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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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Anonymous Fri, Oct 11th 2013 @ 7:46am

A fine blog. It is never too late to change anything. Peace and Love.

Anonymous Fri, Oct 11th 2013 @ 7:50am

Great blog, thank you
PS in my experience brushing with zeal when one has receding gums is never a good idea as it only compounds the issue - brushing 'mindfully' so that one can be gentle around the gums is much more advisable ;-)

sarah Fri, Oct 11th 2013 @ 8:09am

Ha, that made me laugh! Of course you are right, Anonymous. My dentist said he hoped to resolve the issue by cleaning my teeth like never before, and I was sceptical but several treatments later it does seem to have worked. Now I floss with those weeny brushes (better, apparently, than the thread) and brush with an electric toothbrush following his careful instruction, and the shooting pains I was getting have stopped. Can't say I've solved the foot issue though!

Anonymous Fri, Oct 11th 2013 @ 10:49am

Thought provoking. Thanks Sarah. I too am so impatient when it comes to dental care. Can identify totally. True about habits being able to be altered though. It is amazing what each of us CAN accomplish..and thank God we can learn and keep on learning.

Neil Fri, Oct 11th 2013 @ 3:03pm

Excellent blog Anonymous.

Anonymous Sat, Oct 12th 2013 @ 9:03am

Reminds me of an old doctor/priest who likened thought habits to grooves on an old vinyl LP record. You get stuck sometimes in a bad groove - try and break out into another happier one! He got his technology wrong of course - the record was just one long groove! But it is helpful to reflect on 'jumping out of'' a habitual bad 'groove'(neural pathway?) and running in a happier one!

Anonymous Sun, Oct 13th 2013 @ 4:40pm

Fun and honest and helpfull. Thank you

Anonymous Mon, Oct 14th 2013 @ 3:19pm

I've heard the "habit" pathways in the brain being described as similar to well-worn paths through a field of grain or very long grass. It is automatic and easy to just follow the path that's already been worn clear. But you CAN create new paths (habits) - it won't feel natural, or easy at first, but with persistence the path becomes easier and clearer. I find that a helpful image and very reassuring.

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