The Brain Function: Use It Or Lose It

This is a sequel to my last post entitled: Use It Or Lose It. 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 in 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. 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 game called SUDOKU. It is hard but it exercises my brain immensely and has improved my memory and my number skills.

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.
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 fired you up to pick some mentally challenging games like Chess?


Take time to exercise.

I wonder what has come to your mind now! I am talking about the strong relationship between exercise and the muscles of the body.
Twenty one years ago, one rainy day, I was involved in a nearly fatal road traffic accident. I broke two of the six bones of the neck. It is really a miracle that I am up and bout today and thankfully not in a wheelchair.
After eight weeks of neck traction and two operations on the neck, I was on my feet again and had fallen back into my normal routine.

Since then I have thanked God for this gift of life each time I wake up in the morning. I also damaged the nerve to the little finger and fourth finger of the right hand. From that time, it has always been clear to me that if I am to have a functional right hand and strong neck muscles,
I have to exercise the muscles intentionally. Regular exercise combined with dogged determination, have strengthened the muscles, and helped to maintain balance and flexibility. The need to lead a normal life and be as independent as I can has always motivated me to focus on the exercise routine.

I was doing extremely well until age-related changes to muscles, bones and joints set in. Some of my muscles have grown smaller as muscle tissues are being replaced by fibrous tissues. The movements are becoming slow. The changes are more pronounced in the once injured right hand. My hand writing is changing for the worse. It can be scary at times.

As expected, the orthopedic surgeon’s advice has remained the same: “Exercise the muscles or lose them.” Research has shown that at least half of age –related changes to muscles, bones and joints are caused by inactivity or disuse. I have to motivate myself to do enough exercises to maintain strong bones, muscles, bones and joints. While thinking about this change in my life, I recognized that motivation changes with time. At this moment in time, what motivates me to keep strong and healthy is the desire to carry my grandchildren. I remembered one television interview of Usain Bolt, the world’s fastest man. He was asked what motivated him to do what he does. By then, early in his career, he badly needed to clear all his debts, build homes and have financial security for himself and his family. He had gone on to explain that motivation had helped him focus on what was most important at that time. With motivation, discipline and commitment he became the best and a legend in his own right.

In my simple way, I am ready to challenge myself before my time runs out.
Many times during the day, the orthopedic surgeon’s words keep playing themselves in my head: “Use it or lose it.” It got me thinking about other things in life which we lose if we do not use them.
Among them are:
• Brain Function- Science has proved that the brain requires continued stimulation and challenging not to suffer functional decline. Simple unchallenging tasks will not stimulate the brain so the task you are doing has to keep you engaged, must be important and meaningful to you.
According to Dr. Michael Merzenich Ph. D, of Scientific Learning Corporation in Oakland , California ,by the age of forty, you are largely using the abilities you acquired early in life. You could be said to be in ‘automated pilot’ mode. You are doing things without being consciously engaged in what you are doing. As a result, gradually the brain function begins to slowly deteriorate. You become slow in action and slow in making decisions.

You can reverse this functional decline by appropriate stimulation of the brain with new challenges. He recommends that we find ways to engage ourselves in new learning all our lives by taking on new hobbies or learn new skills.
Anybody above 50 years can engage in work that demands your attention and focus. It will keep your brain young, many years younger than your biological age.
Dr. Merzenich has a website where you can pick different exercises designed to improve brain function and allow you to track and monitor your progress over time.
The website is: It is one of the oldest and most widely used and is supported by dozens of published Science studies.
I have taken time to go through some of these brain exercises. Like all forms of exercise,
you have to play them for some time to enjoy the benefits of increased capacity to record and remember information and improved brain speed and accuracy.

• Acquired Knowledge and Skills- Scientific studies have shown that the brain loses 10% of what it has learned each year. In five years , you will have lost 50% of what you have learned. To reduce this rate, you have to practice and read regularly to keep what you know, to update what you already know and to learn new things. You practice, read, share and add on what you know to stay relevant and useful to yourself and others.
This explains why Learning is said to be a lifetime job. In this era of information technology, there is an information overload and the information changes often and fast so one has to learn and relearn fast to keep abreast with the times.

• TIME- Time is considered to be the most precious commodity in life. We all have only 24 hours in a day and the most successful among us are those who have mastered the art of getting more out of life in those 24 hours.
Time once lost, cannot be recovered.
Time and tide wait for no man. – Geoffrey Chaucer.

Most of us always complain about not having enough time to do what we want to do and what is demanded of us from the different roles we have taken on in life. We are daughters, mothers, professionals, friends and members of our communities.
Seneca, a Roman philosopher said: “ It is not that we have a short time to live but we waste a lot of it. Life is long if you know how to use it.”

