Courtesy of Keep Your Brain Alive
As I crossed my 46th birthday this year, I somehow felt as if my mental capabilities were slowly slipping away.
While I am certainly far from being reduced to a blabbering idiot, my mind isn’t quite the same as before. Which was why I was especially excited when I picked up a copy of Keep Your Brain Alive by Lawrence C Katz and Manning Rubin.
Offering “83 neurobic exercises to help prevent memory loss and increase mental fitness”, the tiny volume was anchored in the latest research in neuroscience. Despite appearing deceptively simple, the exercises contained within purportedly help to stimulate brain nutrients to grow our brain cells.
Before we embark on these exercises, let us first learn a little about our brain.
As the central computing unit of our body, our brain receives, organises, distributes and stores information to guide our actions.
Often, the problems associated with age like forgetfulness, loss of mental acuity, and difficulty in learning new things are attributed to our cerebral cortex and hippocampus.
The cortex is the part of the brain responsible for memory, language, social behaviour and abstract thought. Enveloping a large part of the brain, it is also responsible for sensations like hearing, vision, touch, muscular control and coordination. The hippocampus, on the other hand, coordinates incoming sensory information from the cortex and organises it into memories.
Beyond the two, other parts of the brain include the corpus callosum, thalamus, olfactory bulbs, amygdala, and cerebellum. Collectively known as the Limbic System, they are linked by hundreds of miles of neural “wires” known as axons which are connected to each other via endings known as dendrites. The limbic system is represented by the diagram below.
Courtesy of Keep Your Brain Alive
We learn and remember primarily through associations. These representations of events, people, and places form when the brain decides to link different kinds of information (remember the neural wiring?), especially if the link is useful in the future.
The raw inputs for associations come primarily from our five senses as well as emotional or social cues. The greater the number of inputs, the stronger the association.
To strengthen your memory for specific events, you should try to exploit the brain’s potential for rich multisensory associations. Sensory and social inputs beyond vision become much more important as the basis for forming associations necessary for remembering something.
For example, you are more likely to remember a person if you not just hear a person’s name or notice how they look, but can recall the texture of his hand, his smell or the pitch and tonality of his voice.
Similarly, combining the sight, sound, taste and feelings involved in having a fine steak at your favourite grill (say on a first date with your girl friend) strengthens your memory of that encounter.
A portmanteau of the words “neuro” and “aerobics”, Neurobics are brain exercises designed to stimulate the production of natural brain nutrients known as neurotrophins.
By doing so, we dramatically increase the size and complexity of nerve cell dendrites (the nerve endings connecting one axon to another), as well as make the surrounding cells stronger and more resistant to the effects of aging.
Capitalising on our brain’s love for novelty, Neurobic brain exercises need to:
So what are these exercises like? Let me highlight some of these.
Shopping for food can be a neurobic experience, if you incorporate the following activities:
For more ideas and information, do check out the book Keep Your Brain Alive. Highly recommended.
What other exercises can we do to trigger novel neural associations and strengthen our memory? I’d love to hear your ideas.