Healthy Mind, Healthy Body

Hello, my name is Joyce Loucks, and my guess is that less than 1% of those of you reading this blog post will know who I am. So, I’ll tell you a little bit about myself: First and foremost, I dislike writing, no matter how small the amount. Second, I have a background in Physical Education, though I’ve always hated exercise. Yet these two dislikes of mine, writing and exercise, are now more important to my wellbeing than ever before. And the same is likely true for you. Let me explain.

While attending a conference on Canadian Health & Wellness Innovations, I sat in on a presentation by Avinash D. Maniram, M.Sc., who was speaking about the value of intellectual wellness. He talked about something called the Cognitive Brain Reserve: The brain’s ability to improvise and find alternate ways of getting a job done. Maniram summarized that the greater a person’s cognitive reserve, the better they can manage symptoms of degenerative brain changes associated with dementia, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, or a stroke. So how do we grow and strengthen this reserve? Through a lifetime of education and curiosity, of course.

My takeaway was that, as you age, you need to continue to challenge your brain with new activities to strengthen this reserve. For some, this could be achieved through reading, learning a foreign language, or playing a musical instrument. For others, it could be as simple as journalling, doing a crossword, or even by debating an issue from the viewpoint opposite to the one you actually hold. What matters is that the brain activity is new and challenging. So, here I am, challenging my brain by writing.

So that covers mental wellness, but what about physical wellness? Well, as I said, despite being a physical education teacher for many years, I hate exercise. But I do like to play, and so I thought that being in a gym all day would be the greatest way to share my love of play. I always promised to do warm-ups alongside my students, and I tried to make a game of it whenever possible, to help them buy-in to the activity. We often got more exercise from laughter than the actual aerobic or anaerobic activities!

But I didn’t stay in physical education my entire career. About fifteen years prior to my retirement, I moved into a Foods and Fashion Studies classroom before moving into an administration role. My fitness level started to decline as soon as I left that gym, and I found that I wasn’t able to find opportunities to ‘play’ nearly as often as I used to.

Then, four years ago, I underwent brain surgery, had a stroke, and ended 2019 with an infection on my brain. Christmas wasn’t too much fun that year, and I felt that COVID-19 arrived just so that everyone else would come to know my level of discomfort. It has been a slow journey towards healing my emotional, mental, and social wellbeing. My physical wellness has been neglected for so long that I don’t really want to dig it up or even assess it. However, much like the pain I associate with writing, I know that taking the leap and finding opportunities to ‘play’ again will be beneficial in the long run.

Hopefully at this point, you feel like you know me at least a little bit better. So, I hope you’ll take my advice to heart — take a chance and find ways to challenge yourself, mentally and physically. I know, better than most, how uncomfortable, and even scary it can be. But when it comes to your long-term wellbeing, it could make all the difference.