Brain fitness.

February 18th, 2011

Until her last year, at 94, my Aunt Anita remained astute, clever and insightful. Every morning with her coffee, she’d work the newspaper’s crossword puzzle and other word games. And, having memorized long ago her list of two- and three-letter words, there was no game she enjoyed more than Scrabble. People would remark on her sharpness. “Use it or lose it,” someone would say.

So how do we sharpen our minds? What exercises are there to keep our brains in shape? Do crossword puzzles really work? Are they enough?

The scientists at Posit Science, a global company that provides brain-training programs, have some answers. Led by co-founder and Chief Science Officer Dr. Michael Merzenich, professor emeritus at the University of California, San Francisco, the firm’s approach to brain training is based on the science of brain plasticity.

Here are 14 tasks they offer as brain fitness tips. You’ll find the reason for each when you click through to the link.

1.     Add some dark chocolate to your diet.

2.     Go on a guided tour of a museum or another site of interest. Pay careful attention to what the guide says. When you get home, try to reconstruct the tour by writing an outline that includes everything you remember.

3.     Choose a song with lyrics you enjoy but don’t have memorized. Listen to the song as many times as necessary to write down all the lyrics. Then learn to sing along. Once you’ve mastered one song, move on to another!

4.     Sit in a place outside your house, such as on a park bench or in a café. Stare straight ahead and don’t move your eyes. Concentrate on everything you can see without moving your eyes, including in your peripheral vision. When you have finished, write a list of everything you saw. Then try again and see if you can add to your list.

5.     If you’ve ever thought about learning to play an instrument or take up an old one, now is a great time!

6.     Do a jigsaw puzzle that will be challenging for you—no fewer than 500 pieces.

7.     Set your television volume down a little from where you normally have it set. See if by concentrating you can follow just as successfully as when the volume was higher. As soon as that setting gets easy, turn it down another notch!

8.     Practice throwing and catching a ball up in the air. If you’re good at it, take up juggling.

9.     Find an activity you like to do by yourself—such as completing a crossword puzzle or knitting—and take it to the next level. See if by concentrating and giving more effort to the activity you can succeed better or more quickly.

10.  If you’re right-handed, use your left hand for daily activities (or vice-versa). Start with brushing your teeth left-handed, and practice until you have perfected it. Then try to build your way up to more complex tasks, such as eating.

11.  Add fish—especially fatty fish like salmon—to your diet.

12.  Brain health is another reason to get on your bicycle, to the swimming pool or wherever else you like to exercise your body.

13.  Take a walk on a cobblestone path.

14.  Get a good night’s sleep. If you have trouble falling asleep, make sure your bedroom is quiet and dark, learn some deep relaxation techniques, and avoid alcohol and caffeine after 7 in the evening.

Maybe I’ll see you soon at the museum or on a cobblestone path. In the meantime, I hope you find yourself a delicious piece of dark chocolate.

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One Response to “Brain fitness.”

  1. Donna Stein says:

    I especially agree with #2….one should always pay close attention to what the tour guide is saying!!