that being more active in green environments can boost your mood and  self-esteem far more than simply exercising alone.” Mind

So, I am not arguing for the pressure that society places on looking beautiful, a beauty perceived through the eyes of fashion which all too often brings pressure and increases anxiety, giving our inner critic a field day. I am arguing for appreciating the beauty that surrounds us. 

Start with an appreciative question, what beauty can I see in this moment?

In Appreciative Inquiry The things that we focus on becomes our reality.

 On a summer day I sat with a small sketch book in a garden and began to draw. I had around half an hour. It soon became clear to me that I needed all day! The more I looked the more I saw and at times I caught myself just looking and marvelling, rather than sketching. At the end of my half an hour I felt full of appreciation for nature and a great sense of calm energy. Now, when I look at my little sketch I find it easy to take myself back to that moment.  

What beauty can you –

See

Hear

Touch

Sense

How does that beauty positively affect your body? And if you breathe in through your nose and exhale through your mouth like a smoker as you appreciate the beauty, how do you now feel. Capture the moment it will keep you feeling younger!