For Mother’s Day Give The Gift Of A Healthy Brain
Mothers come in all shapes and sizes. They’re our first protector and are often our biggest advocates throughout life. They nurture and protect us throughout the various stages of life.
It’s heartbreaking when that strength begins to fail with age, particularly in their brain. While it is normal for frailty to set in with advanced age, it’s possible to minimize the risks and have a healthy and happy older life, if the right early care is taken.
With Mother’s Day around the corner, there’s no better gift for the mothers in our life than learning about her brain and ways to keep it healthy!
Understanding Mom’s Brain
Is a mother’s brain different from, say, our father’s or brother’s? The answer is yes. But not in the way mainstream media makes us believe.
We’ve been regularly told that there’s a gendered brain. Things like men are from Mars and women are from Venus, men are logical where women are emotional, men like blue and women like pink. But these are nothing more than pop culture opinions that have no scientific data behind them. In fact, there are no differences between men and women as far as cognitive capacities and anatomical details of the brain are concerned.
But there are significant differences in the biochemical responses and processes in the brains of women. These differences often make women more susceptible to certain brain health issues. Women are much more likely to get migraines and other forms of headaches, anxiety disorders, depression, brain stroke, dementia, and Alzheimer’s Disease than men in the same age group.
The good news is with early lifestyle changes this risk can be minimized to a great extent.
The Estrogen Factor
Before we get into how to curate a brain-healthy Mother’s Day, it’s important to understand how hormones directly impact the female brain. Recent research has linked hormonal imbalances and lifestyle factors as a key contributor to brain degeneration in older women. While acute brain-degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s rarely manifest before one hits their 70s, the underlying changes that lead to it, particularly on the cellular level, can be put in motion decades earlier. Lisa Mosconi, founder and director of Women’s Brain Initiative at Weill Cornell Medicine, puts a definitive timeline to it: menopause.
Every woman goes through menopause, a period through which she ceases to be fertile through a series of bodily changes––chief among them is a marked drop in levels of estrogen in her body. Estrogen is unique to the female body. While it is normally understood as a sex hormone, its functions go much deeper than that. It is connected to several functions of the female body including sleep and body temperature regulation, energy generation in the cells, and stress control. Lower levels of estrogen in the body not only lead to hot flashes, night sweat, frequent mood swings, and other physical symptoms of menopause but also contributes to a more rapid breakdown of brain cells.
While brain degeneration is a natural process and diseases like Alzheimer’s can have genetic roots, Mosconi’s research shows that regulating body estrogen levels through preventive lifestyle changes can markedly minimize a woman’s brain degeneration risks and improve quality of life after menopause.
Following this and other research in the area, here are a few ways to ensure strong cognitive health, no matter what stage of life the important moms in our lives are in.
Brain Healthy Mother’s Day Activities
Stimulate her mind
The best way to keep our brain sharp and agile is to constantly challenge it to push boundaries. And nothing challenges the brain more than learning new things.
There are a ton of ways to give the gift of learning. Buy her books through which she can learn about unknown topics, get her craft supplies to let her express her creativity, make arrangements for workshops and experiences she has never had before. If she likes numbers, get her puzzles and math games to solve. Set up a family-friendly scavenger hunt or simply plan a day of interactive games.
This is the gift that keeps on giving and can be cultivated for every interest and age group, making this an awesome way to celebrate mothers of all ages.
Make her a Mediterranean spread
The Mediterranean diet is known as one of the best diets for overall brain health and is specifically beneficial towards Alzheimer’s prevention. But recent researches show it’s also beneficial for women, as Mediterranean foods contain several natural sources of estrogen. Women who follow this diet have been found to have a much lower risk of cognitive decline, depression, heart diseases, dementia, and signature menopause symptoms like hot flashes.
So what does a Mediterranean diet look like? It basically means switching to mostly plant-based foods and lean meats, while cutting down on saturated fat, red meat, and processed foods like cheese, butter, sugar, etc. In their place, add leafy green vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds, fish, olive oil, whole grains, poultry, eggs, berries, and colored fruits as the main dietary food staples.
Whether this diet is a new addition or one that’s already in place, making a Mother’s Day brunch with these items is satisfying and healthy for everyone in the family. Use this meal as a way to introduce new brain foods, while emphasizing the importance of diet for brain health.
Exercise with her
Ask any mother and they’ll tell you: exercise is usually the last thing on their mind after a busy day. Unfortunately, if exercise isn’t an ingrained habit, it can fall to the wayside as women age. But exercise is one of the best ways to keep our brain in shape by helping stabilize things like cardiovascular health and blood sugar––both of which pose a higher risk for brain degenerative diseases for women.
While gifting an exercise program or gym membership may seem like bad form, there are plenty of other ways to promote a physically active Mother’s Day. Suggest going for a walk through a park, or a hike through the woods. Make an effort to combine her exercise with our own, by having Facetime walks with grandma or date hikes with your spouse. Creating homemade coupon books can be a thoughtful way to give not just exercise, but the gift of spending time together as well. Having company while exercising has been known to not only yield better results but in reaching fitness goals faster as well.
Spend more time with her
Of all the gifts in the world, the simple gift of our company can be infinitely beneficial for any mother’s brain. But this is particularly true of our own mother as they age.
Stress is the number one risk factor for dementia. It can be instrumental in building amyloid plaques in the brain which often lead to severe brain cell degeneration. With the limited physical and social mobility that old age brings, it is very common for older women to isolate themselves, and that is fertile ground for chronic stress.
Frequently seeing and engaging with loved ones helps regulate stress-causing hormones in women, and by extension helps keep estrogen levels up. And while spending time with our mother on special occasions may be automatic, don’t limit these visits to only these days. Whenever possible, build in a weekly or bi-weekly visit; or more frequent Facetime calls.
Since women are the primary caregivers in most families worldwide, it’s common for them to feel neglected or taken for granted, especially as their children move into adulthood, no longer depending on them. So for Mother’s Day, make sure that she feels seen and appreciated, and make an effort to continue on a regular basis.
A little extra pampering never hurts
To continue on this note, Mother’s Day is also a great opportunity to pamper mom. Many women tend to invest less and less time and effort into self-care as they age. It comes from several factors, including cultural ideas about the loss of youth and social propriety.
Regardless of age, indulging in a little pampering every once in a while is essential when it comes to de-stressing. While this extra care won’t cure all stress-related symptoms, they can significantly reduce stress and help mom relax more. But this ability to take time for themselves, whether out of habit or simply having a full schedule, is often missed by moms of all ages.
This Mother’s Day gives mom the gift of indulgence. If possible, book her a day at a local spa, or make an appointment for a full-service salon day. If she’d rather stay home, bring the spa experience to her. Buy a luxury bath or skincare products. Draw her a bath and ensure she gets to spend as much time as she wants soaking in the quiet. Give her a massage, make her breakfast in bed, or fill the house with her favorite flowers. Even something as simple as cleaning the house so she doesn’t have to can be incredibly relaxing for a busy mom.
Women’s brains are different in multiple ways, and in the past decade, we’ve begun to fully understand these significant differences. Mother’s Day is about celebrating all the mothers in our lives. We can celebrate how much we love and appreciate them by finding gifts that help them live fuller, healthier lives. And that’s truly the gift that keeps on giving.