The Brain Function : Use it or Lose It

Learning new things like a skill challenges the brain and opens up new connections between the right and left parts of the brain.

It is now nineteen months since World Health Organisation(WHO) declared the COVID-19 respiratory disease a global pandemic. Unfortunately, this COVID-19 crisis shows no signs of going away. A few countries like Demark, Norway and Sweden have started easing the pandemic restrictions following a three-phased plan. This has become possible after achieving nearly 75 percent of their population fully immunised.

For the developing countries like mine, where full immunisation is less than five percent, we are still depending on the Standard Operative Procedures(SOPs) for preventing transmission of the virus as set out by the WHO:
• Frequent washing of the hands using alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water.
• Proper use of face masks.
• Physical distancing- allowing at least two metres between you and other people.
• Limiting social gatherings and time spent in crowded places.
• Avoiding close contact with other people – no hugging or shaking hands.

The pandemic has gone on for so long that the majority of us have started suffering from the effects of isolation: some form of anxiety and depression. Isolation is affecting our brain health. None of us had gone through such an experience in the past so we are all learning as we go along. It is vital that we promote brain health and wellness during this COVID -19 crisis otherwise we shall find it extremely difficult to cope when something like normal life returns.

The brain which controls everything below it is like a muscle: it has to be exercised every day or else it gradually loses its function.
I covered how each one of us can keep her/his brain functional as an integral part of general wellbeing, in the post of 15th October 2020: USE IT OR LOSE IT. I am therefore reposting it here because of its relevancy and usefulness.

Brain function is one of those things that deteriorate as one grows old.  Watching my octogenarian mother struggle  to play with the Rubik cube box, requiring skill and determination, made me think more about the age-related deterioration of brain function. One renown expert , Dr. Michael Merzenich  Ph.D. of Scientific Learning Corporation in Oakland , California has made numerous studies  on brain function. He tells us that this age-related functional decline can be reversed or be slowed down by engaging into mentally demanding activities. The mentally demanding activities include reading, solving hard crossword puzzles and playing brain games. They stimulate and challenge the brain unlike the simple mundane ones like walking to the neighbour’s or performing any task routinely. 

He also informs us that by the age of 40, most of us are largely using the abilities we acquired early in life. We could be said to be operating in ‘automated pilot’ mode. We are doing things without being consciously engaged in what we are doing. As a result, gradually the brain function begins to slowly deteriorate. We become slow in action and slow in making decisions.

He reassures that we can reverse this functional decline by appropriate stimulation of the brain with new challenges. He therefore recommends  that each one of us should engage in new learning all our lives by picking new hobbies or learning new skills altogether. The best is any activity that engages all your five senses and imagination.

 After the age of fifty, it is essential that we maintain and improve brain function simply by keeping it mentally active. An active brain is a healthy brain. We do not have to wait to grow old to start playing the recommended mentally demanding activities; the earlier we start the better.

Proverbs 19 verse 27 warns us that :  If you stop learning, you will forget what you already know.

I for one have started seeing the changes in bits and pieces: how fast I remember names, how fast I make decisions but have found the following activities extremely useful:

  • Reading- I have been a voracious reader since the age of six. I read for fun then read for knowledge.

As a medical doctor I read a lot to acquire new knowledge, to remember what I already know but in my leisure time I read for fun. The Internet has increased access to reading materials to many of us.

I also make time to read my Bible every morning.

I can say that this is the best time to be an avid reader. Reading helps me to concentrate, and engages my brain fully as I follow the characters through the story. It also improves my fluency in the language.

  • Writing- I would have cheated the literary world if I just read others’ books or blogs all this long.

I had to contribute to something which has given me so much joy and knowledge. I have published two fiction novels, several short stories and I am working on several of them at the moment. I have been running a personal blog since October 2016. I wanted to share my wealth of experiences and impact other people’s lives for the better.

I always research what I write about so this opens me up for more reading and acquisition of knowledge. I have made lifelong learning a priority. Posting articles regularly on my personal blog teaches me the discipline of remaining consistent.

As I write, I am fully engaged and my mind is taken off everyday worries. I am alone with myself so it helps me to decompress and unwind too.

  • Crossword Puzzles- I usually solve the crossword puzzles in the daily newspapers that I read and those in the magazines I buy regularly. I have been doing this for a long time but while researching about crosswords I noted with great interest that the first crossword puzzle was published in the New York World newspaper in December 1913!

As I try to solve the puzzle, I am fully engaged and focused on what I am doing. The hardest puzzles are the most engaging and challenging. Completing such a crossword puzzle gives me a sense of satisfaction. The feeling causes the brain to release the ‘feel good factor’ known as Dopamine , in several areas in the brain. It is the Dopamine which makes us happy and motivated as we go through life. Small jobs and achievements throughout the week naturally keep up my Dopamine levels. Low levels of Dopamine are associated with feelings of apathy, depression and low energy.

Of late I am trying to solve the number puzzle called SUDOKU, it is based on 9by 9 grid and MUDOKU, based on a 16 by 16 grid. It  exercises my brain immensely and has improved my memory and my number skills. Such puzzles open up new connections in the brain; making it more active.

Dr. Merzenich‘s team of top scientists has developed some brain games to improve the brain function.  You can look them up at BrainHQ. Playing them regularly sharpens the brain and as a result you think faster, focus better and remember more. Who would not want to remember more? I am at the beginner’s level but just like any learned skill, the more you practice, the better you become.

Next time I have a full house, I will dust off Chess,the board game. It is an engaging game that demands total concentration and intense focus. It tests your memory too.

The pandemic has brought online activities like teaching, webinars to the forefront. These are intellectually challenging.

Regular, quality sleep is most essential for brain health. Good sleep improves concentration and productivity and enhances memory.

Mark Twain said: “When I was younger, I could remember anything, whether it had happened or not.’’

And Thomas Fuller said:   “We all  forget, more than we remember.”


How fast are you at making decisions or remembering things?

Has this post helped you to see the need for keeping your brain active during the COVID-19 restrictions and thereafter?

Published by

Jane Nannono

I am a mother of three, a medical doctor by profession, who has always been fascinated by the written word. I am a published author- my first fiction novel was published in March 2012 and is entitled ' The Last Lifeline'. I self -published my second fiction novel entitled ' And The Lights Came On' . I am currently writing my third fiction novel and intend to launch it soon. I also write short stories: two of them - Buried Alive in the Hot Kalahari Sand, Move Back to Move Forward were published among the 54 short stories in the first Anthology of the Africa Book Club, Volume 1 of December 2014. It is entitled: The Bundle of Joy.

2 thoughts on “The Brain Function : Use it or Lose It”

  1. This is very good and very helpful to all seniors. I’m going to try some of the ‘tricks’. I used to read, I will start again.

    On Sun, Oct 3, 2021, 9:10 PM apagefrommunakusbook wrote:

    > Jane Nannono posted: ” Learning new things like a skill challenges the > brain and opens up new connections between the right and left parts of the > brain. It is now nineteen months since World Health Organisation(WHO) > declared the COVID-19 respiratory disease a global pa” >


    1. I am happy that I have provoked you into action. We all need to challenge our brains every day. Could you please try the difficult SUDOKU number puzzles too or pick up the Chess board game. Kindly share this post with other senior citizens. Nannono


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