by Amy Newmark
We’ve all heard that we can reduce our chances of suffering from dementia in our golden years by eating right, maintaining our cardiovascular fitness through aerobic activities and weight training and by exercising our brains.
How do we exercise our brains? Well, it’s not just by doing crossword puzzles. Yes, crossword puzzles are good, but according to Dr. Marie Pasinski, a Harvard Medical School neurologist who wrote our book, Chicken Soup for the Soul: Boost Your Brain Power, they are more of a routine occupation than a brain exercise. Exercising your brain means doing things that are new and different such as learning to play a musical instrument or visiting a foreign country, and everyday things like volunteering and having an active social life.
Dr. Pasinski included an essay by Jennie Ivey called “Get Out of That Rut” in the book. It provides some practical, easy ideas for waking up our brains as we go about our daily activities. I’ve tried a couple of the suggestions already: shopping at different grocery stores and using my left hand to do things like brushing my teeth. Here are a few more of Jennie’s ways to stimulate your brain:
- Tie your shoelaces a different way.
- Watch a television show that’s broadcast in a foreign language.
- Drive to work using a different route.
- Reverse the order in which you read the newspaper.
- Get dressed in the dark.
- Thread your belt through the loops in the opposite direction.
- Put your earrings on in reverse order.
- Kick a soccer ball with your non-dominant foot.
- Walk backwards for 100 steps.
Charles Dickens, who was a prolific writer his whole life, said, “Minds, like bodies, will often fall into a pimpled, ill-conditioned state from mere excess of comfort.” And that’s the message I take away from Dr. Pasinski’s book. We have to make our brains uncomfortable, so that they stretch and adapt and create new neural pathways. It is so tempting to fall into a rut and follow the same patterns of behavior day after day. I know I enjoy my routines, but at age 56 I don’t want to get too comfortable. So if you see a little toothpaste on my shirt, you’ll know I’ve been trying to brush left-handed again.