The BEST thing you can do for your brain!

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My FAVE pastime and it's sooo good for you!

My FAVE pastime and it’s sooo good for you!

It’s no surprise to anyone who knows me, or any students I taught, that my favorite thing to do is READ. I love to get lost in a good book and have spent many pleasurable hours snuggled up on the couch with a roaring fire, or by a pool or ocean, reading my Kindle. Also, I enjoyed reading to my daughters when they were young, and as a result they have become avid readers too.

My sentiments precisely!

My sentiments precisely!

That’s all well and good, but did you know that reading is one of the best things you can do for your brain?! Yes, it’s true, and when I started to research this topic I found out lots of things even I didn’t know about the benefits your brain receives from reading.

This is your brain, on books!

This is your brain, on books! 🙂

1. Reading requires several different regions of the brain to work together. Interestingly, we don’t use the same neural circuits to read as we grow from infants to adults so our brains are constantly changing throughout our lives. Reading improves the connectivity between the various brain circuits that are essential to understanding the written words. Best yet, reading a novel can keep that enhanced connectivity working for days, and possibly even longer, after we have finished the book.

2. Studies show that regular reading boosts brain power and memory function making you smarter.

3. Reading helps fight Alzheimer’s disease. A study by the National Academy of Sciences determined that those who read or participate in activities such as puzzles or chess may be 2.5 times less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease.

4. Reading involves 17 regions of the brain, but not all at the same time, according to scientists at the Washington University School of Medicine. As the brain ages some of those regions grow less active which suggests that activity in the brain isn’t constant. However, reading keeps those regions involved which helps to enhance brain activity, especially when you read as a child.

5.Other non-brain related advantages of reading- Reading helps you sleep. Reading at bedtime creates a ritual that signals to your body that it is time to go to sleep. It also reduces stress. A book that engages your mind allows your tensions to drain away and your mind to relax. Along with gaining knowledge, reading increases vocabulary. Most importantly (to me), reading aloud to kids can encourage them to become frequent readers. A Scholastic reading report found that more than 40% of children who love to read were read to by their parents on a regular basis. Encouraging kids to read also leads to gaining a better education. You’re welcome, Jacqueline and Danielle! 🙂

I read some sad facts the other day related to reading that urged me to write this post and share this information with you, my wonderful readers.

  • 33% of high school graduates and 42% of college graduates never read another book for the rest of their lives.
  • 70% of US adults have not been in a bookstore in the last five years.
  • 80% of US families did not buy or read a book last year.
So true, my friends!

So true, my friends!

Now that I’ve shared the facts of how beneficial reading is to your brain, I would like to challenge you to read at least one book this summer. If you are parents to young children read at least one book to each of them, and if your children are of reading age encourage them to read at least one book this summer while they’re on vacation. Many libraries have summer reading programs for children and adults, and offer awesome incentives for reading and finishing books. When we lived in Hancock County, the library in Greenfield had a wonderful summer reading program which the girls and I participated in for many years. My girls are super competitive and enjoyed reaching their reading goals, and the prizes helped too!

My favorite book!

My favorite book!

I always told my students and my children to read something that interests you. If you’re into sports, dogs, cars, fashion, etc, there are many books out there that cover those topics. And those books you were made to read when in school; they can be enjoyable to reread once you no longer HAVE to read them. My favorite book is To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee, which I read in my ninth grade English class. I have read it many times since then and love it more with each reading. In my favorite popular fiction novel, Watchers by Dean Koontz, one of the main characters is a Golden Retriever named Einstein. I love all of Dean Koontz’ novels but that one was special to me because of that very unique main character, and because I love dogs.

My favorite popular fiction novel!

My favorite popular fiction novel!

So please, take my “Read a book this summer challenge”, let me know if you do, and what book you read. It will be great for your brain, and your children will benefit as well (if you have them). Currently I am reading a book entitled, Where’d You Go, Bernadette: A Novel by Maria Semple. It’s a super mystery novel, perfect for summer reading by the pool. I have over 100 books on my Kindle just waiting to be read though so I’ll quickly finish this one and be on to the next. I hope you take my challenge because reading will help you live a life of vitality- with Valerie!

