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?