Yesterday, I posted a slightly discouraging article on how gingko doesn’t seem to stem off age-related memory loss, or the more severe Alzheimers disease. Today, I bring you some slightly positive news: you can augment your memory simply by training your brain a bit. Consider it a mental workout.
The New York Times has a nice article last week (Adult Learning – Neuroscience – How to Train the Aging Brain – NYTimes.com) discussing some fascinating research that shows how simple mental exercises can literally create new synapses and connections between nerves in your brain. This may not only protect those old memories, but can help train you to better remember new ones.
The crux of the mental exercises involves getting out of your mental comfort zone. Everyone has a “comfort zone” where they develop a thought-process routine and perspective that changes less and less as we get older. One of the study findings was to challenge your comfort zone — literally, to take a familiar scenario and literally force yourself to see it from another perspective. In this way, you literally (as shown in direct brain MRI scans) create new nerves and synapses. Here’s an interesting quote:
“There’s a place for information,” Dr. Taylor says. “We need to know stuff. But we need to move beyond that and challenge our perception of the world. If you always hang around with those you agree with and read things that agree with what you already know, you’re not going to wrestle with your established brain connections.”
Such stretching is exactly what scientists say best keeps a brain in tune: get out of the comfort zone to push and nourish your brain. Do anything from learning a foreign language to taking a different route to work.
“As adults we have these well-trodden paths in our synapses,” Dr. Taylor says. “We have to crack the cognitive egg and scramble it up. And if you learn something this way, when you think of it again you’ll have an overlay of complexity you didn’t have before — and help your brain keep developing as well.”
I think this “getting out of your comfort zone” is a fascinating idea, and not just for memory health. It’s simply a good way to live, and fosters an open mind and receptiveness to other people’s beliefs and ideas. And it adds dimensions to your life that you didn’t even know you had before.
What Else Works To Keep Your Brain In Shape?
So far, the latest evidence shows no major benefit from antioxidants like vitamin E. There’s some evidence that fish, or the major component of fish as omega-3 supplements, may have some benefit. A diet high in fruits and vegetables helps in some studies (always a good idea, anyway!). And regular exercise also may help.
What About Cell Phones?
Wow, this is an interesting study! Last week some researchers working on mice published a study (Can Cell Phones Help Fight Alzheimer’s?) showing not only a clear improvement but often an evaporation of the brain lesions that are likely to cause Alzheimers disease. How? By subjecting them to the same electromagnetic waves released by cell phones. This is way too preliminary to be applied to humans, but that would be great if in a few years this actually was proven to help humans cure this terrible disease.
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