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Sarasota Tuesday, Aug. 1, 2017 2 years ago

Healthy brains lead to happier people

To live life to the fullest, Sarasota resident Dick Pelton advises to stay busy, stay engaged and have a purpose.
by: Cassidy Alexander Staff Writer

Dick Pelton stays very busy.

He’s 79 years old, has two kids and four grandkids. He used to be a long-distance runner and a passionate golfer, and he remains physically active.

He’s a volunteer at the Friendship Center and a founding member and board co-chair of the Aging in Paradise Resource Center. He’s a resident at Sarasota Bay Club, where he serves on the resident advisory board. He volunteers to raise money for Alzheimer’s research. He’s active at his church on Longboat Key.

He has also done a lot of research on brain health, which is part of what prompts Pelton to stay so busy.

Pelton says brain health can be divided into three categories: physical, behavioral and spiritual.

The physical keys to brain health include the obvious: diet and exercise. But it also includes genetics, affluence and sleep. Your standard of living and whether you’re getting “real, deep sleep” are important to keeping your brain healthy.

The behavioral keys are perhaps a little more difficult to attain. These are things like socialization, staying engaged, lifelong learning and having a purpose.

Some would say Pelton’s purpose is being a caregiver for his wife, who was diagnosed with dementia in 2009. Pelton is quick to dismiss this idea.

“Having a purpose that transcends your everyday life … that’s powerful for your brain,” he said. “I take caring of my wife as a given, and that’s what I do. But there’s life beyond that.”

For Pelton, continuing to learn new things to build new synapses in his brain, and staying engaged by being involved in the community, is a must.

Finally, Pelton said you can’t overlook the spiritual aspect of brain health.

“Even nonbelievers do have — most — have a spirit that they think about or feel about. That can make a difference.”

Pelton summed up his perception of how to have a healthy brain by encouraging people to do activities that contribute to an active, vital mind.

“We tend to take our brain for granted,” he said. “The mind is an organ. It needs exercise, it needs feeding, it needs nourishment.”

Threats to brain health include stress, depression or feeling like you’re too busy to work on it.

“The stress thing — not good for your brain,” he said. “And that’s, I think, a reason I stay busy, given the personal situation that I have with my wife. It is a stress reliever to stay busy and learn new things.”

And to people who say they’re just too busy to do these things, Pelton said it’s just like exercise — you can’t do it once a month or once a year. It has to happen on a continual basis.

“People with healthy brains are typically happy.”


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