Archive of ‘Austin Family Counseling’ category

Move, Eat, and Sleep Your Way to a Healthier Brain

A client in their early thirties told me recently that losing his mental faculties would be one of the scariest things he could imagine. I think most of us would agree that the thought of losing our memory or having decreased cognitive functioning is terrifying. New studies are showing that memory complaints are linked (across all age groups) to poor health and lifestyle factors. The bad news is that more young people are reporting memory problems. The good news is that exercise, learning, and making healthy lifestyle choices might improve your cognitive functioning.

Jennifer Alley, LPC

By: Jennifer Alley, LPC

One study reported in Medical News Today suggested that thinking skills tend to be best in individuals who had better cardiovascular fitness when they were young. Another study, also from Medical News Today, said that research now shows a connection between narrowing arteries and memory issues. A new study by University of California, Los Angeles, published in PLOS ONE, found that risk factors like depression, diabetes, obesity, and smoking increased the probability of memory complaints across all age groups, including young adults (ages 18-39). And, regardless of age, the strongest risk factor found was depression for perceived memory issues.

Of course, there are genetic factors and diseases that may unfortunately negatively impact cognitive function in individuals who are making healthy lifestyle choices. However, here are tips from researchers and experts to best protect your brain:

  •  Get regular exercise
  •  Avoid smoking
  •  Further your education/learn/keep your brain stimulated
  •  Have your blood pressure checked regularly
  •  Seek help/treatment for depression/depressive symptoms
  •  Have an active social life
  •  Eat a healthy diet
  •  Get quality sleep (95% adults who get less than seven hours on a routine basis experience decreased physical and mental performance)
  •  Find ways to manage your stress

We urge parents who might be reading this to help your children start learning about living a healthy life now. Here are some ideas:

  •  Exercise as a family
  •  Go on family walks
  •  Play ball/chase/tag outside
  •  Go swimming
  •  Plan meals and snacks that are healthy (it’s a good idea to shop the perimeter of the grocery store where most of the whole foods are)
  •  Teach them fun ways to unwind (reading, playing, taking deep breaths, moving their bodies, dancing)
  •  Have consistent bedtime routines and schedules. See below to make sure everyone is getting enough sleep:
    • < 12 months old: 14-16 hours per day
    • 1-3 years old: 12-14 hours per day
    • 3-6 years old: 10-12 hours per day
    • 7-12 years old: 10-11 hours per day
    • 12-18 years old: 8-9 hours per day
    • Adults: varies but generally 7-9 hours to function optimally

Family Time in the School Year

girl swinging pic

It seems like the middle of summer but the next school year is right around the corner. As you stock up on pencils, paper and other supplies, it is a good time to set family goals and have important conversations about finding balance this year.

School often brings with it extracurricular activities, homework, endless laundry, and large to do lists. It is easy for family time to be replaced with children playing sports, studying, and attending birthday parties and other social events while parents hustle to run errands, keep up with housework and their career, and shuttle their kids from place to place.

Because there are only so many hours in a day, something has to give. And all too often, it is family time together. Uninterrupted, device-less, quality time is a precious commodity these days. But maybe this year, you and your family can be intentional about making it a necessity.

Here are a few reasons why you should consider it:

  • Children whose parents are involved are less likely to engage in risky behaviors and are more likely to do better in school.
  • Families are better able to adapt to challenging situations if they are emotionally close.
  • Children whose mother communicates frequently with them (listening, answering questions, and talking) are more likely to perform well academically.
  • Children whose father spends time with them doing activities tend to have better academic success, as well.
  • Adolescents whose parents are involved in their lives tend to exhibit fewer behavioral problems.
  • Youth who participate in activities with their parents and have close relationships with them are less likely to engage in violence.
  • Eating dinner together frequenting reduces the risk of substance abuse for teens.
  • Adolescents whose parents are home with them after school and during the evening hours are less likely to experience emotional distress.

Spending time together doesn’t have to be costly or elaborate. Often, it is more about the frequency of checking in, talking with one another, eating meals together, playing games or playing outside with one another, and other low-stress activities that help family members bond the most. Now is a good time, before it all begins again, to sit down and talk about setting up regular rituals and routines for connecting with one another and committing to make family time a priority this year.


How Much Technology is Too Much?

kid on phone

We live in a time where e-mails, texts, social media, games, the latest news and even movies are at our fingertips. With smartphones on the rise (about 58-65% of Americans own one), the average American spends 23 hours each week using some online communication. And, according to a recent study by Nielsen, the average American adult spends 10 hours per day with some type of electronic media.

Certainly, many of those hours may be chalked up to work and other important or necessary matters. But many of us are guilty of interacting more with our friends and family members on sites like Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, and Instagram than we do in person. And, while technology is supposed to make life easier, one could argue that being plugged in all of the time (ie. having constant access to work emails), can also be detrimental.

Our online presence is a great way to numb, to disconnect, to tune out real life problems and relational struggles. It also feels like a good way to connect, have down time, and a little bit of fun. And it certainly can be. Of course, it also can create a new set of problems. Problems like not feeling good enough, creating cyber relationships that are detrimental or hurtful to partnerships/marriages, feeling out of touch with reality, cyber bullying, comparing ourselves to others, overworking as we are always plugged in, sexting, and perhaps most importantly, being disconnected from the people who matter the most to us.

When I think of how this plays out in everyday life, I think of times where I have watched family members or partners eat an entire meal together at a restaurant without actually speaking to one another, captivated by their smartphone. I think of children who struggle to get their parent’s attention as they browse Facebook. I imagine husbands and wives lying in their dark room at night illuminated by the glow of a television or smartphone instead of snuggling up together at the end of a long day to reconnect. I think of young people and adults feeling depressed and isolated because their online persona or avatar is not meeting up to their counterparts’ online identities. And I think of more and more people being “connected” yet feeling desperately and utterly disconnected. And certainly, this could be and has been all of us at some point, I would imagine.

As parents, it is important to know that children and adolescents are at greater risk in their use of social media due to “their limited capacity for self-regulation and susceptibility to peer pressure,” according to Medical News Today. And, excessive internet use has been linked to loneliness, depression, and other emotional issues. Regardless of our age, it would be good to examine our online presence and how it is impacting our life offline. If you answer yes to any of the following statements below, limiting or changing your Internet habits might be beneficial.

  1. I have gone without eating, sleeping, or meeting other basic needs because of the Internet.
  2. I feel extremely bothered when I can’t connect or get on the internet.
  3. I frequently catch myself surfing when I’m not really interested.
  4. When I get online to do something briefly, I find myself engaged in sites and apps outside of my original intention.
  5. I spend less time than I should with family, friends, work, or schoolwork because of the time I spend online.
  6. I have tried unsuccessfully to spend less time on the Internet.
  7. I have gotten cues or feedback from loved ones that I am not present with them because of my online activity.
  8. I often find myself surfing the web in the middle of the night instead of sleeping.
  9. There is conflict in my relationships because of the time I spend or because of my activity online.
  10. If I ever have a spare minute, I immediately grab my device to go online.
  11. I frequently am comparing myself to others (even friends) online.

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