Tag Archives: giving back

6 Ways to Improve Your Brain Health

crossword_background_001I worry about my brain. As the prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia increases, I want to do more to protect my memory and cognitive function.

While we wait for a cure for Alzheimer’s or better treatments for dementia, what can you do to help prevent the diseases? You can lead a more brain-healthy lifestyle that can slow down the process of deterioration. No matter what your age, you can take steps now to keep your brain healthy.

Here are 6 ways to start improving your brain health today:

Stay active
Physical activity is a valuable part of living a more balanced life and can also lower the risk of cognitive decline. According to the Alzheimer’s Research & Prevention Foundation, physical exercise reduces your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease by 50%.

In addition to protecting against Alzheimer’s and dementia, creating a regular exercise routine can also boost your mood, increase energy levels and reduce stress.

Read more about the benefits of exercise.

Eat a healthy diet
Your brain needs a nutritious diet to perform at its best. Make sure you are eating plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, lean protein and healthy fats. Focus on creating good eating habits that reduce inflammation and provide a steady supply of fuel.

Here are more diet tips to keep your brain healthy and protected:

  • Follow a Mediterranean diet – This approach to healthy eating includes a balanced diet rich in fish, whole grains, nuts, olive oil and fresh produce.
  • Avoid trans fats and saturated fats – You should reduce your intake of full-fat dairy products, red meat, fried foods, fast food and processed foods.
  • Eat heart-healthy options – If you’re following a diet plan that’s good for your heart, it’s also going to be good for your brain. When you reduce your risk of heart disease, you’re also helping protect your brain.
  • Add omega-3 fats – Studies show that omega-3 fatty acids may help prevent Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Eat cold-water fish, such as salmon, tuna, trout, mackerel and sardines.

Keep mentally active
When you continue to learn new things and challenge your brain throughout life, you are less likely to develop Alzheimer’s or dementia. It’s a good idea to follow the “use it or lose it” approach. Activities that involve multiple tasks or include different types of stimulation, such as communicating, interacting and organization, will offer the greatest benefits and protection.

Here are more ways to exercise your brain.

Have a social life
We are social creatures. Relationships are important to our health. If you are isolated, you’re not thriving and neither is your brain. Studies show that the more connected we are and the more relationships we have, we test better for memory and cognition.

Do you have trouble making friends? Here are a few ways to build a strong support system and develop new relationships.

  • Volunteer – There are so many great causes you can support and giving back is good for your health!
  • Make weekly plans with friends – Take the initiative and get together with friends. You can go to the movies, visit the park, creating a walking group, or check out local museums.
  • Take a class – Join a gym or sign up for classes at a local college. It’s a great way to meet new people and stimulate your brain.
  • Get to know your neighbors – You may have people nearby who have similar interests to you. Make it a point to know your neighbors.

Manage your stress
Chronic stress takes a toll on the body as well as on your brain. Stress can lead to shrinkage in key memory areas of the brain, hamper nerve cell growth and increase the risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia.

There are many things you can do to prevent stress and keep your stress levels in check. Even the foods you eat can help you control stress.

Get plenty of sleep
Your brain needs to rest. A good night’s sleep helps your brain function at maximum capacity. When you don’t get enough sleep, you are cranky and tired. Lack of sleep also impairs your ability to think, solve problems and store or recall information. Deep, REM state sleep is important for memory formation and retention. Most adults need at least 8 hours of sleep per night. If you’re getting less sleep than that, your health, productivity and creativity can suffer.

To protect your brain health, embrace a balanced lifestyle that will improve your overall health. A balanced life includes exercising, eating a nutritious diet, establishing good relationships, reducing stress, and getting plenty of sleep.

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Giving Back is Good for Your Health

present-3-673648-mOne of my favorite holiday stories is the Charles Dickens’ novel, A Christmas Carol. It captures the true meaning and spirit of the Christmas season – putting others before ourselves and doing good deeds.

At the beginning of the story, Mr. Scrooge is a selfish, bitter, mean, miserly old man. As he looks back on his life, he realizes the error of his ways. He learns that compassion, generosity and kindness are much more rewarding than being greedy and narcissistic. His spirit is reborn, and he is a changed man.

While we should be altruistic all year long, the holidays are a great time to volunteer and give back to others. In fact, helping others – without expecting anything in return – is actually good for your health.

Here are 6 health benefits of doing good deeds:

Combat depression
Volunteering can help reduce your risk of depression. A key risk factor for depression is social isolation. When you give back, you are regularly in contact with others and that helps you build a solid support system. If wintertime gives you the blues or if the holidays are getting you down, doing good deeds can help ward off depression.

