Brain fitness: Stay sharp

Advances in neuroscience suggest that we can be as competent at 60 as we were at 24 years of age. Isn’t that marvellous news? If keeping physically fit tones your muscles, then keeping cognitively fit will give you the capacity to meet the various mental demands of life, such as learning new things, understanding the complexity of relationships, and adapting to new situations and challenges.

Our bodies are a system, watch your overall health

Sugary foods, chronic stress, anxiety, depression and pollution will adversely affect your brain (and your general health). These are some of the negative factors affecting your hormone levels, resulting in less oestrogen, an excess of oxytocin, and prolonged high cortisol levels — none of which is good news for your body or your brain.

Exercise the brain for better cognitive health

Exercising at home or going to the gym takes dedication, work and commitment. It doesn’t help to only go to the gym once a month. The same dedication is needed to keep your brain fit. But there are many benefits. For example various studies show that there is:

  1. an increase in auditory processing speed, this means that the brain works much faster taking in and processing information;
  2. phenomenal improvements in memory

These benefits have a ripple effect and people report many other positive changes in their lives.

imagesGet brain fit for life. Start by breaking your routines and trying something new. Engage in novel experiences. Look for activities that require you to use all your senses — anything from cycling through a park on a tandem bicycle to going to learning a new craft. Have an open attitude. Be curious.

Activities that use multiple regions of the brain:

  • Learning a new language, painting, pottery, writing poetry, or even writing down your feelings in a journal on a daily basis.
  • Chess, bridge and Sudoku. They all improve spatial and reasoning skills. Nobel laureate Herbert Simon considered pattern recognition to be the most powerful cognitive tool we have at our disposal.
  • If chess and bridge don’t excite you, listen to different debates on topics from court cases to local government responsibilities.
  • Read new articles or books on topics unfamiliar to you, which are totally unrelated to your work or hobbies.

Physical activities combined with thinking:

  • Tango dancing, yoga or tai chi to improve spatial and reasoning skills.
  • If you’ve never thought about clay-pigeon shooting as a hobby, try it. Being immersed in a new hobby will challenge your current mind-sets, and improve your brain’s ability to recognise new patterns.

Computer-based mind workouts:

If you want something to do at an airport, or any other place where you need to use dead time, there are literally hundreds of activities on the internet. Play on your tablet or iPad. Gravitate to what you like.

Joni Peddie & Celynn Erasmus

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