A Few of my Favorite Things!

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YEP!

YEP!

In my last post, I mentioned that I’m not a big believer in New Year’s resolutions. So often, it seems a resolution is yet another thing on a much too long to do list, and when it is not followed through with, it leads to a sense of sadness and failure. Definitely not the way to go into a new year! Now that’s not to say that I don’t advocate eating healthily and exercising regularly, if you’ve read my past blog posts you know I am all about that. It’s just more about being good to myself, and setting aside regular time for ME! I’m definitely not very good at that. Are there any others out there who are the same? It seems I’m so good at being there for others, but not so good about that for myself. With that in mind I am trying to be better about doing things just for me, and I mentioned a few things on my list of things I love to do in my last post, “New Year’s resolution? Nah, just be good to you!”. Listening to music, reading my Kindle, and taking a luxurious bath were some of them, but there’s more, my friends, and I want to share some more with you now.

Ashes with my Jac!

Ashes with my Jac!

1. Spending spiritual time- In past posts, I have discussed my time spent each morning in meditation. I try to do that every morning without fail and most days I achieve that- at least 5-10 minutes worth. That’s only part of my spiritual time though. My favorite way to deepen my faith is by attending church services at my parish, Holy Spirit Geist (HSG).

Jac took this pic of our church and I think it's awesome!

Jac took this pic of our church and I think it’s awesome!

It is a young, vibrant parish and has rejuvenated my faith. I especially like to attend with my daughters, but that isn’t always possible these days since they’re attending church in their college town now. Still, they come back to go to church with me as often as they can, because they find the atmosphere at HSG as uplifting and inspiring as I do. I especially love the Sunday 5 pm mass, because they have a band and they play contemporary Christian music which I really like. My advice would be that no matter what beliefs you have, spend time with other people who believe similarly because it really helps me feel in communion with humanity and with a higher power too.

Ashes with Danz!

Ashes with Danz!

Another thing that uplifts me is to pray a daily rosary. For those of you who aren’t Catholic, the rosary is a series of prayers to Mary. We do not WORSHIP Mary, which is a popular misconception about Catholics, we only worship God but we do hold Mary in reverence as the mother of God. We pray the rosary for her to intercede for us to God on our behalf. I use a rosary made of Swarovski crystals that my Mama gave me, and it gives me such a loving feeling to use this gorgeous rosary given to me by MY beloved Mom to pray to Jesus’s beloved Mom!

That perfectly sums up my feelings about praying the rosary!

That perfectly sums up my feelings about praying the rosary!

Anyway, I began praying a daily rosary about 10 years ago and I prayed it with my daughters on the way to school. It’s a rhythmic series of prayers (1 Our Father and 10 Hail Mary’s followed by a Glory Be and a Fatima prayer- 5 times), and each day corresponds to a different set of mysteries about Jesus. I truly love to pray my rosary, and now I usually do it as I first awaken and am laying in bed trying to wake my brain up. Praying the rosary brings me so much comfort and peace. There have been MANY times in which I awaken in the middle of the night, and all my fears and concerns keep me from going back to sleep. I pray my rosary, and before I know it I’m calm and comforted back to sleep. I also say my prayers every day. I used to pray with my girls, and now I pray by myself in the morning after my daily rosary. I pray for just about everyone I can think of, all my family members, friends, and all of the sick and suffering I know about. It’s my way of helping those I love, and it makes me feel really good about myself.

Wine and a good meal!

Wine and a good meal!

