Whilst inevitably slumped at some ghastly airport doing my penance, I always have time for two treats: buy a good book and savour a good coffee whilst reading it. Admittedly, I do treat the airport bookshops as a sort of public library, reading avidly before buying a book. And last week, I happened to come across something very interesting in the bookshop– a book guaranteeing to improve your brain power and founded on exercises, I used to do aeons ago in Primary School – those darned little mental arithmetic exercises first thing in the (often freezing) mornings, which I used to view with some trepidation. Presumably due to my engineering background, I have always been rather sceptical about developing one’s brain and mind power over matter et al. But this is all scientifically proven to work – in many cases – guaranteed results within 3 weeks. As the Franklin Institute remarks: “Your brain is a thinking organ that learns and grows by interacting with the world through perception and action. Mental stimulation improves brain function and actually protects against cognitive decline, as does physical exercise".
As engineering and technical professionals we rely on our brains to perform –we get paid and rewarded for our mental engineering agility and memory. And as discussed some months ago, most of us will be working in engineering or related fields well into the sunsets of our lives, admittedly at a slower pace. So we have to treat our brain as yet another muscle and keep it fit, agile and growing in knowledge. Apparently the human brain is able to continually adapt and rewire itself. Even in old age, it can grow new neurons. Severe mental decline is usually caused by disease, whereas most age-related losses in memory or motor skills simply result from inactivity and a lack of mental exercise and stimulation. In other words, use it or lose it. As my rugby mad, cousin always says critically on a particularly challenging dash to the try line: You snooze, you lose.
In the Top 10 Ways To Improve Your Mental Fitness, Mark Stiblich has some quick suggestions which you can apply now, based on two basic principles to keep your brain healthy and sharp as you age: variety and curiosity. When anything you do becomes second nature, you need to make a change. I know this often feels like having a freezing cold shower (well, it does to me); but that is the nature of the beast. If you can do the crossword puzzle in your sleep, it's time for you to move on to a new challenge in order to get the best workout for your brain. His suggestions:
1. Play Games – tease and challenge your brain esp. with logic, word skills and maths. 15 mins a day makes massive improvements and you reap the rewards when you are 85 !
2. Meditation – For relaxation and giving your brain a workout.
3. Eat for Your Brain. Healthy foods – fish oils, nuts. Minimise the Big Mac hamburgers.
4. Tell Good Stories – a great way to solidify memories and interpret events.
5. Turn Off Your Television – a given.
6. Exercise Your Body To Exercise Your Brain – more oxygen to your brain and more mental activity for you to master tricky new muscle skills such as using your computer mouse with your other less used hand. Walking/running/swimming. Your favourite.
7. Read Something Different. Branch out from familiar topics.
8. Learn a New Skill – works multiple areas of the brain. Learning to cook and reading Shakespeare; perhaps a course in Medieval history.
9. Make Simple Changes – change your route to work, use your opposite hand to control the mouse, Avoid routines.
10. Train Your Brain – follow the basic principles of memory, visualization and reasoning. There are heaps of resources on the Net or in books on this topic.
I believe implicitly this all now and am doing it (admittedly slowly and with some difficulty)..
And as George A. Dorsey says: The more you use your brain, the more brain you will have to use.