Monday, July 6, 2009

Exercise Those Brain Cells

I used to jokingly say that I once took a memory course, but forgot to pay the installment payments. Now, that doesn't seem quite so funny since it seems like I forget things a lot more than usual. And, I'm beginning to wonder if age isn't the only culprit. It might just have something to do with technology itself.
It's a convenient world we live in, maybe too convenient. We use calculators to do our math, GPS to help us get where we're going without reading a map. We push a button to dial the phone, instead of remembering numbers, and use voice reminders and computers to record data instead of writing it down. Many of us wait for the film version of a book to come out rather than read. Store clerks rely on the register to tell them what your change should be, and then, some of them fumble around forever trying to figure out how to count it out.
Last Christmas my sons bought me a Nintendo DS. For those of you not familiar with that, it's a small compact video game that acomodates a large variety of games, and an impressive line of "brain exercisers". I'm not promoting these games, but it seemed reasonable to me that any game that made you think and encouraged quick reflexes could possibly be useful. Basically, the various games challenge you to remember numbers, words, put various things in order, and see how fast you can do math problems. Crossword puzzles, sudoko, ect. are also good pastimes for the mind. Actually, anything that makes you think and takes you and your brain into new and unexplored areas.
While writing this, I was thinking of my grandparents, who went from the horse and buggy life of their youth, to the TV era. They lived well into their 80's, bright and alert, and, in reprospect, I can say that they were always interested in the newest thing that was happening around them. They read, they discussed, and they were forever curious about life.
Besides keeping the brain busy with these tasks, several experts have recommended other activities for those of us past 55. A few of these are continuing education, travel, and branching out into hobbies and new daily detours from the normal routine which apparently help stimulate the brain, and some say, even deter alzhiemers and dementia.
While there seems to still be a lot of debate on whether or not mental exercise can actually stave
off mental decline, and encourage new growth of brain cells, everyone agrees that it can't hurt.

The following was taken from an article in the Washington Post about a study on brain exercise.
"Short Mental Workouts May Slow Decline of Aging Minds Study Finds"
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/12/19/AR2006121901431.html

Ten sessions of exercises to boost reasoning skills, memory and mental processing speed staved off mental decline in middle-aged and elderly people in the first definitive study to show that honing intellectual skills can bolster the mind in the same way that physical exercise protects and strengthens the body.

The researchers also showed that the benefits of the brain exercises extended well beyond the specific skills the volunteers learned. Older adults who did the basic exercises followed by later sessions were three times as fast as those who got only the initial sessions when it came to activities of daily living, such as reacting to a road sign, looking up a number in a telephone book or checking the ingredients on a medicine bottle -- abilities that can spell the difference between living independently and needing help.

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