In addition, you can actually experience a “helper’s high” when you do a good deed for someone else. Giving back can create a sense of euphoria that may also be accompanied by a surge of energy. The emotional rewards of doing good can boost the mind and soul.

Improve heart health
One of the many benefits of helping others includes better heart health. Acts of goodness are associated with the release of oxytocin – a hormone that is known to be linked to improved heart function. Since heart disease is still the number one killer, it’s important to protect your heart every way you can.

Increase self-confidence
Volunteering can provide a healthy boost to your self-confidence and self-esteem. You may feel more satisfied with life and be happier with your place in the world. When you do good in your community, you have a sense of accomplishment. By feeling better about yourself, you have a more positive outlook on life overall.

Reduce stress
Being happy and positive can also help you reduce stress. Getting out, spending time with others and making new friends is also great for alleviating tension and stress.

Live longer
If you feel better about yourself and experience less stress, you may also live longer. Volunteers tend to be more conscientious about their own wellness. Your positive outlook can reinforce your desire to become more physically fit and eat a healthier diet.

Decrease chronic pain
When you do good deeds, you may recover more quickly from a wide range of ailments, including illness and injury. You may also feel less pain when you volunteer regularly.  The positive energy from giving back can lower the chemicals in your body that contribute to inflammation and other diseases.

Want to enjoy these mind-body benefits of giving back and reach that helper’s high? Here are 5 tips to help you become more altruistic:

Use your talents
What can you do that could benefit others? Can you provide tutoring? Do you know how to paint or create pottery? Are you good at gardening, working with animals or playing sports? You may have skills that could benefit others – and it will be fun for you, too!

Set your own pace
You don’t need to start out volunteering 20 hours a week. Research has shown that just two hours of good deeds each week can boost both your mental and physical health.

Strengthen relationships
Volunteering can be a good way to bond with friends or family members. You can strengthen your relationships while helping others.

Make it a habit
It’s the follow-through that really counts. Set a regular day and time to do your volunteering. If it’s on your schedule, you can quickly turn it into a habit.

Find your passion
It may take you some time to find the best fit between you and your volunteer activity. Try a few things out to see what works best for you. Start out with your skills and interests and go from there.

Good deeds are good for those you help and good for you. And, it feels good to be nice. Doing good guides you on the path to a more balanced life and creating a better version of yourself. Additional side effects include being more physically and mentally healthy, as well as growing as a person.

How do you give back? What are your plans for doing good deeds this holiday season?

7 Easy Ways to Give Back Right Now

helping hands giving back volunteering Have you helped someone today? Did you volunteer this week? Are you waiting to “give back” when you have more money or when someone asks for your help?

Well, there’s no time like the present. You can donate your time and energy to a good cause that needs you right now.

First, think about the skills or services you have to give. Are you crafty and good with your hands? Do you like to work outdoors? Are you organized and detail-oriented? All of these skills can be put to good use helping others.

Next, what do you like to do? Trying to force yourself to help with charitable activities that don’t appeal to you will discourage you very quickly. If you’re introverted and can’t sing, you probably shouldn’t go Christmas caroling. If needles and blood make you squeamish, you may not want to help at a blood drive. Find what inspires you and do it!

And last, make it a habit. When giving back becomes part of your routine and who you are, it becomes easy to find the time and inspiration to volunteer.

Here are 7 easy ways you can give back right now:

Start in your community
Just about every community has an animal shelter, food bank or pantry, homeless shelter or senior center. These organizations can always use more hands. Many times you can get into a routine of helping once a week at the same time and same place. You can build relationships with the staff and those you assist. And, you can turn giving back into a habit.

Donate old stuff
We all have perfectly good items that we no longer use. You can go through your closet and clean out the clothes you don’t wear. You may have a storage area that is just a dumping ground for all those things you never use anymore. Get rid of what you don’t need and donate it to people who will use it.

Exercise for a good cause
You can raise money for a good cause and motivate yourself to be more fit at the same time. Participate in a charity bike ride or a run/ walk event. Many big non-profits hold these types of events all over the country. Simply go online and search for charity walks, runs or rides near you. Signing up for an event will motivate you to train and will help others in the process.

Support local arts programs
You can volunteer at local museums, community theaters or even your YMCA. Local public radio and TV stations may even take volunteers. You may be able to help out at the local library. There are many ways you can support the arts and have some fun, too.

Help in your neighborhood
You can run errands for your elderly neighbors or give them a ride to doctors’ appointments. You can deliver meals to the elderly or disabled. You can offer to rake leaves, mow the lawn or do some painting or home repairs. You may find that your older neighbors just enjoy having company.

