Last Thursday night I listened to two of the world’s foremost researchers and diagnosticians in the field of Alzheimer’s disease. These doctors work at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center.

The simple fact that we are living longer is making Alzheimer’s more prevalent. No doubt the disease has been around for a long time it just hadn’t been diagnosed before. As the average age increases and the proportion of the population that’s over 65 increases look out for yet another enormous pressure on our health care system.

It was fascinating to hear how little progress has been made toward finding a cure for this disease. It was also interesting to learn about how inconclusive the research was on tying the disease to diet, exercise, mental calisthenics and other lifestyle patterns. It’s not that these things aren’t helpful to maintaining a healthy brain. It’s just that they don’t appear to correlate with getting Alzheimer’s. I have a thought I will share later re: research.

For these physicians, what appeared to correlate highly with the healthy aging of the brain—what they observed in centurions–was the amount of rigidity a person had. This made a lot of sense to me. The doctors went on to say that being more flexible in response to change and circumstance lead to less stress and a healthier brain.

Maybe this is why meditation and spiritual development is helpful. I notice that people who practice some sort of mindfulness and who have a strong connection to their spiritual selves (note that I didn’t saying about religion) are less attached to outcomes and are less apt to judge and try to control them. Being less rigid also means being less judgmental.

If you’re rigid you’ll hold onto your beliefs tightly and resist what could be useful to you (painful, scary yes, but useful).

If you are stuck on a specific belief it may be time to look a bit more closely at that belief. For example, if you are convinced that your 14 year old will fail in life if he or she doesn’t get straight A’s and play an instrument, then you could be heading for a long war and years of frustration. If you think the only employee worth having around is the one that works evenings and weekends then you will be disappointed and viewed as controlling and judgmental – not exactly inspirational leadership qualities.

How flexible are you? Hint: ask that question of three truth-tellers around you. What are you doing to become aware of or even break free of rigid thinking?

A comment on research: I realize a lot of people like science, a popular trend since the beginning of the age of Enlightenment. We love to find certainty and to pathologize almost everything and to use research to determine if something is true. Yet, I also notice that there is a deeper knowing that we all have that sometimes contradicts “research”. Why is that research that says something is bad for you one day is reversed. Or that the research from big pharma companies supports how certain drugs don’t have side effects that in fact they do. Remember the tobacco companies’ research that showed that smoking is not addictive. Monsanto’s research no doubt shows that genetically modified food is good for you and organic food is carcinogenic…you get the idea. I don’t ignore facts but, as a result of its inconsistency, I don’t give research much weight. What I am listening a lot more to is my deeper knowing – that has been much more reliable.