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  • Alice Bull

How small changes during perimenopause can support your long-term brain health

We have heard a lot about 'change' over the last week throughout the UK election campaign. Change can be seen as good or bad, but what changes can you make to benefit your own wellbeing, especially during mid-life?

In the hustle and bustle of modern life, it's easy to look for quick fixes and dramatic transformations to improve your wellbeing. Social media bombards us with the latest diet, a new health gadget or courses claiming immediate results.

However, when it comes to brain health, small, consistent changes can have a profound impact. These incremental adjustments not only fit more seamlessly into your daily routines but also provide longer term benefits for your cognitive function and mental wellbeing.

Here’s why small changes can make such a powerful contribution to your brain health.

1. The Neuroscience of Small Changes

Our brains are incredibly adaptable, thanks to a phenomenon known as neuroplasticity. This is the brain's ability to reorganise itself by forming new neural connections throughout life.

I often refer to the analogy of paths through a wood. If you walk down the same negative mental path, it becomes worn down and easy to navigate. New overgrown paths seem difficult to conquer, so you avoid them.

However, if you want to build more positive neural pathways, you have to take the first small step of neglecting that well-trodden path and focusing on something positive repeatedly. In time, the old negative pathway becomes unfamiliar and overgrown. With regular attention, your new positive pathway becomes the easiest route.

Small, consistent changes like this encourage neuroplasticity, helping to maintain and even improve cognitive functions as we age. Activities like learning a new word each day (I try and learn a new word in French and write it in a notebook!), practising a few minutes of Sophrology, or taking a different route to work can stimulate brain activity and promote neural growth.

2. The Stress Factor

Large, abrupt changes can often lead to stress and anxiety, which are detrimental to your brain health. Stress releases cortisol, a hormone that can impair your cognitive functions like memory and learning if you experience stress for long consistent periods. Unfortunately, women often start experiencing the symptoms of perimenopause when they are reaching the peak of their careers, with maximum stress in their lives.

Trying to make small changes is less likely to trigger stress responses and damage your brain health. Incorporating minor adjustments like a short daily walk, a brief breathing or Sophrology session, or even altering your diet slightly to include more brain-healthy foods (wholegrains, nuts and seeds, coffee, green leafy vegetables) can be manageable and less stressful.

3. Building Healthy Habits

Habits are the building blocks of your daily life, and they significantly influence your overall health. Small changes are more effective in habit formation because they are easier to incorporate and maintain over time.

For instance, starting with just five minutes of exercise daily can eventually lead to a regular fitness routine. You don't have to run a marathon to see benefits! Start small and build up slowly. Similarly, going to bed ten minutes earlier than usual can, when compounded over time, dramatically increase the amount of sleep you get, potentially reducing brain fog and memory loss.

4. Cognitive Benefits of Small, Consistent Changes

  • Enhanced Memory: Small mental exercises, such as puzzles, reading, or learning new skills, can improve your memory retention and cognitive agility.

  • Increased Focus: Short breaks during work to practice Sophrology or deep breathing can enhance your concentration and reduce mental fatigue.

  • Improved Mood: Small acts of self-care, like spending a few minutes in nature, practicing gratitude, or connecting with loved ones, can boost your mood and reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety so often felt during perimenopause.

5. Practical Small Changes for Brain Health

Here are some practical small changes you can start implementing today:

  • Daily Physical Activity: Engage in at least 10 minutes of light to moderate exercise, such as walking or stretching. As Neuroscientist Lisa Mosconi discusses when interviewed on Dr. Rangan Chatterjee's 'Feel Better Live More' podcast, mid-life fitness has a direct correlation to women's brain health later on in life. She reports how low to moderate exercise during perimenopause can reduce the risk in later life of dementia by 30%.

  • Sophrology Practice: Spend 5-10 minutes each day checking in with your body, connecting to your breath and relaxing your mind to reduce stress. Find a free audio exercise to try on my website here.

  • Mental Challenges: Dedicate a few minutes daily to puzzles, navigating with an old-fashioned map, learning a new language or dusting off an old instrument you used to play!

  • Sleep Hygiene: Improve your sleep quality by establishing a consistent bedtime routine and reducing screen time before bed. If you can't avoid screens late at night, I can highly recommend blue-light blocking glasses to regulate your sleep-wake cycle.

6. Long-Term Impact

The beauty of small changes lies in their cumulative effect. Over time, these minor adjustments can lead to significant improvements in your brain health. Consistency is key, and the benefits will become more apparent as these small changes become ingrained in your daily routine. Try and find changes that work for you around your busy lifesylte and don't try and introduce changes all at once! Take your time and incorporate changes slowly.

During the menopause journey, when so many things seem out of your control, small changes are not only manageable but also highly effective. They reduce stress, enhance cognitive functions, and build healthy habits that can last a lifetime. By making these minor adjustments, you're investing in your brain's long-term health and wellbeing, ensuring it remains sharp, resilient, and vibrant. Remember, it's not about making huge leaps but taking small, consistent steps toward a healthier brain.

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