Michael Hyatt, the renowned American virtual coach has come up with some strategies and tactics to help us put the 24 hours to the best use. Top among these is Prioritization. You prioritize what is most important to you at that moment in time and keep sight of your priorities. You will become more effective and efficient because you will be spending 80% of your time on the 20% most important things in your life. This will help you to reclaim your health, time and sanity.
“We have enough time if we use it well.’’
“ If we take care of the moments, the years will take care of themselves.’’ – Maria Edgeworth

Is there anything precious in your life that you lost by not using it?
When was the last time you felt that you had enough time in 24 hours of the day? What were you doing?


Nature is said to be the art of God. It is also said to be cheaper than therapy.

I am a confessed outdoor fanatic . I have a few quotes about Nature that will force you to go outdoors to start the adventure of the lifetime:

“Take a quiet walk with mother nature. It will nurture your mind, body and soul.” A.D Williams

” It is hard not to stand in awe and enchantment with the beauty in which nature expresses herself.” Steve Maraboli

” Within nature lies the cure for humanity.” Anonymous

” If you truly love nature, you will find beauty everywhere.” Vincent van Gogh

” Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.” Albert Einstein

” In every walk with nature, we receive far more than we seek.” John Muir

” We do not see nature with our eyes, but with our understandings and our hearts.” William Hazlett

” And into the forest I go, to lose my mind and find my soul.” Anonymous

Here are a few more photographs from my collection. They will help you appreciate the beauty of nature and talk you into protecting and conserving it.

An orange tree in bloom in my garden in the Botswana desert
The pristine beaches of Cape Town, South Africa
Arusha city in Tanzania has a longstanding policy of keeping the city green. The last time I visited the city , I was green with envy.
The oldest olive trees in the garden of Gethsemane, Israel.
I floated effortlessly in the Dead Sea-the salt sea, while a few others painted themselves with the Dead Sea black mud. The mud has therapeutic values.


Are you lonely, afraid, unhappy or do you need to unwind?

Just go outdoors, nature will awaken all your senses.


Arguably, Nature delights and it heals. The beauty of Nature brings out the kid in each one of us. It fills us with awe and wonder and helps us to find our own place in the universe. Over the years, I have learned to claim it as part of myself.

Like the fundamental rights and freedoms, you enjoy the beauty of nature while at the same time you are being given the responsibility to protect and conserve it for the future generations.

The two quotes by Sir David Frederick Attenborough of Britain, the greatest naturalist of our time remind all of us of our natural duty to protect the environment. He said: “It seems to me that the natural world is the greatest source of excitement; the greatest source of visual beauty, the greatest source of intellectual interest. It is the greatest source of so much in life that makes life worth living.”

“The question is , are we happy to suppose that our grandchildren may never be able to see an elephant except in a picture book?”

We appreciate nature through our five basic senses of sight, hearing, taste, smell ant touch. Appreciating nature reminds us all of the Creator of it all.

I have been an amateur photographer and an outdoor fanatic for as long as I can remember and I had the privilege to take numerous photographs.

I am sharing a few of those which have made me shriek, “Wow!” in delight and amazement.

The golden sunrise

The Cascading waters
The rugged Table Mountains dominating the Cape Town horizon.
The barren desert.
The rolling grasslands- the Savannah
The Amaryllis in bloom in my small garden in Botswana
Are n’t these rocks by the ocean beautiful ?
A mother and its puppy in the back garden

Do you have any spectacular views that you caught with your camera and would love to share with us?

The Lifelong Lessons I learned on my High School Relay Team

There is a local Ganda proverb,loosely translated it says: anyone who never knew you in your vibrant youth has no idea of your capabilities. I could compare it to the English saying: I used to wear Stilettos.
I for one used to run like a hare. That is how I found myself in my High school 4 by 110 yards relay team from the age of 12 until I celebrated my 18th birthday. I also competed in the 220 yards race and the Long Jump. By then I was of medium weight and height and as confident as a lioness in the Savanna!
For six consecutive years, our relay team dominated the annual National School Athletic Championships, making us proud and famous. I always took the first position, Alice took the second, Esther took the third while Catherine took the fourth position and was our anchor. We entered the race to compete and win. To get there, we invested time, energy and efforts. We loved it and gave it our all.

We prepared for these Athletic championships for weeks. The late Polycap Kakooza , a parent of the school, and a member of the National Council For Sports volunteered to coach us. Three times a week, we would be at the well- maintained grass sports field with him at 6:00AM to the dot. Many times we would be shivering in the cold but once the rigorous warm up exercises started, we would be smiling. Barefooted and donning our yellow sports tunics we would ran round the field, practice how to hand over batons and how to keep in our lanes.

