To celebrate Longevity Month, we’re talking to Eileen Joseph, Meadowood’s nationally recognized fitness guru, certified dementia care specialist, and resident and staff educator.
Her passion at Meadowood? It’s all about strengthening the brain.
“I’ve come to understand how important brain fitness is,” Eileen says. “As much as physical fitness, it’s at the very core of a healthy and independent life.”
“One of the things that we know about getting older is how important it is to really maintain one’s quality of life so one can remain as independent as possible,” she says. “Brain fitness helps us to have that sense of control over our life.”
Eileen believes in what she calls, “Brain friendly living” and it’s woven into every aspect of life at Meadowood.
“Connecting with people at a community like Meadowood can boost brain health by improving feelings of well-being and decreasing feelings of depression. Whether it’s physical, spiritual, social, emotional, intellectual or vocational health, it all leads back to the brain,” she says.
“I think of the brain as a muscle,” Eileen explains. “In order for a muscle to grow and strengthen, we have to stimulate it through actions that we do. The key is to add new and different activities to keep our brain fresh, to keep it challenged. When you think of a drain and it gets rusty — it clogs up and things don’t run smoothly — the same thing happens with a brain. As we get older, we tend to get complacent, we get comfortable,” she says. “It’s all about getting out of our comfort zone.”
Eileen has taken the phrase, “If you don’t use it, you lose it,” and turned it around to be more positive: “Use it and keep it longer.”
That doesn’t just mean brain exercises, although Eileen teaches Advanced Brain Training, which emphasizes ways to keep your brain performing as well as possible.
According to Eileen, there are numerous ways to get out of your comfort zones. Here are just a few examples of the wellness activities available at Meadowood:
- Fitness Classes: Provide the feel-good hormones that play into brain health and decrease anxiety.
- Dance classes: Draw people together to enjoy music, movement and a healthy, social means of communication.
- Personal training: “Once people are active,” Eileen says, “everything about their spirit changes.”
- Social stimulation: Evidence shows that one of the major factors for creating a healthy brain is gathering with other people to socialize.
- New experiences: Learning a foreign language, trying out new foods, or playing a musical instrument are all wonderful for the brain.
- Good nutrition: “Brain food” plays a really important role in a healthy mind.
- Volunteering: There’s a large volunteer program at Meadowood that fulfills the vocational dimension of wellness.
- Meditation: Research shows that allowing ourselves to engage in stillness is healthy for the mind.
“There’s a lot that we offer in our toolkit for people that really want to challenge themselves and create healthy mental fitness,” Eileen says. “People are more and more concerned about giving the brain a workout than they ever have been before.”
And all across the campus, Meadowooders are doing just that.
During COVID, the brain-enhancing activities have continued, as Eileen and other team members broadcast their classes on the community channel. “People stop me and say, ‘I really loved your workout this morning,’” says Eileen.
The team has also made in-person classes smaller, and masks are required. “Now we have 9 people instead of 20, but everyone’s there and everyone’s supporting one another,” she continues, “I think far and away we have the best fitness program in the country
“Everything is about maintaining a healthy brain. We no longer define aging by an arc that slowly declines,” Eileen says. “Seniors are making very different choices and we want to extend the health span as we get older.”
“It’s important to remember that you are the architect of your own brain — it’s up to each individual to really maintain that healthy gray matter,” she says. “We want to use it and keep it longer.”