2. A good meal and glass of wine- As you know if you’ve read my past posts, I LOVE a good meal accompanied by a nice glass of wine. I love to make the meals usually, however I’m a sucker for a delicious dinner that someone else has made. Since I cook so much, it is the ultimate luxury to have someone else cook for me, or to go out for a nice meal. Now, I said go out for a nice meal, not fast food which I in no way consider a nice meal. However, it doesn’t have to be FANCY to be a nice meal. I also love Chinese, Mexican, Thai, Vietnamese, Sushi, etc, etc, etc which are more simple meals. The only requirement is that the food HAS to be delicious! One of my favorite meals in Indianapolis is at a Vietnamese restaurant called Sandra’s Rice and Noodles. My roommate from college, Terri, took me to this restaurant the first time, though now I’ve been there many times. Their Pho is one of the most delicious things I’ve ever eaten, granted everything there is wonderful and I’ve never ordered anything I haven’t loved! It’s a very simple restaurant in which you can enjoy the most amazing meals! Eating is one of my greatest pleasures and even though I eat mostly healthy food I find that I savor and enjoy my food more now than I did when I ate less healthily. I go more for flavor and quality rather than quantity, which means that I eat less than I did and I enjoy it more. That’s a win-win!

Also, the wine doesn’t have to be expensive to be delicious, and I’ve had many great $10 bottles of wine that I’ve really savored. One of my favorite $10 bottles of wine is Kris Pinot Grigio and if you like Pinot Grigio I think you’ll enjoy this brand. Plus you can’t beat the price!

My favorite wine!

My favorite wine!

My favorite Pinot Grigio however is Santa Margherita which my stepmom introduced me to. It’s more like $22 for a bottle so I don’t drink it every day, but when I do I’m in heaven! It is truly a fine glass of wine. And remember, when you’re eating or drinking the really good stuff a little bit goes a long way, so a glass or two is all you need to satisfy.

So these are some of my favorite things- my church Holy Spirit Geist, my Swarovski crystal rosary beads given to me by my mom, praying my daily rosary, a delicious meal like I’ve had at Sandra’s Rice and Noodles, and a good glass of wine like Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio. These are things that give me comfort and help me be good to myself. I’ve got more for you so tune in for my next post to see what else I have. I hope you are good to yourself today. Doing so will help you live a life of vitality- with Valerie!

New Year’s Resolution? Nah, just be good to you!

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My daughters jumping for joy! This is how I feel at the start of a new year!

 

This is EXACTLY the way I feel at the beginning of a new year. I am always very energized by the start of something new. There is so much hope looking forward to the unknown. It can be a little scary too, so for me, though I’m excited I am also in need of comfort. Especially after the end of the holidays which are so HECTIC and crazy, I’m definitely in need of some ME TIME. Let me tell you though that about five years ago, I was so stressed out and burned out that I sat down to make a list of the things I enjoyed and that give me comfort BECAUSE IT HAD BEEN SO LONG THAT I’D DONE ANYTHING FOR MYSELF THAT I HAD TO MAKE A LIST TO REMIND MYSELF OF WHAT I LIKED TO DO!.I don’t want that for any of you, so I’m going to share my list with you now. However, I urge you to make your own list, I’m just giving you a jump start with mine! As we begin a new year and a new chapter in our lives, I wish you a cozy new year! Here we go!

One of my favorite things- my Bose Bluetooth speaker!

One of my favorite things- my Bose Bluetooth speaker!

1. Music- My sister and I were talking on the phone this morning and she was mentioning how important music is to her, and she suggested I write about how HEALTHY music can be for you. Now you might think, “How is music healthy for you?”, but it really is. I always say that music soothes the savage beast in me, and I believe it to be true. There have been MANY days when I’m sad or upset, I turn on my music and feel SO much better. My Honey bought me my Bose Bluetooth speaker, which goes wherever I do because it’s cordless, and I link it to all the songs on my phone (over 2,000 at current count), and I have instant uplifting music. I make different song lists and depending on my mood I can “Pump Up”, listen to my “Faves”, or be inspired by my “Inspirational” list. I always say that I don’t collect things, that’s my Mama’s passion, not mine, but I do collect songs!

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Another thing I really like to do associated with music is to attend concerts of my favorite singers/bands, and I’ve seen quite a few of them. As much as I enjoy listening to my music at home, I love hearing live music a hundred times more. There is an energy and electric feeling at a live music show, and it is awesome for me. Besides seeing famous bands, I also like to see local bands and musicians around Indy. My Honey and I share a love of classic rock music, and have spent many fun evenings rocking out near home. It’s great couple time too!

