Prompt for the day: Exercise for your brain

It’s been about three years since I first watched a PBS airing of the series the Brain Fitness Program. I think it first caught my attention as I was channel surfing and stopped because actor Peter Coyote was illustrating, in very dramatic tones, the wonders of neuroplasticity.  I can recall that now because I have since watched the series several times.  My brain, although healthy and I’m sure aging very well, thank you, requires a lot of repetition if we’re going to talk science. 

But I’m very interested and so that motivates me to stay the course and attempt to understand.  So what did I learn about the brain?  Of everything I heard the most significant impression was that although with age we expect some natural decline in our brain functioning, we also now know that new neurons can appear in parts of our brain across the entire lifespan. That’s right.  Up to the very end.  I think that’s very good news. Of course, we have a lot to do with how well this works, or doesn’t, so that’s the challenge.

When something interests me I always read further. I found an abundance of data about exercise and our brains.  I would really rather concentrate on what foods encourage good brain cell development, or even better, what kind of puzzles should I do to keep my mind active.  But the more I read the more I learn that exercise is a key component that can’t be ignored.   Among other studies, when researchers study brain functioning in long-term convalescent homes they learn that patients score higher on memory and cognition tests if they have first exercised.

So here’s the encouragement. Exercise means movement, not necessarily fierce competitive sport…or even jogging. If all you do is walk several times a week you will still benefit.  Gains appear to increase with some aerobic exercise, but the point is that all physical activity boosts mental alertness.  So for those of us who sit at computer terminals all day long, this can be a challenge.  Simply taking a walk during lunch would benefit  the afternoon attention span.  Some managers report an increase in productivity if they encourage staffers to spend a few minutes on an office treadmill…how progressive!

Let’s face it.  We can accept a lot of things about the natural aging process but still fiercely want to hold onto our ability to think clearly, process new information and remember!  If you’re interested in more ways to improve those odds, I recommend brain rules, by John Medina, the director of the Brain Center for Applied Learning Research at Seattle Pacific University.  With those credentials you wouldn’t expect humor, but he is extremely readable and very funny, and a good spokesperson since laughter is also good for the brain.



Memorial Day

I recently heard a radio discussion championing the restoration of Memorial Day to its original date, May 30th, rather than the last Monday of the month and the convenience of three-day weekends.  The dialogue caught my attention because I admit I do enjoy the advantage of lengthy Memorial holidays and for many years this particular weekend has been a travel opportunity for priceless family reunions.

I carefully listened to the argument because the person speaking had the only credentials in this discussion that merited attention. As a veteran, his concern was that the original intention of the holiday had shifted to some kind of season opener to summer activity. Although I gratefully acknowledge the sacrifice of men and women who have lost their lives defending our nation, I certainly know that I do not carry the same level of awareness as those who have experienced active military duty. And that goes for their families, too. I recently learned that a good friend of mine is awake long into the night, unable to restore restful sleep patterns now that her son is home from Iraq.  During his lengthy deployment she couldn’t sleep knowing he was in continual danger.  He returned without injury, but the pattern of fear  left anxieties that continue to interrupt her sleep. I wonder if that is a forever change.

I am going to think a little more about the veteran’s request that we petition elected officials to return the Memorial Day observance to its original date, but while I wait for that potential change, I can be a little more mindful, and a lot more grateful. Although there have been members of my family who have served in military conflict, they have returned home. I want to honor those who did not.

CNN featured the story of a young man, I believe still in high school, who started Project Preserveand Honor, “A virtual place for loved ones and friends to both locate the graves of the fallen, and reflect on the memory of their sacrifice.”   I’ve been reading the biographies of some of the young men and women who recently lost their lives in service, and offering up a prayer for those they left behind.

It’s kind of nice that this year Memorial Day is actually being celebrated on the 30th.
I really should be more continually aware of the sacrifices others have made in contribution of national defense, but I admit I am not.  Certainly they deserve specific attention and honor one day a year.


What are YOU listening to?

At the piano

My granddaughters plunk out tunes on their mini-piano, singing favorite songs, at times complete with costumes and props. They know what they enjoy, alternating more traditional children’s songs with Laurie Berkner and Raffi selections.  I hope they never lose this delight.

I recently asked several friends what music they were currently listening to. Apparently that’s not an easy question to answer.  Most respondents to my very informal poll were quick to list the genres they enjoyed, or even happier to outline disqualifications (“I like everything but Rap, NO Country, or…), but they squirmed and dodged a bit when pressed to tell what they were actually listening to. I didn’t think it was a trick question.

I first thought of expanding this conversation because of my friend David, who doesn’t just play music to ward off silence. He accompanies his enormous library with an equally impressive catalogue of knowledge about artists, current trends and new and emerging genres. His interest extends to sharing creative playlists with the world—literally. You can find DjFrere through Internet radio access on the live365 site. Maybe I’m impressed because he is even more eclectic in his tastes than I am.

It’s accepted science that music has a profound effect on our emotions, but I don’t think most of us need a study to confirm that listening to our favorite tunes makes us feel better.  Considering that music contributes to overall well-being, perhaps finding a new artist or trying something a little outside your usual tried and trues will move you to think about how you’ll answer the question next time you’re asked, “What are you listening to these days?”

Why Music Listening Makes Us Feel Good | Psychology Today.