L.J. Rohan

L.J. Rohan

Certified Gerontologist

Fun and Fitness for Your Brain

January 7, 2019

Would you like to remember the names of all the interesting people you spoke with at the New Year’s Eve party? Or even the ones you met yesterday????? How about knowing instantly where you put your keys and your phone? The ability to retrieve this information and to remember so many other important things as we age might just be found by practicing brain- training exercises called Neurobics. The late Dr. Lawrence Katz, the James B. Duke Professor of Neurobiology at Duke University Medical Center, along with Manning Rubin, coined the term Neurobics as a word and a brain fitness program in the early 2000’s. Since then, other folks have jumped on the Neurobics brain-train, helping people all over the world keep their memories sharp and their cognitive skills humming at near-peak performance. Ever since I found this work, I have tried to incorporate some of its suggestions into my daily life. I will be sharing some of those practices and other amusing Neurobics activities this month in Wednesday’s Wisdom, my new, short video offerings I post on Facebook and in my newsletter.

For a refresher on the brain, have a look at a few of my past posts, Draining Our Memory Bank, Stress and Memory, and Slowing Down Our Clocks. Your science lesson for today: When you stay in our comfort zone, stick to routines, and do the same things in the same ways, as you age, your brain begins to atrophy and decline. This happens most noticeably in your hippocampus, and specifically on the little fingerlings of your nerve cells called dendrites. Dendrites are the branches on the nerve cells that are particularly with memory. Many people believe mental decline is caused by the death of nerve cells, but, in fact, mental decline comes from the reduction of the number and complexity of dendrites. (The “tangles” we hear about in the brains of Alzheimer patients form at the end of the dendrites.) the nerves. Practicing brain training exercises like Neurobics strengthens the connection between the synapses, even allowing old nerves to grow new dendrites which compensate for the loss of nerves due to lack of use. The results are the better, faster retrieval of old information, and the truly exciting news: these exercises allow the brain to put new information into memory. Old dogs can learn new tricks, it seems. ☺

The science points to Neurobics as being a full brain workout, similar to playing music. How does Neurobics work? It engages our different senses in reordered and novel ways. Through our eyes we gather the majority of information we know about the world, and as we get older, this dependence on sight alone becomes so intense that our other senses—touch, smell, taste, and hearing– and the nerve synapses associated with these other senses, decline and stop functioning. . That means the quadrants of the brain which register these other senses—anterior cortex, cerebellum, and the temporal and frontal cortex– start cruising through life on auto-pilot, and actually begin to shrink. (Eek!) Neurobics asks us to use our other senses to fire up those sleepy quadrants. Even more good news: You can do this! Try navigating through your morning using only touch. Choose your clothes and get dressed with your eyes closed. Do your morning tasks in a different order—dress before breakfast or the reverse,  then drive a new route to work while periodically breathing in the aroma of a favorite spice. At work, sit in a different chair or go to a new place for lunch. These are only a few of the many suggestions for shaking it up, taking a different approach to getting through your day. The exercises are fun, and challenging, and since life should have more fun in it, I think this is a perfect thing to jazz up 2019 and build some new dendrites. Who knows? You could become the star of your social circle by greeting every person at next year’s New Year’s Eve party by their first and last name!

Until next time… Be Vibrant!

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