 

Jacsy loves her bath time!

Jacsy loves her bath time!

2. Baths- This is a newly acquired love for me. I’ve always been a showerer- you know, get in quickly, get out quickly. My older daughter, Jacqueline, loves to bathe and her enjoyment is so infectious that I was inspired to try it. I downloaded some classical music to my phone, lit some candles, put in some wonderful bath products and soaked. I LOVED IT! It was so relaxing and soothing!

Lush bath products are environmentally sound and wonderfully luxurious!

Lush bath products are environmentally sound and wonderfully luxurious!

Jac loves Lush bath products and when I got some for Christmas for her I also tried them myself. The bath bombs rule! You drop them into your bath and they sparkle and fizz. They are all natural and have different aromas too. They make bathing even more fun! I highly recommend them!

 

Love my Kindle and my doggie!

Love my Kindle and my doggie!

3. My Kindle- I’ve been a reader as long as I can remember. I don’t ever recall a time in my life in which I didn’t have a book in my hand. Reading gives me comfort, a sense of peace, and a satisfaction I don’t get from any other past time. Something else I collect besides songs are books on my Kindle. I got a Kindle about five years ago, after being VERY resistant to the idea of reading on an e-reader type device. I’m an avid reader, and rarely does a day go by that I don’t read something. I also read my morning mass readings and devotions each day. So when going out of town I’d be dragging around tons of books. That’s what convinced me to get a Kindle, for the ease and convenience of transporting and reading books. I read some pretty big books and instead of holding up a weighty book, I am using my very light Kindle.

This is from my new Kindle Paperwhite!

This is from my new Kindle Paperwhite!

This Christmas my Mama got me a new Kindle Paperwhite with the built in light and I LOVE IT even more than my old one. I can store tons of books on it and the battery lasts forever! I currently have around 120 books on my Kindle waiting to be read, and probably 300 in the archives that I’ve already read. I told you I collect books! I also save inspirational phrases and things that move me in some way by taking a picture and storing them on my phone like the two pictures above. Reading is life!

So, these are a few of my favorite things, and I’m going to share some more with you in the next few posts. I challenge you to think of some of your favorite things, and ENJOY THEM EVERY DAY! Life is too short to wait for time to do the things that comfort you and bring you peace. I’m going to be reading, listening to music, and taking baths because these things make me feel cozy and comforted. Try these things and you’ll be living a life of vitality- with Valerie!

Good night’s sleep? Don’t sell it cheap!

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Ahhhhhh, for an uninterrupted night of sleep!!

Ahhhhhh, for an uninterrupted night of sleep!!

I’ve been experiencing a few sleepless nights lately. You know those nights when you lie wide awake from 3 to 5 am, and then awaken feeling pretty tired in the morning? Those kinds of nights. Along with feeling tired the next day, I’ve also noticed a loss of concentration which is making the writing of this post much more difficult! So, I started thinking about the importance of a good night’s sleep and what I could do to help my readers (and myself) sleep better at night. This is what I came up with and I hope it helps you, and me!

According to a British study on Health.com, people who are sleep deprived, which is sleeping 5 hours or less per night, are at higher risk for high blood pressure and cardiovascular issues, as well as raising the risk for diabetes, alcoholism, depression, obesity and car accidents. And a study at the University of California-Berkeley determined that to be sleep deprived affects the area of your brain that controls your moods and concentration. I say true dat to that!

The question I wonder is why do we have trouble sleeping from time to time? There are numerous factors that affect ability to sleep. Now I know my college students would agree to the number one factor affecting sleep which is STRESS. If you’ve got a big presentation or test the next day, sleep might be difficult for you that night. Another thing that can disrupt sleep is extreme temperature fluctuations and environmental noise. You know how you can be sleeping and then the room becomes uncomfortably warm or cold and you can’t sleep? I’ve definitely experienced that in my life. Or, you’re sleeping in a hotel room with a noisy air conditioning system and once you awaken you can’t get back to sleep? Yep, that’s happened to me too. Changing work schedule or jet lag can also disrupt your sleep. An additional reason, and the one I think affecting me right now, is hormonal changes due to PMS, menstruation, pregnancy, or menopause (that’s my issue). Yuck!

