Brain Exercises for Seniors

Brain exercises for Seniors? As my parents used to say as preparations in the 1960's for the Mercury and Apollo programs proceeded, "What will they think of next?"

What they have discovered next for our brains are two very important terms, neuroplasticity and neurogenesis.

First of all, both can be nurtured and practiced and enhanced for the Boomer brain, which is a good thing, as far as I am concerned.

Now perhaps you are interested in finding out what neurogenesis and neuroplasticity are, and what exercises strenghthen them for the benefit of our Senior years?

Well, that can be done, through a combination of life style choices, and it is never too late to start.

Neuroplasticity speaks to neurons real time efforts to seek out connections with neighboring neurons. It is not dependent on external learning. I have always thought that learning, meaning memorization after somebody poured a lecture into my head, was what was meant by neuroplasticity. That is only part of the story. (You remember Paul Harvey, right)

The rest of the story is that my neurons are always trying out new connections with their neighboring neurons, which is what enables learning to happen, and those neurons thrive when I learn a new skill, like a new language, or instrument, or career, or take up painting. Perfection is not required, only activity, and that is what my neurons will do, be active, and form new connections, which become stronger through regular use.

According to my reading of recent research, novel learning experiences are necessary to take advantage of another capacity of your brain, called neurogenesis, which is the DAILY birth of new neurons.

They are created and become available, but are not kept, unless they are challenged by a new learning experience. When challenged they integrate into existing circuits, and become part of my tools for living effectively with the changes that are inevitable with aging.

Brain Exercises for Seniors Explode Neurons?

So I am not destined to sit in the rocker, and slowly fade away if I chose not to.

I can do things which actually enhance my sharpness, things including computerized brain fitness programs, which lock new neurons into place.

Actually, according to Simon Evans, Ph.D. and Paul Burghardt,Ph.D, authors of Brainfit for Life there are some lifestyle choices we can make that are very important to neuroplasticity and neurogenesis.

Those lifestyle choices involve nutrition, sleep, physical exercise, stress management, and novel learning challenges.

Those ought to sound familiar to you, sounds like what grandparents and parents used to harp at us about, right.

Physical Exercise the Most Important Brain Exercise For Seniors

I enjoy my workouts and they are fairly strenuous, given my age. I used to run quite a bit, but that went away when I started using an elliptical trainer at my local YMCA, where I am a member.

So I do the stair master and elliptical trainer and the treadmill for aerobic exercise, and during the lawn mowing season I mow, which can provide a couple of extra hours of physical exertion per week. I challenge myself at my current level of ability, no need to hurt myself, and that is exactly the level of challenge that my brain needs for neurogenesis and neuroplasticity.

Blood flow to the brain is a key factor in why physical exercise is so important to the brain. The brain is about 2% of your weight, but consumes about 20% of your energy, and it cannot store its own energy, so it depends on a steady flow from the lower floors, so to speak, of nutrients, and the more blood coming its way, the more arteries and veins that can be built and the more neurons can be fed and bathed and nourished and the more they will seek out connections with other neurons, ect, so there is a very healthy cycle of events that follows from physical exercise.

You do not need to buy a club membership, hire a personal trainer, or get expensive equipment to accrue benefits from physical exercise.

Simply increasing physical activity, the normal things we do around the house or neighborhood, can impact neurogenesis, and lead to physical exercise, described in Brainfit for Life.

Ready for Physical Exercise?

And even when you are ready for something a little more strenuous, you do not need anything more extensive than an exercise ball, some water bottles filled with water or sand for a bit of a weight, a skip rope, and a place to do HIIT, or high intensity interval training.

Please do not let that phrase scare you, HIIT is simply a process of doing calisthenics like jumping jacks or running in place or rope skipping for 30 second intervals for ten minutes.

Believe me, you will work up a sweat, and the model I like to follow are from Scott and Angie Tousignant who have put together a model for couple to do together called More Love, Less Fat below...

Please check out The Aesthetic Muscle Plan, and book, More Love, Less Fat, by Angie and Scott Tousignant. 

Stress Reduction

Just like neurogenesis and neuroplasticity are enhanced by brain fitness exercises for seniors, those normal and healthy functions are slowed or stopped by stress, our physiogical response to perceived danger.

Our stress response is meant to be cued in order for us to move into fight or flee or freeze behaviors for a short period of time, and we either escape the danger or we no longer need a stress response.

The problem for our health comes from sustaining the stress response for no reason.

For example, given the current state of your retirement investments, you may be wondering what you will do to survive rather than what you will do to enjoy. Keeping those worrisome thoughts going keeps the stress hormones going, and the body can actually get into the habit of staying in this chemistry. Not good for your brain.