Be a tutor
You can volunteer to be a reader at your area elementary school. Or, you might be able to mentor or tutor children. With cuts in school funding, many schools might appreciate having volunteers who can provide additional support and assistance. You may also be able to teach English as a second language or help with adult learning classes.

Connect with national non-profits
Large non-profit organizations need help, too. You can sort clothes at your local branch of the Salvation Army or Goodwill. The American Red Cross can use volunteers to help at local blood drives. The United Way is busy all across the country, and Habitat for Humanity can always use more hands.

It’s time to make volunteering and giving back part of your routine so that it becomes a habit. You can volunteer with friends or family in order to spend more time together and strengthen those relationships. Or, you can meet new people and find friends you might not have met otherwise. Giving back helps you create a greater life balance and overall satisfaction while also doing great things for others.

What are some of the groups or activities that you’ve been involved with? How have you benefited from giving back?

How to decide where to volunteer

Find your passion choose where to volunteerEarlier this year, we wrote about the 5 surprising benefits of giving back. Volunteering can be very rewarding – for those you help and for you.

You may be thinking about volunteering, but you just don’t know how to get started or where to volunteer. It may help you to first take a look at the reasons why people volunteer.

Why do people volunteer?

Knowing why you want to volunteer may help you decide where you should volunteer. Here are a few of the reasons people volunteer:

Give back
The most obvious reason that people volunteer is to give back and do something good for others. You may feel that you have been fortunate and want to help others who are struggling. You may have a personal reason for wanting to volunteer. For instance, you may love animals and want to help out at an animal shelter. You may have had a sick relative who received home health care or hospice care, and you want assist others in that situation.

Do something new
You may like to experience new things and create new opportunities. You may want to do something that is out of your comfort zone. You can gain a deeper understanding of how other people live, the challenges they face and learn something new about the world. Volunteering can even be a way to open up your mind and learn something about yourself.

Make friends
Volunteering can be a great way to meet people and make new friends. You will find people with similar backgrounds and passions. You can feel a sense of belonging working alongside others who are interested in the same things as you.

Learn new skills
By volunteering, you can learn new skills and gain experience that you can use in your career. Many employers like to hire employees who have relevant experience in their field. You can also determine if you might like a particular career by doing volunteer work first.

Have fun
You will most likely choose to give back because it’s fun. Volunteering can be difficult, dirty, stressful, sad and rewarding. You will do it anyway because you enjoy it, or because at the end of the day your accomplishments are reward enough.

Once you know why you want to volunteer, it can help you narrow your choices as you decide where you want to volunteer.

Here are 5 steps to help you choose where to volunteer:

1. Find your passion
What issues do you feel strongly about? You may want to help cancer patients, work with the elderly, foster animals or mentor children. You can find groups that serve the areas you are interested in. Or, you may already give money to these types of organizations. You can take the next step and become a volunteer for them.

2. Identify your unique skills
You may have unique skills that you can incorporate into your plans to volunteer. Maybe you are good at landscaping and can volunteer to help beautify local parks. You may enjoy teaching and can mentor kids or adults. You might be good at sports and could coach a youth league. You can incorporate your special skills into helping a cause you are passionate about.

3. Talk to others
Where do people you know volunteer? You can ask around in your own personal network to find organizations that others might recommend. You may be able to join a friend or colleague where they volunteer to see if it’s a good fit for you.

4. Determine a good fit
Do you want to volunteer on a regular basis or sporadically as needed? What organizations fit your passions and unique skills? Which volunteer opportunities have been recommended by others? Narrow down your choices and find one that best suits you.

5. Get to know the organization
If you aren’t already familiar with your choice, visit their website and read more about them. Call or email the organization to ask any questions you might have. As we mentioned earlier, you can also volunteer with someone who already assists the organization.

You’re ready to give back! So go on and take the plunge. You may find that volunteering means as much to you as those you help.

Do you volunteer? How did you choose an organization?

7 places to volunteer this summer

Give helping hand volunteer in summerWhen I think about giving back, donating money is often the first thing that comes to mind. We hear on the news about natural disasters, and we are encouraged to give a helping hand to others around the world.

I absolutely applaud giving money or your time to any cause that moves you. Yet, there are many worthy causes right in our own communities. Summer is a great time to volunteer and give back right in your neighborhood.

And, if you have kids, summer break provides the perfect opportunity to learn about the rewards of giving back. You can even get your workplace involved in volunteering in your area.

