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Thursday, March 7, 2013

Keeping brain power

"If I only had a brain..." Scarecrow from the Wizard of Oz
We all have brains. We just have to keep using them. 

A recent report said that 70 percent of Americans over 65 will need long-term care, and we need to plan ahead. I totally agree with the planning ahead part, but it would be nice to stave off being one of the 70 percent in assisted living or skilled nursing as long as possible.

I want to be like David Perlman, the San Francisco Chronicle's veteran science writer, who is still finding interesting stories and producing compelling copy at age 94. Or like the father-in-law of one of my friend's who recently closed the door on his successful law career at age 97. Or my husband's friend who published her second book at the young age of 93.

What's the secret?

Good genes undoubtedly, but keeping an active brain has to play a big part.

Although I can't do much about my genetics, I definitely can do more to keep my brain in good shape. 

What are you doing to keep your brain in high function? I am open to all ideas.

In the meantime, I've adopted some strategies from the experts that make sense to me:

  • Workout. No one disputes the value of being physically active. Just 30 minutes of aerobic exercise a day is as good for the brain as the body. I bought an activity tracker from Weight Watchers to keep me motivated to meet or surpass my daily exercise goal. In the month I've had it, I only missed the baseline twice.
  • Brain games. There are more and more websites with entertaining memory, attention, speed, flexibilty and problem solving games that are more useful than simply playing another game of Spider Solitaire. Sudoku and crossword puzzles are beneficial, if you like doing them.
  • Learn something new every day. Have you heard about Wikipedia: Random? A simple keyboard shortcut (Alt-Shift+X in Firefox) loads random articles in Wikipedia. That's how I learned about Guitar Slim, Jr. and Al Filreis who founded PennSound, a large archive of poets reading their own poetry.
  • Do simple math every day. Really! A few minutes of simple adding and substracting a day will keep us less dependent on our calculators. 
  • Write longhand occasionally. The blogger lifehacker suggests ditching the laptop when you're acquiring new knowledge because "your brain's filtering system (the reticular activating system or RAS) processes what you're actively focusing on at the moment. Writing triggers the RAS and lets your brain know it's time to pay attention."
  • Eat well. Not more, just better. New research this past week promoted the  the virtues of the Mediterranean diet -- lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, fruity olive oil, nuts, legumes and seeds. Nothing new here but it's a good reminder that the best food for the body is also the best nourishment for the mind. This is a no brainer. 
~ Paula


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