Time over time, he instilled in us what he called the three keys to success:
• that the race required speed, endurance and great depth of talent on the team.
• that working together, everyone would win. Each member’s efforts mattered greatly to the whole group. There was no room for loafing; each member had to do her part exceptionally well.
• We had to meet the challenges through hard work and dedication as a team and were to win as a team.

Later in life when I came across Ash Hoehn’s They told me there is no “I” in the team, where he recognizes that when the “I” is absorbed then he becomes part of something much more powerful. For me it was like preaching to the already converted.
Our coach was so good that not on any single occasion did I make a false start or any of us ever dropped the relay button or strayed from her lane.
Traditionally, the 4 by 110 yards relay is usually the last event of track events therefore it is watched by an enthusiastic crowd. I can hear the deafening cheers today as our anchor crossed the finish line. I would shout myself hoarse as I cheered her along. Thereafter, the four of us would hold our hands together and let it reality sink in. It brought so much joy to us while at the same time motivating us to do much better the following year. We recognized early on that being the best came with a price tag-working harder to remain at the top.

Arguably, we were given an opportunity to show off our ability. Our reward was a Uganda Bookshop Voucher worth Twenty Ugandan shillings. It could buy at least three books by then. During those six years, I bought many books and novels from the well-stocked Bookshop using the Relay, Long Jump and 220 yards vouchers. It fuelled my reading habit fiercely. I remember that period of time with a lot of joy and gratitude. I am the richer for having had such competitive experiences.
The words of the American ballet dancer, Misty Copeland ring so true: “My childhood is a part of my story, and it’s why I ‘m who I am today and why my career is what it is.”

Looking back now, I recognize that I gained much more than the victory and the books by being a member of my school relay team. The ancient Greeks who started the first recognized Ancient Olympic Games in 776 BC believed that sports made us better people and at the same time kept us fit and healthy. Yes, I admit that I am a better person for having been an athlete. Sports helped me to develop virtues which I continue to apply in almost in any endeavor in life.
Among the most prized virtues are:

  1. Self-knowledge- In your quest for human excellence, you first have to know yourself: your strength and weaknesses. You have to recognize and confront your weaknesses in order to improve. You are a ‘work in progresses’ so your strengths can also be refined.
  2. Discipline- to train regularly, pushing yourself to do better without burning out or maiming yourself.
  3. Courage- to stick to the good and persevere despite the outcome. Winning is not everything so you have to value it mainly because of the virtues associated with it. You have to be tough and intelligent enough to know when to quit too.
  4. Working as a team – whatever you choose to do or be in life, you start as an individual but along the way, you are always helped by teachers, mentors, sponsors and friends to achieve your goal.

As I grew up and matured I applied these virtues in marriage, parenthood and in the medical profession. They served me exceptionally well; probably that is why I am writing this post.
Our team motivated many youths and young adults because everyone loves a winner. Which Ugandan can forget our two Olympic golden boys: Akii-Bua (RIP) and Stephen Kiprotich?
Having said that, everyone is also quick to withdraw admiration for any sportsman or woman who wins illegitimately. Who can forget the 1988 Olympics in Seoul? Ben Johnson, the Canadian sprinter, for the men’s 100 metres was stripped off his Olympic gold for doping. In the blink of an eye, he fell from hero to zero. Who can also forget how Lance Armstrong the seven –times Tour de France winner fell from grace to disgrace for drug use in October 2012?

My sincere wish is for sports to continue being part of a child’s education. As it fires the child to cultivate human excellence, it endows
her/him with great principles and values which he/she will need all her/his life.

“ Learning is a treasure that will follow its owner everywhere,’’ so says one Chinese Proverb.

Were you a Sportsman or sportswoman? How did this experience contribute to who you are today?