One antidote, mentioned above, is physical exercise, which will change your internal chemistry. Other tools involve mindfulness, prayer, meditation, and biofeedback, and cognitive behavioral therapy. (Gratitude is the Attitude).

All involve the need to practice regularly to cue the appropriate relaxation chemistry and perhaps retrain the body to have a relaxation response as its baseline rather than the stress response.

Did You Know That Your Heart Has a Brain?

Yes it does, according to the HeartMath folks. I have used HeartMath professionally and personally since 2001. I love to cue the physiology of heart rate variability coherence on demand, because it feels good, and I like knowing that I am taking care of my heart's brain and my cranial brain also.

HeartMath. Step Away from Stress and Find Ease

Brain Fitness for Seniors With Michael Merzenich

This information is taken from an interview with Michael Merzenich at Posit Science. The Posit Science folks have put together a tool that I have purchased and used. What I noticed right away was an increase in my ability to recall words, and I noticed that I can drift away from a task at hand very fast.

"Q: What types of strategies can we use to restrengthen the brain’s functionality? MM: We need to constantly use and develop our brain’s machinery through learning. This does not mean academic learning (although that is always useful). It means practicing targeted activities that engage the senses and our memories, and that involve the production of refined movements. By applying the breakthroughs in neuroplasticity to develop brain health tools, scientists can help people maintain—and possibly restore—their cognitive abilities.

Q: What types of activities can engage the senses and memory? MM: To keep our senses and memory healthy, it is very important that we spend time each day in intensive, effortful learning that requires our close attention. Under these conditions, our faculties can be remarkably well conserved. For example, professional musicians can sustain high abilities at their craft until the end of life, but only if they practice almost every day using an intensive and closely attentive learning strategy. Their careful listening, precise movement, and accurate reading and complex memory practice is essential for sustaining their great skills. If a violinist in an orchestra does not practice intensely over a period of a month, other musicians around her will begin to ask “What’s wrong with Susan?”

Q: In essence, we need to exercise our brains? MM: Absolutely! Maintaining a healthy brain requires that we all have to work hard to sustain the crucial abilities that define what we can and cannot do, that support the person that we are.

Click the link in the right column for more information about the Posit Science tools, evaluated in the IMPACT and ACTIVE studies.

Here is another very powerful computerized brain fitness program, which works wonders for attention and memory. The research says you can improve your IQ, which I am not so worried about. I want to be able to tell when my kids are fibbing to me about where they are going and who they have been with, let alone sneaking candy.

My tools for reading their non-verbal communication will be my ability to perceive very subtle facial expressions, which my happen as fast as 1/25th second. I better be able to pay attention.

At any rate, here is Mind Sparke Brain Fitness Pro, wonderful brain fitness exercises for seniors.

Brain Nutrition for Seniors

Hope you are not going to miss your Hamburger Helper. If we want our brain to function well and last a long time, we are going to have to give up any kind of food in a box.

Those foods are full of appetite stimulants, like msg, and high fructose corn syrup, which play hell with our bodies. Remember the old commercial about putting Twinkies in your bomb shelter, because they lasted for 20 years? Real food does not last that long. Processed food is engineered for long shelf life and sales, not nutrition.

Perhaps you saw reference to a book written by the former chief of the FDA, David Kessler, describing what he called "conditioned hypereating" of foods created by the food industry filled with fat and sugar.

But your brain needs vitamins, minerals, fiber, phytochemicals, glycontrients , and also omega 3 fatty acids, which must come from the food we eat, or supplements.

In Brainfit for Life the authors talk about the importance of omega 3 fatty acids for neurons which are mostly made up of omega 3 fatty acids. Without that we are left with neurons which are rigid and do not receive or send signals well.

I tried omega 3 supplements many years ago, and did not like the burps which followed their use, and I do not like to cook fish, so I am not going to do much of that, so I was not getting my omega 3's until recently, when Professor Evans mentioned to me that today's supplements have a new delivery system, so I tried some over the counter omega 3's and found an immediate improvement in my attention.

However, a further reading of Professor Simon's book indicates that any omega 3 supplement worth its salt must indicate how it was processed so I can trust that the mercury was removed from the fish that the supplement was made from. My OTC supplement does not indicate that so I am switching to xTend-life Omega 3 fatty acid.

Can Your Senior Brain Sleep Its Way to Brain Fitness?

Sleep and what happens during it is very important to neurogenesis and neuroplasticity.

All you nap lovers, shout out with glee.

Important hormonal and neuroplasticity events happen while asleep, and if they do not happen because you are up too late, your brain will not complete its duly appointed memory tasks.

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