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4 Brain-Boosting Activities

Friday, 05 Nov 2010 03:06 PM


Have you been forgetting things lately? Do you misplace your keys? Do you have trouble remembering people’s names? Does your mind go blank in midsentence as you forget just what you were going to say?
More importantly, do you put it down to just another “senior moment,” or do you want to do something about it?
You might think that doing memorization exercises is the only way to keep your brain’s memory centers in tip-top shape. These types of mental exercises can be helpful, but they aren’t enough. Working a variety of areas of the brain is the best way to improve its overall health and prevent memory problems. Here are four ways to get a magnificent mind.
1. Do the Sunday crossword. Doing crossword puzzles works many brain areas and processes. Crossword puzzles require reading (perception), mapping the answer (understanding), analyzing the clue (analysis), searching your brain and retrieving possible answers (retrieval), and deciding which answer is correct (execution).
If you try to remember something you learned while doing a crossword puzzle and try to retrieve it later (after two minutes’ delay), then crossword puzzles may also activate your hippocampus and entorhinal cortex (important memory centers in the brain).
2. Learn to juggle. Juggling may be a particularly good exercise to boost memory. When older people spent three months learning to juggle, important memory structures in their brains grew.
To study this, researchers in Germany split 50 people aged 50 to 67 into two groups. Half of the volunteers spent three months learning how to do a classic three-ball cascade juggling routine while the other half did not. The brains of the jugglers and non-jugglers were scanned before and after the three-month learning period, and again three months later after no juggling.
The jugglers showed significant increases in gray matter in a number of areas of the brain, including the hippocampus. A similar study by the same team of researchers on volunteers in their 20s showed similar gains in gray matter. These studies indicate that the brain’s memory centers can, in fact, grow and become stronger based on what we do.
3. Say no to seconds. The bottom-line message about calories is that the fewer you eat the better your brain health will be, according to many research studies. In a new 20-year study on primates, researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison found that a nutritious but calorie-reduced diet blunts aging and significantly delays the onset of age-related disorders such as cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and brain deterioration.
In this study, the brain health of animals on a restricted diet was better than animals that ate freely. In particular, the regions of the brain responsible for motor control and executive functions, such as working memory, seem to be better preserved in animals that consume fewer calories. Working memory resides in the frontal lobe and lasts less than a minute. Trying to memorize a dance step someone just showed you is an example of working memory.
4. Get out of town. Traveling to new places, especially ones filled with fascinating history and sites, keeps the brain learning and working at optimal efficiency. In addition, experiencing different cultures often involves a new language, which really pushes the linguistic and memory centers of the brain.
If you also add another skill while you’re on the road, such as learning to cook Italian food or taking up tai chi, there is an even greater benefit. If you can’t get out of town physically, consider watching a foreign film, going to an international restaurant, or listening to new music, as these also expose the brain to new experiences. New learning enhances cells in the hippocampus, a part of the brain’s memory center.




© HealthDay

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