I had a major reality check this week. A co-worker stopped by my office with a packet of brainteasers and asked me to try them out. Sounds like fun, I thought, and dove in. Minutes later, I found myself frustrated and stressed. I used to be so good at these things! How could my brain have turned to mush overnight?
Thankfully I had a few moments of victory, where I solved the puzzle quickly or got a right answer where many others had not. But experiencing the agony of defeat on a majority of the questions was troubling. Yes, I know the brain is like a muscle, and we’ve all heard the saying “use it or lose it” ad nauseam. What I didn’t know is that as much as I think I’m using my brain at work (reading/analyzing legislation isn’t exactly easy on the brain) or at home (listening to NPR should count for something, right?), I’m really not exercising all parts of it on a regular basis. And I’m certainly not doing anything drastically different from day to day which is an integral part of maintaining brain health. According to Dr. Kirk Erickson from the University of Pittsburgh, as quoted in a recent cnn.com article:
“The [second] thing that is important for keeping a healthy brain as you age is to remain intellectually curious,” he says. “That is, don’t be afraid to learn new things. Pursue things that you find interesting and try to search out new and novel avenues for your mind and brain to work on.”
“Search out new and novel avenues” Sounds good, right? Sure it does, but it’s no easy task just as losing weight requires a focused effort to eat right and exercise more, you have to be deliberate about that intellectual curiosity thing. As a kid and a teen, I always loved school because I loved learning new things. To this day, I hate being in a rut and I despise being bored. But, after struggling through those silly little brainteasers, I realized that if you’re not intentional about it, the daily grind can easily strip away your motivation to learn something new or challenge your brain in a fresh way. And it doesn’t happen overnight. It kind of creeps up on you – so vigilance and discipline is necessary.
Experts advise learning a new language as a great way to exercise your brain – so I’ve decided to take up Norwegian, the native tongue of my grandparents. I already know the accent and pronunciation inside and out; I could think of no better way to stimulate my brain while learning more about the heritage of which I’m so proud.
The Alzheimer’s Association offers these seven tips for maintaining brain health:
- Stay curious and involved – commit to lifelong learning
- Read, write, work crossword or other puzzles
- Attend lectures and plays
- Enroll in courses at your local adult education center, community college or other community group
- Play games
- Try memory exercises
Also, check out these websites for a great variety of (free) brain exercises:
Bli rask og v’re frisk! (Norwegian for ‘Stay healthy and be well!’)