From the good folks at AARP. Very good advice.
If you've read the other articles in the Brain Health area, you've learned about how your brain works, how aging affects your brain, and how your memory can change as you grow older. And you've probably realized by now that the field of brain research has a lot of good news to offer!
That good news involves the choices we have for using any number of new online tools to exercise the neurons in various brain circuits.
We can, as Dr. Katz recommends below, look for ways to change up routines. (Try moving your computer mouse with the non-dominant hand for example).
Or getting dressed exactly the opposite of how you ordinarily dress, brush your teeth with the non-dominant hand, ect.
And we can use some of the emerging computerized programs in or as part of our brain health lifestyle. When I exercise my brain using those online tools, I enhance the firing sequence of neurons, so that they fire in close coordination, which keeps the circuit vibrant.
The neurons in those circuits continue to grow dendritic branches, up to 30,000 of them per neuron, and those branches make possible new connections between neurons. Hence brain health.
The online games, while they can indicate a score, and I can play against others, are really for fun. I want to do them regularly, like my physical exercise, and then get on with my day.
According to Gilky and Kilts in the Harvard Business Review, "Play engages the prefrontal cortex, responsible for your highest-level cognitive functioning, including self-knowledge, memory, mental imagery, and incentive and reward processing."
They suggest bringing an element of risk, which alerts the reason and imagination capacities.
Walter Straub in his research found a way to utilize imagery in coaching dart throwers which included the imagination of the actual movement, if I remember correctly, which increased their actual dart throwing scores.
So if I want a healthy brain, I need to build in activities like that.
For example, when I am exercising on the treadmill, I will do my daily prayer and meditation and also my Chi Gong meditation. I have activated my breathing, which relaxes me, changes the internal chemistry, and then I practice the mental part of my meditation, which is then built in deeper because of the altered chemistry from the exercise.
Use those endorphins, I always say.
Too bad the YMCA does not have a computer in their exercise room, so I could do my brain health routine as part of my physical workout.
Back to the AARP article.
Now, in this final section, you'll learn about the next steps you can take—plus some important resources—that can help keep your brain healthy for the rest of your life. From lifelong learning to positive thinking to eating nutritious foods, we'll show you what scientists have learned about staying sharp.
Your brain's ability to change and reorganize itself in response to learning and experience affords you a great opportunity: You can choose to follow a lifestyle that maximizes your "brain power," which will keep the engine of learning revved up as you age.
Brain experts are convinced that engaging in active learning throughout life will help maintain brain health in our later years. "The brain wants to learn," says Michael Merzenich, PhD, a neurobiologist at University of California, San Francisco. "It wants to be engaged as a learning machine."
Merely replaying well-learned skills that you've mastered in life may not be enough, though. "The brain requires active continuous learning," Merzenich adds. "It requires change, and that change requires that you acquire new skills and abilities, new hobbies, and activities that require the brain to remodel itself. That's the key."
Train Your Brain Large, well-designed studies of older adults have clearly shown that a lifestyle that includes stimulating mental activity—especially in terms of social interaction—is associated with successful aging.
The largest controlled clinical trial to date, funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association, found that cognitive (mental) "training sessions" improved memory, concentration and problem-solving skills in healthy adults ages 65 and older.
The effects were powerful and long lasting: They effectively erased 7 to 14 years of normal cognitive decline, and the results lasted for at least two years. Many smaller studies have also shown varying degrees of benefits from specific types of training.
The skills learned can enhance functioning on similar-minded tasks, but may not transfer to other aspects of cognition. For example, memory training might improve recall, but may not help with problem solving.
However, a common theme has emerged from these studies: Cognitive training can improve older adults' ability to maintain day-to-day activities.
Benefits of Staying Mentally Active Though more research is needed on which types of activity are best, most brain experts are convinced that staying mentally active throughout life is good advice.
"We can make the brain work better simply by accumulating more knowledge, which builds more networks of connections in the brain," says James McGaugh, PhD, a Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives member at University of California, Irvine.
"The wisdom that we acquire," he adds, "can compensate for the decline that may be gradually occurring."
Practice "Neurobics" Lawrence Katz, PhD, a Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives member at Duke University Medical Center, applies this concept in a program he calls neurobics. Neurobics encourages people to use their brains in non-routine ways.
Katz believes that when we settle into routines, which we repeat almost automatically every day, the brain activity required for those activities decreases. "You basically have an eight-cylinder engine running on four cylinders," Katz explains. "It's efficient, but it really only utilizes a relatively small percentage of the potential repertoire of pathways in the brain."
By approaching established routines in new ways, he says, "you're activating parts of the brain that you weren't [using] before. That, in turn, creates enhanced activity in the brain."
For example, consider the route you take to work or to a familiar destination every day. Taking this route becomes so automatic that you do it without even thinking about it. But by taking a new route, Katz says, "your brain is forced to use its attention resources to do that very simple task."
Finding your keys or picking out coins in a purse by using your sense of touch rather than sight can have the same effect, he says. The aim, according to Katz, is to "focus your brain's attention on what you're doing at the time you're doing it."
This content is brought by Staying Sharp, a partnership between NRTA: AARP's Educator Community and the Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives.
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