I remember when I was in senior secondary school decades ago, I wanted to drop out of the Fine Art class so I paid very little attention to it. I never completed any painting and at the end of the double lessons, I would deliberately store my unfinished , unsigned painting in a drawer for the lower classes’ work. Each week I would have no painting to complete so I would start on a new one right away. Surprisingly, the Arts teacher never noticed my trick. It went on for almost a year and it would have continued had not the Ministry of Education changed the grading and examination for the Ordinary Level students. Among the new changes was that the course work for the two years would account for 33% of the total marks of the final examination while the examination papers themselves accounted for the rest. I was in a total mess so I came up with the idea of talking the Headmistress into allowing me to drop Fine Art and devote the extra time to French. One afternoon ,I talked to her, I pleaded, begged and cajoled for her to allow me to drop Fine Art. She opened the big record book that contained all the students’ results for some years. She combed through mine and looked up, “ I ‘ve heard your request and I ‘ve also studied your examination results from Senior two to the present. All the years you’ve been able to pass all the subject brilliantly except Fine Art. I know that you haven’t paid attention to it. If you put your mind to it, you would pass it too.’’
I cried hysterically but the white lady never gave in. She had seen enough African tears to tell the difference! She had told me the bald truth. I walked away in despair but changed my attitude towards the subject there and then. The first thing I had to do was to find my own time to start and complete as many paintings as I could under the genres of Composition, Drawing, Still Life and Nature. It was a daunting task but since the course work was to account for a third of the total score in the finals, I focused on it. I gave it my all.
Guess what ! I passed Fine Art with a good credit. For my Headmistress it was a case of ‘ I told you so.’
The two great lessons I learned from this experience were: when you start something with enthusiasm, you have to finish it with enthusiasm and secondly that unfinished work is as good as no work; you stay where you are.

Fast Forward, 2018 has passed and we are now in 2019.
Out with the Old and in with the New. Each one of us has a mission and purpose on this earth and each new year gives us an opportunity to start afresh on something that fits into our life’s mission.
Before you start on the new, you have to complete the old by taking time to reflect on it.
You have to go through what you set out to do in 2018:
List your success, your achievements and failures.
List your strengths and weaknesses
List what you would have done better and how you would have done it.
List the great lessons you picked from your experiences of 2018.
Bearing your life’s mission in mind, then go on to determine the true priorities for 2019.
From here, then set your Vision and Goals for 2019. This should be followed by drawing a clear, specific , achievable Plan of how to achieve the goals for 2019.
Immediately, get into action to paint the New Canvas.

We are all artist ; creating our lives and writing our own scripts as we fulfill our visions and goals for each year.
I have come to look at the journey of life as a Marathon and each new year allows me to focus on the end in mind. The race starts in my mind then I plan and set my pace to get to the end without forgetting that there are other runners around me.

While creating our lives and living them, we have to remember that creating great works demands for great imaginations. It is the imagination that helps you to interpret the world around you in an artistic way.
Michelangelo the greatest sculptor said:
“ I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.’’
“ Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the Sculptor to discover it.”
It is always hard work to release the potential within you. You need to find a balance between childlike spontaneity, openness and maturity, skill and wisdom to create a better life as you uncover the buried potential in you. Your creations express who you are and what you think and know at that moment in time.
Over time, you become so good that your creations express the beauty and significance even in the most horrible experiences like the loss of a spouse. You can only produce your greatest work: things that are deeply meaningful, beautiful and moving, after you have come to know, accept and appreciate who you really are. You create things out of the truth of who you are. If you are a writer, this is when you are said to be writing down your Soul , if a singer you are said to be singing from the heart and an architect is said to be creating houses with souls. Your heart, mind and soul work together in tandem. Your efforts to create no longer feel like work or labour but instead give you a sense of great joy. It is fun to do what you love and enjoy.

The aim of creations is to bring out the beauty and significance in your life and of others around you.
The losses, the doubts, fears and failures we experience each year serve to inform us as we create our lives in the New Year. You never deny anything that happened to you but you accept them as worthy and valuable. What you have overcome, dealt with or failed to achieve teaches you a lesson you need later in the New Year.
Honesty and authenticity tend to come to us in old age for by then we have stopped living in defined roles instead do what we feel is right and is our own to do. It takes a lot of courage to break all the rules and norms to be ‘you’. This explains why expressing your true story is a painful process and yet it is a great moment of liberation.
If each individual is true to herself /himself then we can collectively make a better world.
Jane Nannono, The Last Lifeline(2015)
We all mellow with the years.
Like good wine we become better people:
older , wiser and respected,
we have hindsight and know who we really are.
We have found our purpose and meaning in life;
We have learnt from our mistakes and grown from our failures.
We are comfortable with ourselves ,
we look at things in their true perspective;
no jaundiced views, no tinted glasses, no veils or masks.
We are our own bosses and have learnt to say ‘no’,
we have stopped playing along to get along.
We have stopped feeling guilty and now do what is right.
We have learnt to forgive ourselves and to laugh at ourselves.
We have learnt to love ourselves and unashamedly put ourselves first.
We only do what adds value to our lives;
what we love and enjoy doing.
Being comfortable with whom we are, simply being ourselves.

In this New Year are you ready to respond creatively and anew to each new experience?
Or are you still limited by social conditioning ; working within predefined roles and being defined by the roles?
The New Year has already begun so you should have started painting on the New Canvas. Do not wait as I foolishly did in my Fine Art class decades ago; it caught up with me and I paid a huge price for it. The wisest among us always learn from other people’s mistakes.