Scientists used to insist that the brain has its full share of nerve cells by early infancy and then loses them one by one with age. Wrong! That long-held belief has been shattered by recent studies including one involving songbirds who are lifelong learners. It turns out that the process of neurogenesis in which new cells are born doesn't ever have to stop. Here, to help you get your smarts on, are strategies for not only keeping your wits but sharpening them as well.
Add To Your Skill Set Keep on learning! You could start by signing up for an evening course at your local community college. Classes are typically offered in disciplines as varied as cooking, chess, origami, film and video editing, memoir writing, jewelry making, and oil painting. Another option is on-line courses where you can work at your own pace during your free time with no need to commute to a campus. You could also order tapes to learn a new language
Get A Move On Forget the rocking chair. A sedentary lifestyle doesn't do anything to keep your mind agile. Study after study has shown that older adults who exercise are sharper, have fewer memory lapses, and just plain feel more mentally vigorous. Walking is great, but why not try something new and different? Is there a square dance club in your area? Can you join a swim class at the Y? If you live near the water, can you learn to kayak? With a little planning, you can fit in at least three sessions a week of an activity that does your brain some good and benefits your body and soul in the bargain.
Eat Brain Food Fish still tops the list, and wild salmon is best of all. It's an excellent source of essential fatty acids including Omega-3 and it provides high quality protein that's low in saturated fat. However, all oily fish qualifies. Other edibles that can up your brain power are blueberries, cranberries, avocados, bananas, nuts, brown rice, eggs, pumpkin seeds, tomatoes, and spinach. Also, you'd do well to take a multi-vitamin supplement. As for beverages, green tea is excellent. So, however, is coffee. Go ahead and enjoy your morning brew. It really will get your mind in gear!
Indulge In A Pastime You know the old chestnut: All work and no play makes Jack (or Jane) a dull boy (or girl). And while "dull" can mean boring, for our purposes it means you're not as sharp-witted as you could be. If you tend to be a workaholic, give yourself a break. Watching TV doesn't qualify because it's passive. Sports are good because you'll also be getting exercise. But an evening of playing Monopoly counts, too. So does getting down on the floor to build Leg-o structures with the grandkids. The point is to refresh your circuits with the pleasant pursuit of leisure and fun. Game on!
Block One Of Your Senses This is a tip from Duke University neurobiologist Lawrence Katz who coined the word "neurobics," a combination of "neuron" and "aerobics." In his book with Manning Rubin, Keep Your Brain Alive, he suggests that you should "experience the unexpected" by trying such ploys as closing your eyes or wearing ear plugs when you eat so you pay attention to the taste and texture of the food. Katz points out that anything you do to create a novel experience for your brain will make it work a little harder. Just as exercising an atrophied muscle can make it strong again, workouts for your brain can renew its vigor.
Have A Good Laugh Research has shown that humor stimulates the brain and keeps it alert. A good belly laugh revs up your thinking processes and the effect lasts for hours. So lighten up! Post a couple of jokes on your bulletin board or office wall. Use a silly photo as your screensaver. Sneak a peak at a joke web site now and then when you need a breather from your work. Hang out with people who know how to have a good time. Watch Comedy Central. As Albert Einstein famously said, "I am content in my later years. I have kept my good humor and take neither myself nor the next person seriously."
Challenge Your Gray Matter Doing crossword puzzles is an old stand-by that may keep you sharp by forcing you to mine your memory. Also, some people swear by memorizing and reciting anything from Bible verse to poems to passages from favorite books to inspirational quotes. You could also learn song lyrics by heart and warble in the shower. Another strategy is to play board games such as Scrabble and Trivial Pursuit. Bonus: You'll be interacting with other people so you'll be getting the added benefit of social contact. That in itself can keep your mind agile.
Sondra Forsyth, a National Magazine Award winner, writes for major magazines and is the author or co-author of eleven books. A former ballerina, she is the Artistic Director of Ballet Ambassadors, an arts-in-education company in New York City.