Ellen Wood, Health Columnist

Courtesy photo.

Ellen Wood of Questa has built a following as a health columnist and motivational speaker. She's coordinated a group of senior authors and compiled their essays in a soon-to-be released book.

Funny. I regularly (not just on Thanksgiving) give thanks for my kids, grandkids, great-grandkids, soul sisters, friends, my house in beautiful Taos County, the good deal I got on my car, the mountains just for being there, and myriad other things. I even thank St. Anthony every time he finds something for me – and when I write my monthly article, I feel grateful that The Taos News has been publishing my column for 12 years.

I used to give thanks daily for my brain because it was working again, after having suffered for several years with early symptoms of Alzheimer’s. Luckily, my program of body/mind/spirit practices I began in 2004 worked! Just this month on November 18, I celebrate my 85th birthday and even though I have the Alzheimer’s gene, APO-e4, my intellect is still intact. Pretty darn good, I think.

But … I realize that my prayers of gratitude for my mental agility petered out some time ago and I now take my brain for granted. So, as a reminder to myself, and if this resonates with you, let’s review some ways to be kind to our mind.  

Advances in brain imaging and neuroscience have enabled scientists to learn more about the brain and how it works. Contrary to an outdated but prevailing myth, scientific studies on neuroplasticity show that the brain is capable of creating new neuronal pathways and reversing cognitive decline, no matter how old we live to be.

While researchers at the University of Kansas have found that getting plenty of physical exercise may keep your brain fit too, there’s even better news. Studies show that your brain performs best when it has its own fitness program, fostering a whole new industry – neurobics, exercise for the brain. Neurobics take the form of mental exercises, including brain teasers, Sudoku and puzzles, among others.

It’s very easy to fall into habits of doing the same things and not trying anything new. Routine actions and thoughts become so automatic that most of our actions are governed by ‘muscle memory’ and we do them largely unconsciously. To activate new brain circuits, we need to stimulate our brain chemistry by doing something new, like eating with our non-dominant hand or learning to play a musical instrument. Memorize, memorize, memorize. Do arithmetic in your head. Learn a new language. Duolingo.com’s bite-sized language lessons are fun, easy and 100 percent free. And thank your brain often.

One more thing: Please support local artists by doing your holiday shopping at the TAOS FOLK pop-up store at Stables Gallery from November 19 to December 24. It’s open seven days a week from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and until 7 p.m. on Fridays. Purchases are gift-wrapped for you at no additional charge. Notecards, mugs and blankets featuring my artwork will be among the items in the store, along with my books. I hope to see you there. 

Ellen Wood of Questa is an award-winning author as well as an artist using the name, Maruška. The website for her books and paintings is NorthernNewMexicoArtists.com/ellen-wood. Contact Ellen at ellen@howtogrowyounger.com.

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