Confessions of a 50-year-old.

Friday October 11, 2013

When we're young, we tend to indulge in all sorts of behaviours without considering the damage we're doing to ourselves physically. I don't just mean obvious misdemeanours like smoking and drinking - most of us know the dangers of those. I'm referring to more insidious habits that we may not be as conscious are doing us harm.

But this year I turned 50 and recently my body has been protesting that I've not paid it due care and attention. This blog is anonymous, so I'll confess I have receding gums and bunions. I'll stop there - if you're eating, I might put you off your food.

Whilst I'm sure a day of not brushing one's teeth properly doesn't cause much damage, the truth is I've always been impatient, so oral care has long seemed a chore. Equally I love fashion and have succumbed to fancy footwear on many an occasion, so it's no coincidence I bear these particular signs of ageing.

This lead me to wonder if our brains are similar; if we spend years being negative and self critical, then does our grey matter develop extra lumps and recesses like our feet and gums to reflect these patterns of thinking? Unless you've an MRI scanner to hand, you won't be able to see inside your skull to know, but research suggests this is the case.

The good news is that, thanks to something called 'neuroplasticity', however long-term the patterns, the damage needn't be permanent. Regardless of age, it's possible to forge fresh neural pathways by adopting different behaviours. Thus, for example, after eight weeks of mindfulness meditation, scans revealed increased density in those parts of the brain associated with memory, self-awareness and compassion.

According to my dentist, I'm in the nick of time to salvage my gums, so now I'm brushing and flossing with zeal. Likewise, given it's never too late to change your mind, why not pledge to restore vitality to your brain today? You can improve the tenor of your inner voice by listening to it, and when you experience a distressing thought, identify it and give yourself the choice of thinking and feeling differently.

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