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Happy New Year! Can you believe it is nearing the end of January already? 2019 is already quickly moving forward. Since many people make New Year's resolutions, I am adapting my Family Life colleague Karla Belzer's blog "Resolve to be Good to your Brain" for this month's article.

Did you make a New Year's resolution? There are a lot of interesting facts about resolutions. Many revolve around health, such as working out or eating better. The title of a 2009 article published in the Wall Street Journal may speak for itself: "Blame It on the Brain."

The latest neuroscience research suggests spreading resolutions out over time is the best approach. Sometimes, people try to go all in or try multiple things all at once when making one small change at a time until it becomes a habit is the best. Once you have succeeded, then take on a new challenge/behavior change/resolution or whatever you may call it. However, trying to go all-in in January often sets people up for failure.

Goal-setting with measurable goals is also a great way to measure and reach success. When using the ideas around food and physical movement, putting some direct measurements with the goal is a wise idea, but work on one at a time. Here are some examples that are measurable:

— I will drink eight glasses of water each day.

— I will lose 5 pounds this year.

— I will walk for 30 minutes, three times a week.

— I will complete 10 minutes of stretching each morning.

At the end of the day, week or set time frame, you can actually say yes or no to whether you completed the goal. Also note, the statements say "I will," not "I will try." Words are powerful. Choose your words wisely, as they can influence your behavior.

As you are likely contemplating your resolutions or goals for 2019, I would like to encourage you to consider adding a brain health resolution to the list. Consider including one or more of the following brain health contributors over time:

— Improving your sleep. Sleep affects both our mental and our physical health, and it helps us think better, focus better and solidify memories. Aim to get quality sleep by implementing a sleep schedule (going to bed/waking up the same time daily), relaxing before bedtime and even limiting your use of electronics before bed.

— Eating a heart-healthy diet. Your brain needs lots of fuel, and what you put in your body can have an impact on brain functions like concentration, focus and even how your brain grows. Consider adopting a heart-healthy diet full of lean meat, whole grains, fruits and vegetables.

— Increasing your physical activity. Exercise improves brain function by protecting against nerve cell death, promoting new neurons in the area of the brain where memories are formed and helping with better concentration and reaction time. Strive to engage in 30 minutes of physical activity at least three times a week, and be sure to engage in activities that are of interest to you. Also, consider physical activities that engage both the brain and the body — like dancing — for maximum brain health impact.

— Managing your stress. Research has demonstrated that exposure to chronic stress creates long-term changes in the structure and function of the brain. While we cannot eliminate stress from our lives, resolve to manage your stress to reduce the harmful effects that stress has on the brain. Create a stress action plan — a list of your "go-to" activities that help you combat stress; when you're feeling stressed, take action!

— Expanding your social/emotional network or support. Having social and emotional support contributes to brain health. Several recent studies have shown that individuals with higher levels of social activity have less cognitive decline than those who are not as socially engaged. Joining a social group or a club, starting a weekly lunch date with friends or taking an Extension class are all good ways to increase your social involvement. Social and emotional engagement with others can contribute to the brain's vitality.

— Completing a daily brain challenge. By participating in intellectually challenging activities, you can contribute to your own brain health. It is important to choose an activity that is of interest to you so that you will stick with it. Choosing a novel or new activity challenges your brain and helps you break a mental sweat. While traditional brain puzzles like word games and crossword puzzles are good choices, also be sure to consider nontraditional brain challenges like learning a new language, taking piano lessons, journaling or even traveling. Whatever activity you choose, make sure that it challenges you, so you get the most benefit.

Whatever resolution goal you choose this New Year, resolving to be good to your brain by adopting one of the brain health contributors is an excellent choice. Your brain will thank you.

If you want to learn more about brain health and the brain health contributors, University of Illinois Extension is partnering with the St. Joseph Township Library on Tuesday afternoons in February for a Brain Health Series.

For more information or to register, go to or call 217-333-7672.

For more information on family life-related topics and programs, visit our local University of Illinois Extension website at or contact Chelsey Byers Gerstenecker at 217-333-7672 or