Don’t forget to exercise the gray matter


Keep a sharp mind as you enter your ‘Golden Years'


Shriveled brain shown on Homer Simpson's x-rayMost of us have heard “Use it or lose it” or “Practice makes perfect”, both of which are a call to action. The action need not be physical, however – your mind needs exercise as well.

Your memories define the person you've become, and shape your future actions. The greatest dieting and exercising regimens may keep your body healthy and fit as you age, but if you don't spend time exercising your mind as well, your ability to cope with life and reflect on cherished memories could both disappear.

By fatiguing your muscles – even to the point of failure – you can encourage your body to strengthen and build new muscle mass. By continually stressing bones with weight bearing exercises, you can encourage the bones to maintain bone density. In both cases, you benefit tremendously in your golden years, both in terms of longevity and quality of life.

But your brain is a different beast; it cannot grow new cells as you age. What is the purpose of ‘exercising' your brain then? And how do you go about exercising your brain?

Dad playing with child on the beachIt's true that your brain doesn't grow new cells, but it is also true that your brain has vast amounts of unused capacity. If you begin brushing your teeth with your non-dominant hand, you'll be clumsy at first, but then your brain will re-wire itself to facilitate off-handed tooth brushing. The same holds true of applying makeup, brushing your hair, tying your shoes, etc. These few examples should give you an example of the feats your brain capable of.

Now add to those examples crossword and Sudoku puzzles, strategy games such as go, chess, or bridge and a host of other activities – many of which also encourage social interaction. Some also promote abstract thought processes or limber up your problem solving capability; all are food for your brain.  You could even do something relatively mindless, something you haven't done for years – build a sandcastle, fly a kite, play horseshoes.

There are a few ideas off the top of my head. What do you think? Leave a comment below; you'll get extra credit for exercising your brain!