By the time I was twenty-five years old, I had three darling children under the age of five. It was a challenging period of my life, but the four of us had great fun together. Interacting with them day and night allowed me to play out the best times of my own childhood.
But one afternoon I noticed an odd look settle on the face of an Avon representative who I’d invited into my home. I paused, silently trying to decide what I might have said to offend her. Then our conversation of the previous few minutes played back in my mind – I had been talking to her in baby talk. I said something like, “How silly,” and laughed. She laughed, politely. I was mortified, but I knew what I had to do. My brain needed exercise. By the end of that week I had studied a college catalog and registered for courses for the upcoming semester.
So here I am twenty-five plus years later, finding myself – not speaking baby-talk – but not able to hold a lengthy conversation without stopping in mid-sentence because the word I want to say has disappeared from my brain. It was there, this word-thingy, just the moment before when my thoughts, having been processed into words, were lining up to trip lightly off my tongue. It’s a frustrating experience, embarrassing, and scary. (Most of my girlfriends of the same age have this problem off and on, and we nod and try to fill in the gaps for each other.)
Onward into the fray that is the Internet.
According to HelpGuide.org, “The human brain has an astonishing ability to adapt and change – even into old age. This ability is known as neuroplasticity. With the right stimulation, your brain can form new neural pathways, alter existing connections, and adapt and react in ever-changing ways. The brain’s incredible ability to reshape itself holds true when it comes to learning and memory.” This is great news.
We all know that exercise is good for us. Movement increases oxygen to your entire body, including your brain. It helps reduce the risk of developing diabetes and heart disease and helps to counter the effects of these diseases that rob the brain of oxygen and lead to memory loss.
Our brains also need exercise. Throughout our lives, our brains develop neural pathways to help process information. As adults, we’ve come to rely on millions of these pathways to solve problems and perform everyday tasks. The thing is, if we only use the same paths, our brains won’t be stimulated to grow and develop. We need to purposely find new and challenging activities to exercise our grey matter – not something we’ve already mastered.
Now is the time to sign up for a computer class, learn a different language, take dance lessons, try a musical instrument, play computer games (if board games are your usual thing), or try Sudoku if you’re used to crossword puzzles. You can play games online at luminosity.com that are “engineered to train a range of cognitive functions, from working memory to fluid intelligence.” They have free, challenging games, as well as enhanced ones that require a monthly fee. (Go to luminosity.com for a list of other sites that offer free online games.)
In addition to exercise, there are others things we can do to boost our brainpower – we can laugh more, stress less, and eat healthier.
Research has shown that foods rich in omega-3s are especially beneficial to a healthy brain, such as fish (salmon, tuna, halibut, trout, mackerel, sardines, herring) and non-fish sources (walnuts, ground flaxseed oil, pumpkin seeds, and soybeans).
Antioxidants protect your brain cells from damage and are found in higher concentrations in fruits and vegetables with lots of color (berries, plums, and guavas; spinach, peppers, and parsley), dried fruit, legumes, nuts and seeds, some cereals and spices. (Go here for a more complete list). Green tea is also a good source of antioxidants called polyphenols that protect against damage to brain cells and may help enhance memory and slow brain aging.
Wine (in moderation), grape juice, cranberry juice, peanuts, and fresh grapes and berries contain resveratrol that boosts blood flow in the brain and reduces the risk of Alzheimer’s.
In my research I found a lot of encouraging news and choices I can make to improve my memory and keep my brain healthy. “Choice” is a key word here and wisdom tells me to make these choices sooner than later.
Do you suffer with the same word-thingy problem? What are you doing to save your brain?