Perimenopause and menopause comes with a complex web of physical, psychological, and social symptoms.
The treatment usually prescribed by doctors, hormone therapy (HT), is controversial and not appropriate for some women. I won’t get into the HT debate here—Mark did a great job covering the pros and cons recently. Suffice it to say that HT isn’t the answer for everyone, and it’s not a panacea by any means.
Whether or not they choose to go the HT route, many women desire additional support during perimenopause and beyond. For the sake of keeping this post from becoming a novella, I’m going to focus on mind-body therapies today.
There are some amazing story-tellers out there in the world, on the television, in the newspapers, on social media. Omnipresent narrators with an authoritative command of language and imagery and sound and special effects that wield supreme confidence. Doesn’t matter if the stories they tell are largely fictional. They sound and look good so we believe them. We can’t help but pay attention and give them credence even if we tell ourselves we don’t.
For you are a story-telling hominid. It’s in your DNA. You respond to stories—on a guttural, instinctual level. You perceive your daily existence as a story unfolding into the future and stretching back through time. We are vulnerable to the power of stories.
And so for this holiday season, this Christmas, or winter solstice, or whichever one you follow, give yourself the license to tell your own story.
It’s one thing to look at studies. What if we look at “finished products”? What if we look at whole organisms that appear to be doing things right and try to learn from them? People are always looking at the “Blue Zones” or this guru or that celebrity and trying to glean insights about healthy diet, lifestyle, and behavior. I say expand that outlook to encompass other populations you might not have considered. LIke kids.
Kids are kids. We tell them what to do, they learn from us, and they are put on this earth to watch us and do what we do. What if we flipped that? What can we learn from watching kids? How do children approach life, health, and movement—and what can we take from that approach and apply to our own lives?
Here’s what we can learn from kids.
We’ve all uttered it. If you’re a parent, you’ve heard it a thousand times. And even now, as an adult, you’ve felt it—even if you didn’t say it like a whiny seven year old.
What I’m realizing is that we got boredom totally wrong. Boredom is actually a gift.
I look back on those long summers in the 60s and they’re some of the greatest of my life, even though I was “bored” for much of the time. Days that stretched forever. “Nothing to do.” Minutes moving like glaciers. But those were the days where I was forged, where who I am today began asserting itself.
When I was bored, I learned to navigate the rugged coasts of the tiny Maine fishing village I called home. When I was bored, I figured out how to make money mowing lawns and painting houses. When I was bored, I discovered my athletic potential and set the stage for my eventual career in health and fitness. I didn’t have any choice—there weren’t any video games, iPads, or streaming media networks to distract me.
One of my biggest inspirations was my late father, Laurence Sisson. He supported our family as a painter, primarily water color paintings of New England nature scenes. His work ethic was insane as was his creative genius. But my most salient memories of him are not those spent in the art studio watching beautiful representations of nature’s glory appear before my eyes. No, what I remember most are the evenings spent around the piano. He was also a great jazz pianist, and often took paying work as a musician when the times demanded it. During holidays, he’d play the classics. On quiet afternoons, he’d noodle on the keys. Piano music was the backdrop of the house. And, I’m convinced, playing that piano kept his brain nimble to the very end. Music and Brain Function If you spend any time at all on social media, you’ve probably seen the videos of otherwise unresponsive Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease patients lighting up when a favorite piece of music from their younger days plays. There’s this one, where an old man in a nursing home on his last legs comes to life. After listening to some of his favorite music, he becomes incredibly responsive, answering questions about himself and his life. Music gives him access to the parts of his brain that were previously shut out, at least for a brief moment. The most recent one I saw is of a former New York City prima ballerina with Alzheimer’s disease. When she hears “Swan Lake,” she motions to raise the volume and then launches into the choreography from her chair—the same dance she mastered and performed over 50 years prior. Even as I’m writing this and picturing it, I feel tears welling up from the beauty of the moment. Most of you reading this aren’t in that dire of a cognitive situation, but you can probably relate to the effect music can have on our brains. We’ve all felt the power of music. When that song comes on and catapults you back to some bygone era of your youth. When you hear an album and actually smell the smells, taste the tastes, and feel the emotions it evokes in you. Something powerful is happening in the brain, and we shouldn’t wait til degeneration sets in. If we know there are certain lifestyle, dietary, and behavioral modifications that can improve the outlook of a patient with dementia, then enacting those changes before dementia arises will be even more powerful and effective at staving it off. Music is one possibility. And if merely listening to music can have that effect on cognitive function, even severely degenerated cognitive function, what can playing music—creating it with your own mind—do for it? Playing an Instrument for Brain Health We actually have evidence that playing an instrument is protective of brain health and function. In one recent study, researchers asked 23 former orchestral musicians if they or any musician they knew had dementia. Dementia rates among the queried musicians were nonexistent, … Continue reading “Brain Benefits of Playing Instruments”
Parents, right off the bat, let me say that there is no right way to be feeling about the current situation. Relief, anxiety, excitement, dread are all normal. We’re all figuring this out as we go along and doing the best we can. Virtual high-five! This is not a homeschooling post per se. This is about the importance of play as learning, and letting our kids play to restore some balance we don’t always manage in our typical over-scheduled lives. Here’s the good news if you’re stressed about making sure your kids are still learning why they are at home: they are. I recently attended a workshop with a local homeschool coordinator. The biggest thing I took away was a reminder that all play is learning. Why Kids Need to Play Play is how kids learn about the world. Theoretical and Applied Playworker Bob Hughes (awesome title!) lists 16 different types of play that are central to physical, mental, emotional, and social development. By manipulating objects and trying things out (“I wonder what will happen if I give the dog a haircut?”), using their imaginations to role play different scenarios, and moving and challenging their bodies, kids play to learn: How their bodies work Laws of physics Laws of nature How to interact with other people, and the consequences of breaking social norms How to follow rules, and the consequences of breaking those, too Play builds neural connections and motor skills. Through play, kids get to act out adulting (as in playing house), tap into their creativity, and discover their passions. Importance of Play Play is not optional. There is a reason that it’s Primal Blueprint Law #7 and Mark has written about it frequently here. (I’ll put some links at the bottom.) Yet, we all know that kids don’t play today like they used to for a variety of reasons. If this time at home offers one thing, it’s time for playing. This means getting free play, movement time, social time, music and arts time, and family time—checking a bunch of Primal boxes. I’m not just talking about the kids, by the way. I’m talking about the adults in your house too. How much do YOU play in your normal life? I’m guessing not enough. A lot of the ideas here are fun for the whole family. Play to Learn: Indoor and Outdoor Activities for Kids For obvious reasons, I’m not listing things that involve going to parks or other public places. If you can still go for bike rides or kick the soccer ball around outside, great! You can do these inside or in your yard if you have one. I also didn’t list too many options that might necessitate shopping for materials. Pick the ideas that work for you given the ages of your kids, what stuff you already have at home, and how much space you have. Before You Begin… If you’re like us, you have a stash of art supplies, board games, boxes of legos … Continue reading “Learning Through Play: 101 Ways To Keep Young Minds Occupied At Home”