Brain Workouts Books Excelsior MN

The slowdown of your brain typically begins with mild memory problems or fuzzy thinking and can accelerate dramatically as the decades pass. By age 65, one out of every 100 people will have symptoms of dementia, such as confusion, severe forgetfulness, and difficulty managing on their own.

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Workouts for the Brain

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By Dan Orzech

You run marathons, regularly lift weights, and are the Pilates queen. But when’s the last time you worked out your brain? That gray matter needs exertion, too. More than that, it needs variety. Just as you exercise your entire body and all its muscle groups, likewise, you should exercise your entire brain to stay sharp (goodness knows it could use the help). In fact, by age 40, about two-thirds of people experience some mental decline, says neurologist David Perlmutter, author of The Better Brain Book (Riverhead Trade, 2005).The slowdown typically begins with mild memory problems or fuzzy thinking and can accelerate dramatically as the decades pass. By age 65, one out of every 100 people will have symptoms of dementia, such as confusion, severe forgetfulness, and difficulty managing on their own. By age 75, that number increases to one out of 10. And when we reach age 85, nearly half of us will have Alzheimer’s, according to the National Institute on Aging.

This mental decline occurs for the same reason the rest of the body ages: The cells lose their ability to recover from damage, particularly from compounds called free radicals. The process is accelerated by lack of physical exercise, stress, insufficient sleep, toxins in our environment, tobacco, trans fats in our diets, trauma to the head, and other harmful agents, according to Perlmutter.

Stop the brain drain

Fortunately, a growing body of research suggests that “brain workouts” can dramatically slow the decline. “We know there’s a relationship between how much people challenge themselves mentally and the likelihood of them developing a disease like Alzheimer’s later on,” says psychologist Elizabeth Edgerly, spokesperson for the Alzheimer’s Association’s Maintain Your Brain program. “People who do things like study another language, learn a musical instrument, or play games like chess or bridge appear to do better than people who don’t.”

In the last few years, scientists have begun to understand why that might be so. Until recently, scientists were convinced that once we leave childhood, our brain structure is fixed, no longer capable of growing new brain cells. That notion was overthrown by researchers at San Diego’s Salk Institute, whose landmark research, published in the journal Annals of Neurology in 2002, showed that adult mice placed in mentally stimulating environments grew new brain cells.

The same appears to hold true for humans. In a 2004 study published in the journal Nature, scientists using magnetic brain scans demonstrated that when people learned to juggle, the parts of the brain that process complex visual motion increased in size. Another study revealed that a brain section important for spatial memory was larger in London taxi drivers than in other people. What’s more, the longer they had been driving a cab, the bigger that part of the brain. Although scientists don’t yet know whether these changes resulted from the growth of new brain ...

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