Oh to be able to sleep like my children, and dogs!

Oh to be able to sleep like my children, and dogs!

So what can you do about this? First, sleep experts recommend establishing a consistent bedtime routine. This is one of the most important factors in sleeping well. That means taking a warm bath before bed, or doing yoga or meditation too. Anything that says to your brain, “relax and get ready for bed” is key here. The next thing is to try to go to bed at the same time every night, and get up at the same time in the morning. This includes weekends too, which isn’t difficult for me because I have my “furry alarm clocks” to awaken me between 7:00-7:30 every morning regardless of the day. Another key factor is to get enough exercise during the day. The more physically active you are, the better you’ll sleep because of the energy you’ve expended. Just don’t exercise too close to bedtime or it could keep you awake at night.

The next key to a good night’s sleep is to cut back on the caffeine, especially in the evening. I can’t drink coffee after dinner or it will keep me awake at night. Definitely not what I want! Limiting alcohol intake can help you sleep better at night too, did you hear that college students? 🙂 Oh and don’t watch tv or do your work on your bed, the bed should be only for sleeping and other relaxing activities. I like to read a “just for fun” book on my kindle to fall asleep, that’s not the time for a weighty political biography. Avoid big meals late in the evening because that can also disrupt your sleep.

The experts say that if you can’t fall asleep within thirty minutes of getting into bed, leave your bed and go do something relaxing until you feel sleepy. Then go back to bed instead of lying there tossing and turning half the night. Another tip is to do what my dad does and get a “white noise” device to block out environmental noises that can disrupt sleep. Here’s another great tip, one way to prevent insomnia is to TAKE A NAP! Yes, I know that doesn’t seem to make sense, especially to my sister, but as I said in my previous post “Nap your way to success”, a short (10 to 20 minutes) nap lying down in a darkened room can help you sleep better at night. I’m definitely going to be doing that this afternoon! Spending time outside is another way to sleep better at night, because exposing yourself to natural light sets your natural rhythms which helps you sleep.

Jac taking a selfie with a sleeping Danielle!

Jac taking a selfie with a sleeping Danielle!

Also, dim the lights for up to an hour before you go to sleep at night. We do this while we are watching tv in the family room before we go to bed. It definitely helps us relax. Last, don’t obsess about not being able to sleep. Remember I said that the biggest reason for insomnia is stress, and the more we worry about falling asleep the more it stresses us so we have trouble falling asleep because of it.

There are natural sleep remedies that I feel are very helpful. Valerian is an herb that has a natural sedative effect and can be found in standardized extracts in health food stores. Melatonin is a hormone that regulates the wake/sleep cycle and other biorhythms. It can also be found at health food stores (and in my refrigerator!). It really helps to restore sleep patterns. Supplements that can be helpful are magnesium and calcium which are sleep boosters, especially when taken together. I take a supplement called Cal Mag + by American Biologics, which contains calcium, magnesium and other helpful minerals. I take two before bed, which helps with sleep. L-theanine is an amino acid that comes from green tea and helps keep you calmly alert during the day and more deeply asleep at night. Green tea doesn’t contain enough to boost REM cycles, you need to take a supplement that contains PURE L-theanine and follow the directions on the bottle. I’ve said it before, PLEASE DON’T BUY YOUR SUPPLEMENTS AT A GROCERY STORE OR BIG BOX STORE. Only purchase from a health food store or REPUTABLE pharmacy. Also, aromatherapy can be helpful for sleep and calm, especially lavender. Spritz REAL lavender spray on your pillow before bed, or purchase a lavender filled pillow.

So that’s how to have a good, healthy night’s sleep. I’m going to practice what I’m preaching starting today to make sure my sleep improves. If you’ve got a healthy sleep tip, please feel free to share it with me, or if you try some of mine, let me know if it helps you to sleep better. When you’re well rested it will help you to live a life of vitality- like Valerie!