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.