Feed your brain—it’s just as hungry for sustenance as your body. As we age, many people slow down and accept the aging process without much ado. All too often, the body becomes tired and broken, while the mind drifts away unable to remember what it was like to hunger for both physical and mental strength. Why slow down? Maybe some people become lethargic because getting older means heading for retirement, which unfortunately can be associated with leaving work behind to take it easy, but that is exactly what your body and brain do not need. Nowadays, becoming a century old is doable, and research like the MacArthur Study shows it’s better to rev up the body and brain with challenging exercises as we age to ensure optimal health.
The MacArthur Study, one of the most well-known longitudinal studies dealing with mental abilities, gathered data on healthy people from middle age to 80 years old. After tracking the high-functioning people between 70 and 80 years of age, the results led researchers to identify three factors that set the high-performers apart from the rest.
• The high-performers were more physically active; for example…daily walks were part of their routine.
• These individuals stayed mentally active. Continuing education, hobbies, books, puzzles, crafts, and playing bridge three times a week helped keep their brains in top shape.
• The high-performers possessed a personality quality sometimes referred to as “self-efficacy.” Challenges met head on with a zest for life fit this group, rather than a “woe is me” outlook.
Let’s Get to It: Brain Endurance
Life is a grand adventure filled with exciting opportunities capable of exercising the brain. A wise man…my father, once said, “Each day is a beautiful gift. Use it wisely, and learn something new.”
• Brain games that exercise all five cognitive areas (memory, motor function, visual/spatial skills, executive function, and language) are a fantastic way to keep the gray matter in top shape. Try trivia games like Wits and Wagers, Smarty Party, or Name 5 for memory, and the Nintendo Wii for motor function improvement. Visual/spatial skills can be improved with Checkers, and for executive function try Sudoku. Crossword puzzles are perfect for the language area.
• Take a virtual vacation. You may or may not be planning an actual trip to an exotic land, but there is nothing stopping you from exploring any country on earth. The Internet is your one way ticket to paradise as you explore places like Ravenna, Italy. For something truly impressive…visit Saint Kinga’s Chapel in Poland that is visited by over one million people each year. This underground chapel in the Wieliczka Salt Mine will surely get your neurons firing as this magnificent place amazes you!
• Get to know your brain and how it works by visiting websites like National Geographic. Check out the DVD Brain Games, which is a three-part miniseries about the inner workings of the brain. This wonderful site also has some fun videos to stimulate your mind.
• You’ve lived long enough to acquire knowledge and experience, so consider becoming a mentor, tutor, or community volunteer. Not only will great satisfaction come your way from helping others, your brain will thank you for the extra workout. Call your local school district and community outreach centers to see what their needs are.
• Have you dreamed about creating great works of art, writing a novel, playing an instrument, fixing up homes, or restoring vintage cars? Then today is the day to succumb to your creative energy because it helps to keep your mind sharp. Research shows having social interaction, specific goals, hobbies, and creative outlets helps to offset depression.
• Reading groups are a fabulous way to meet people, plus the act of reading, processing the information, and then discussing plot points, characters, themes, and likes/dislikes of a book supports healthy brain functions. Visit your local library and check out book sites like Goodreads, Library Thing, and BookCrossing. Have fun searching the Internet for book blogs. Be sure to enter the many book giveaways available to you on a daily basis, or better yet…become a book blogger. Read, review, set up giveaways, and meet people from all over the world.
Let’s Keep Moving: Body Endurance
It is no secret physical exercise is necessary to maintain our bodies, but does that mean you must belong to a gym, run marathons, and push yourself so hard it hurts? No—although if you get moving and strengthen your muscles, you will feel better than ever before. Keep in mind to always check with your doctor before beginning, or changing, your exercise program.
• If a gym membership, dancing, or learning self-defense moves keep you healthy, then go for it! If there is no way you will join a gym, then discuss with your doctor if free weights, a treadmill, an exercise bicycle, or exercise DVD’s are options available for you. Remember to begin any program slowly, and keep track of your heart rate.
• Every step counts when trying to stay healthy so take daily walks to appreciate the great outdoors. If the weather puts a downer on your walking plans, head to a mall. Any day you are out and about with your weekly errands, take an extra ten minutes in each store and burn calories. They will add up!
• If you are thinking, Exercise? I’d rather wash my car. Okay—then do that. Every physical activity burns calories, so if a planned activity is safe for you, do it with gusto. Complete spring cleaning every month, organize cupboards, run the vacuum cleaner fifteen minutes longer than usual, and rake leaves to stay in shape. This mindset can also benefit a neighbor in need. When your work is done, donate a little time to assist someone who is injured or sick.
• Offer to watch your grandchildren. Yes, this one may seem like an odd tip…but playing hide n’ seek, riding bikes, visiting parks, and cleaning up after curious toddlers should all be considered true blue workouts. What a marvelous way to spend a day with people you love, and in addition to that, your grandchildren will always remember the special time you spent with them.
• Adopt a pet. If you take pleasure in neighborhood walks, then consider having one of man’s best friends tag along. Not only will you have a good reason to roll out of bed every morning, you will help decrease the astonishing number of loveable, but abandoned pets living in animal shelters.
• Intensify your body and brain workouts by listening to audio books or music while you walk or run. Take a look at audible.com and Audio Book Store where you can download books onto your MP3 player, and all Apple iPod, iPad, iTouch, and iPhone models. If you have a treadmill, get some fascinating DVDs on the origins of the solar system, ancient man, or the history of the United States.
Take measures, like staying socially active and discovering new things every day, to make the most out of your onetime adventure called, life. Changes can be good if a positive attitude rules each day, so smile with glee that countless options exist to stay mentally and physically fit. Come on…use it. Use everything you have to live life to the fullest and refuse to simply exist.
“Use It Or Lose It: The Key To Healthy Brain Aging.” Memory Loss & the Brain. Rutgers University, 2004. Web. 25 Oct. 2011.
Bio: Nora Weston’s fiction and poetry slips in-between and all around science fiction, fantasy, and horror. Her publishing credits include the novels “Guardian 2632” and “The Twelfth Paladin,” plus anthologies, magazines, and e-zines. Themes found in Nora’s work relate to good against evil, Internet safety, the powerful consequences for one’s actions, and the ability we all possess to improve the world. She’s had the pleasure of reaching people through the airwaves on radio stations throughout the US. Her work has just been accepted for Bête Noire. Feel free to download previous interviews and segments from Desmond Hass/The Romance Radio Network, Blog Talk Radio’s Not Picture Perfect, plus B.K. Walker has interviewed Nora at Blog Talk Radio as well.