Here are 7 places you, your family or your company can volunteer in your community:

Local festivals
In my neighborhood, we have a local arts festival that can always use volunteers. Your community may have local festivals, bazaars, fairs, parades or other opportunities to help out with popular summer events. You can enjoy the festivities while giving back to your community.

Summer camps
You may have summer camps or day camps for the kids in your area. They are always looking for volunteers to help them with programs, cooking, cleaning or assisting with activities. You may have a special talent – such as painting, scrapbooking, sewing, etc. – that the kids will enjoy and the camp will appreciate your expertise.

Park districts
Many parks or playground areas could use some cleaning up in the summer. You can contact a local park district and see if they have certain days for park beautification and want volunteers. You can also pick a nice day and take a few trash bags with you to the park. If you make it a habit to clean up the park or playground, your kids will also learn the value of keeping their environment beautiful.

Hospitals, nursing homes or hospice
Hospitals always need help any time of year. The types of things you can volunteer to do may vary greatly. You may be able to greet people, deliver flowers and gifts to patient rooms or read to children or other patients. You can also visit your local nursing home and provide companionship, read or play games with patients.

You can volunteer for hospice. While it can be an emotionally difficult experience, it can also be very rewarding. You may become the person the family relies on to visit the patient, run errands or do simple tasks for the family.

Mentoring
Many young boys and girls have only one parent, live with grandparents or have foster families. You can make an amazing, positive difference in a child’s life simply be spending time with him or her. Summer is a great time to get started with endless fun activities available for you to get acquainted. You can contact your local Big Brother, Big Sister or Boys and Girls Club. Your area may also have summer activities or group events where you can volunteer and provide mentoring for local youth.

Church
Your church is a great place to volunteer. During the summer, you may be able to help with youth group outings, Bible school, special Sunday school trips or other events. While you may already volunteer at your church, find out if there are more ways you can help.

Animal shelters
If you are an animal lover and looking for ways to volunteer in your community, an animal shelter may be a perfect fit for you. With warm weather, the shelter animals will enjoy spending even more time walking or playing outdoors. You can get some exercise, take advantage of the weather and make an animal’s day. Plus, spending time with animals can lower your blood pressure, reduce stress and just make you feel good!

So, get out there this summer and find ways to volunteer in your community. You may even be surprised by the benefits of giving back.

Do you have favorite places that you like to volunteer during the summer? Inspire us with your stories!

5 surprising benefits of giving back

give backWhat is giving back? It can be something as simple as opening a door or carrying a package for someone whose hands are full. It can be as monumental as setting up a trust for a charity that’s dear to you.

And giving back can fall somewhere in between. You can volunteer in your community. You can donate money to cancer research, feeding the hungry, disaster relief or helping animals. You can support your church.

I know I have tightened my belt in recent years and become more cynical about donating money. It’s harder to trust that large organizations will spend it wisely. It seems like everyone is asking for money – from my kids’ school and the local fire department to my college and various telemarketers.

But, I can give freely of my time. And I should. One of my goals for 2013 is to give back more to my community. As I was looking into giving back, I discovered some surprising side effects to volunteering.

However, my motives need to be pure. By being altruistic – showing unselfish concern for the welfare of others – you may be blessed in your own way:

Spread joy
When you give of yourself, you will spread joy to others in ways you may not even realize. And by giving joy to others, it’s hard not to experience some joy yourself. You create a connection that you may not have had otherwise. You make the world a happier place – one act of kindness and generosity at a time.

Be happier
Giving of yourself is good for your soul. When you see a smile on someone’s face, a lightness in their step or gratitude in their eyes, it’s easy to be happy. The worries and stresses of the day drop away. Volunteering can help you feel better overall, increase your self-esteem and give you greater life satisfaction.

Live longer
According to a study published in the American Psychology Association’s online journal Health Psychology, volunteers may live longer if their motivation is truly to assist others. Now, as we mentioned earlier, if you are doing it to help yourself, there is no difference in life expectancy.

Reduce depression
Volunteering gets you out socializing and interacting with others. Research has even shown that long-term volunteering can help lift depression.

Alleviate chronic pain
Volunteering may help you feel better physically, too. Again, this could be because you are getting out, moving around more than you normally might and spending time with others. If you feel like other people are counting on you, you may be more likely to keep moving even when you are experiencing pain. Or, helping others may take your mind off of your pain. Studies have shown that chronic pain may be reduced or alleviated by volunteering.

So, make plans to give back this year. Get out and give your money and your time. You may be surprised that helping others helps you feel good, too. And that means everybody wins!

How do you give back? Do you have goals to give more of yourself in 2013?