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A new year and more resolutions

07 March 2011

Last month I encouraged you to catch up on sleep over the festive holidays pointing out that adequate sleep in vital for brain health and function. Continuing on this theme to try and keep your brain fit and active here are some suggestions you might like to add to your New Year Resolutions.

After formal education finishes we often do not challenge our brains to learn new things. The skills we use in our work place and in our profession are not sufficient to keep our brains stimulated because we tend to work in the same areas day in, day out. I am not saying that our work is not important, far from it, but the brain needs to be exercised to stimulate growth and to ensure the uptake of new neurons into existing brain tissue. For the under-utilized brain, a lot of precious new neurons do not get connected and, waiting to be used, eventually die. The active brain has better quality connections and the storage of information and retrieval is better than under-stimulated brains. A brain that is on the treadmill of same old, same old, risks cognitive decline in later life.

Mental effort must be significant and disciplined, so watching television or reading (no matter how interesting and 'educational') is not enough. A friend of mine approaching retirement after running her own global business said to me, What shall I do with my brain? I suggested she look at areas that her brain had never touched, in other words go right back to kindergarten level in a new learning environment.

Good examples of the level of effort needed to get results are:

  • learn to play a musical instrument (a different one if you already play)
  • learn a foreign language
  • enroll in cooking classes, learn new recipes
  • enroll in dancing
  • take up drawing, painting, sculpture
  • get the latest WEA programme and enroll in short courses
  • return to formal study
  • do puzzles, crossword, sudoku, card games
  • join a singing group
  • travel, go to museums, art galleries
  • become a volunteer guide for the zoo or the art gallery

The list is endless. Take on something new this year and excite your brain!