The Aging Brain
According to my 14 year old son, the 65 year old aging brain that Dad has is way too focused on chores, and discipline and homework, and it is even a mean brain, because Dad's aging brain is frustrated occasionally by 11 years of cajoling, begging, explaining, and ordering behavior change.
And soon this 11 year old brain will be hitting puberty?
Well, in the meantime, what is an aging Dad's brain to do to keep itself viable until such time as it gets to retire to the hammock with any of a thousand books I want to read?
Did I mention I have a five year old daughter?
Well, it turns out I do have many more options available than my parents knew about, because neuroscientists are uncovering some very interesting capacities of the human brain, like neurogenesis and neuroplasticity, which can actually be cultivated.
That is correct, decades, if not centuries of neuroscientific dogma overturned in the last 10-12 years.
I won't bore you with the chronology, because you are probably curious about how to get started with the brain fitness workout, and it does involve workouts.
From the NOVA folks;
"The latest discoveries in neuroscience present a new view of how the brain ages. Overturning decades of dogma, scientists recently discovered that even into our seventies, our brains continue producing new neurons. Scientists no longer hold the longstanding belief that we lose vast numbers of brain cells as we grow older. The normal aging process leaves most mental functions intact, and may even provide the brain with unique advantages that form the basis for wisdom. The aging brain is also far more resilient than was previously believed."
You can find corroborative information in the book The Brain the Changes Itself, written by Norman Doidge,MD.
Doidge has interviewed a number of cutting edge folks, including leading neuroplasticity researcher Michael Merzenich,Ph.D., who is a creator of the Posit Science Brain Fitness Program, recently put to the research fire in the IMPACT study.
When I read Doidge's work, I was impressed by his enthusiasm and clarity.
I was easily able to understand the concepts that he and his subjects were talking about.
While I am a professional, I am not conversant with neuroscience.
After finishing Doidge's book, I started looking for other useful information, and found this book, Brainfit for Life by Simon Evans, Ph.D. and Paul Burghardt, Ph.D., both neuroscientists at the University of Michigan, who have culled neuroscientific research for the hidden away nuggets that you and I can do today to enhance our brain fitness for our aging brains.
We may still also have aching backs, but Brainfit for Life is for your brain.
Brainfitness for the Aging Brain
Evans and Burghardt and many other writers in the brain fitness niche report that neurogenesis and neuroplasticity are available to us if we take care of the 'pillars of brain fitness', which are physical exercise, nutrition with an emphasis on the importance of omega 3 fatty acid and antioxidants, sleep, stress management, and novel learning experiences, like that provided by computerized brain fitness programs.
Physical activity/exercise is the first and most important antidote for the aging brain.
The good news is that you can begin with activity, like walking in the neighborhood on a crisp fall day and enjoying the colors. The key to generating new brain cells (neurogenesis) is to make sure you are moving at a pace that induces some deep breathing for 10 minutes, deep enough breathing that it is difficult to talk while walking.
You do not have to join an expensive club or buy lots of equipment to do this, or fling around heavy bar bells, but you can work up that if you want.
Check out the workout that 88 year old Bill and 82 year old Pat do do to prepare for the rigors of international travel. Bill and Pat began exercising about 8 years ago, training with Scott and Angie Tousignant. I sure appreciate their example.
I go to my local YMCA to exercise, but on days when I cannot fit that in, I do my own version of the Tousignant HIIT program at home, doing calisthenics, my bicycle, and our circle drive of .6 mile. No expense at all. I am very regular about exercise.
The next antidote to the aging brain is the nutritional, and I do not subscribe to a particular meal plan, but I do make sure that I pay attention to the micro and macro nutrients that Evans and Burghardt talk about in Chapter 2 of their book. I do use an omega 3 fatty acid supplement because I do not care to cook fish, and I do not care to monitor my intake of mercury. If the supplement is processed appropriately I should not have to worry about mercury in my aging brain.
The aging brain antidote for sleep and stress management can also be quite cost effective, since it involves deep breathing. I tell that to my anger management guys and girls and they all breath deep once or twice and return to shallow breathing which actually encourages my body to drip some stress hormones into my blood, which kills those new brain cells before they are cemented into my memory circuits. I want to remember where the keys are, and my name.
If you are interested in another new technology to minimize the impact of stress or poor sleep, based on the study of the heart's own nervous system, you will want to explore the benefits of Heartmath for the sleep and stress management brain fitness pillars.
Heartmath is a biofeedback tool that you install on your PC, or you can use the handheld emWave, which provides real time feedback about the time between heart beats, which can become very synchronized or coherent on demand with a bit of practice of breathing and thinking skills, and it does feel so good.
When I am attending to my Heartmath, my body is bathed in DHEA which is the antidote to stress hormones like adrenaling and cortisol.
The last pillar of brain fitness is the novel learning experience, which can include using computerized brain fitness programs like the Posit Science Brain Fitness Program mentioned above.
Novel learning experiences are usually characterized as the kind of learning that happens when I learn a new language, or a new musical instrument.
That kind of learning experience provides an increasing level of challenge and an opportunity to achieve an optimal number of correct responses, around 80% correct per practice.
So more crosswords or sudoku do not provide the kind of novel learning experience which enhances neurogenesis.
If you do not have time to learn a new language or practice a new instrument, then give one of the following programs a try.
I use them all. Posit Science does wonders for my word recall, Mind Sparke Brain Fitness Pro is absolutely fabulous for attention and increases IQ, and Lumosity at the computer as I work is the pause that refreshes. (That was a catch phrase for what product way back when?)