The Importance of Exercise
You probably already know from observation, and researchers have confirmed it in study after study: older people who stay physically active and fully engaged in stimulating pursuits are mentally sharper than those who live out their sunset years in a recliner in front of TV. And staying physically active and mentally challenged is the best way to boost your brainpower at any age.
Keep it Flowing
Aerobic exercise is one key to maximizing brain fitness. Researchers, citing animal studies, suggest that physical exercise may actually increase the number of neurones in the brain. And the cardiovascular conditioning gained from regular aerobic activity helps prevent hardening of the arteries, which may have brain benefits. According to the Commonwealth Department of Health and Aged Care, people in poor cardiovascular health are more likely to suffer a decline in cognitive function than the healthy elderly.
Keep it Growing
There’s another kind of exercise that can enhance mental fitness. Coined ‘neurobics’ by Lawrence Katz and Manning Rubin in their book Keep Your Brain Alive, it’s a type of mental exercise that strengthens the brain’s natural affinity for learning new things. In his work at a US university, neurobiologist Katz observed that many of the brain’s neural pathways are vastly underused. They need extra stimulation to reach their potential. Recent research has revealed that when you combine your senses in novel and unexpected ways, your brain begins to produce a chemical called neurotrophin, which is a kind of fertilizer that strengthens your brain circuits by almost doubling the size and the complexity of your dendrites.
Neurobics encourages you to accomplish ordinary tasks in new ways, by using all five of your senses, not just your overloaded visual and auditory channels. It teaches you to break away from brain-deadening routines and seek offbeat experiences that stir up activity in the nerve pathways you don’t normally use. It’s a great way to stay ready to master new learning challenges.
Just Do It
Try a neurobic exercise right now: cross the room with your eyes closed. In doing so, you’re challenging your brain to perform a task that is interesting and potentially frustrating. Besides activating spatial memory, you’ll be forcing your senses of touch, smell and hearing to perform in some unaccustomed ways. Your brain will absorb all kinds of fresh sensory input and create new linkages between neurones. Even something as simple as brushing your teeth with your non-dominant hand, or getting dressed with your eyes closed, helps build neural circuitry.