If you want to stay young and healthy, don't just exercise your body. Exercise your mind! Do you remember the last time you solved a crossword puzzle? How about the last time you played Scrabble, Sudoku, chess or traveled overseas?
Your brain benefits from workouts just like your body. Having to completely reorient yourself in a new environment will give your brain cells a heady boost. When was the last time you traveled to a country in which you did not speak the language? You don't have to move overseas for good to stretch your brain; even if you are abroad (wherever this may be for you) for just three months, learning your way around, navigating a new town, maybe even picking up the fundamentals of a new language - you will exercise your mind. Try following directions without the aid of an English-speaking GPS. If traveling is not your passion but you still want to keep your brain sharp, try varying your routine - whether it is a familiar route you take every day, or the way you choose to solve a problem. Be creative.
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The bad news is that our memories start to fade once we reach adulthood (which may occur at differing times depending on the individual - reaching adulthood, that is). The good news is that you have the power to slow down this decline. Of course the ability to forget can be extremely beneficial, and letting go of painful memories and other annoyances that no longer serve you is a valuable survival skill. But memory is a useful asset, too, as you probably would like to be able to remember where you left your wallet, your car keys, your passport, or, more importantly your latest electronic gadget ("What did you do with MY IPad?" is a common exclamation in our home) or how many children or grandchildren you have. Of the 100 billion or so brain cells that constitute our incredible brains at birth, we lose around 50,000 a day ("hey, have you seen 50,000 of my brain cells lying around somewhere? I cannot remember where I put them"). 50,000 out of 100 billion - if the government lost $50,000 per day or $18 million per year, wouldn't our economy be in much better shape? And that's not all. Supporting those 100 billion or so neurons are ten times as many glial cells. That's a lot of cells. By the age of twenty, a human being has about 150,000 km of pathways in the brain. These pathways are known as myelinated axons (quick brain warm-up: 150,000 km are how many miles?) Think you have too many cells up there? If losing 50,000 cells per day is not enough, you can accelerate this loss by sniffing paint, taking drugs, and exposing yourself to other forms of air pollution (alcohol won't do it, that just damages your liver.)
So how do you feed this amazing brain? The brain is the hungriest organ in your body; it consumes 20% of the energy used by your body. Since the blood-brain barrier protects your brain from the blood stream and does not allow fatty acids to cross, the main source of energy for the brain is blood glucose. To function at optimal levels, the brain is dependent on two criteria: an ample amount of energy and a constant amount of energy.
i. An ample amount of readily available glucose is necessary to maintain mental acuity. When glucose levels in the blood are low, for example during Ramadan or other times of fasting, the brain obtains its energy from ketones. These water-soluble fatty acid by-products are made by the liver. When I worked in Singapore, I was struck by how much my Muslim colleagues would slow down at work during Ramadan. Fasting during daylight hours drastically affected productivity.
ii. The importance of a steady flow of energy to the brain is most apparent when someone suffers a stroke. The energy supply is suddenly cut off, and damage is immediate and can be irreversible and hugely debilitating. While strokes are the second-leading cause of death in Western countries. they are preventable. If you follow a Mediterranean diet, you are half as likely to suffer a stroke.
Assuming that the brain obtains an ample and constant supply of energy, what can you do to stem the ageing of the brain? Here are some options that can help keep the brain younger:
- being intellectually active i.e. brain games, reading, playing bridge, playing chess, taking part in stand-up impromptu comedy, learning a new skill or subject, picking up another language
- exercise, as this helps detoxification
- having a positive outlook on life
- engaging in intricate manual work such as stitching, carving netsukes or composing. One of our most cherished possessions is a large, wood cutting board. If you were to come across this at a flea market, you would not give it a second glance. However, if you had a great grandfather who had made this board at the age of 100 years, it becomes a treasured heirloom. Maybe the fact that he kept working with his hands allowed him to reach an advanced age
- being an active member of one's community (being popular and sought after)
- enjoying a brain-friendly diet high in omega-3s and antioxidants, and low in refined carbohydrates
|Is it moving? Think about it.|
Since you are probably on-line while reading this, you might want to check out www.luminosity.com. Maybe one or the other game might strike your fancy?
Just like physical exercise, find some mental exercise that you can be passionate about. You will more likely pursue this with enough vigor and enthusiasm to give your brain a thorough and regular workout and keep you going for many, many years to come.