Use it or Lose it
Have you ever heard the expression “use it or lose it?” When it comes to our brain, cognitive testing shows that this “use it or lose it” saying can clearly unfold after being done with school and when in retirement. Newton Baker said, “The man who graduates today and stops learning tomorrow is uneducated the day after.” But if we keep on being committed to learning new things throughout life and continue to positively stimulate our minds on a daily basis, cognitive decline doesn’t have to happen. All it takes to keep a sharp mind are simple practices – habits to incorporate into our daily life, year after year. Here are some of the suggestions offered in The Neurogenesis Diet and Lifestyle, by Brant Cortright, Ph. D.:
Whatever your favorites are, implement a daily habit of reading several pages or for a specific period of time. Fiction, nonfiction, poetry, newspaper articles, blogs, magazines, and social media posts are all good options.
Write to your heart’s content: journaling or letters, emails, texts, stories, memos, poems, articles, blog posts, ads, and marketing materials.
Problem solving includes doing puzzles, playing board or card games, house repair, work problems or other life challenges to tackle.
Attention and Concentration Exercises
Meditation is a good practice in order to solidify attention and concentration skills. The same goes for any task you choose to focus on for several hours in a row as opposed to multi-tasking or jumping from one thing to another.
Executive Function Tasks
Executive function tasks include organizing, planning, executing, following through, and completing tasks, whether it is at work or at home. These skills still have to be utilized even after retirement, so finding projects to implement no matter what your age is very important.
Discussion groups allow you to expand your mental flexibility. This is about learning how to express yourself, how to articulate your thoughts in a concise way while acknowledging and being respectful of others’ viewpoints even if they differ from yours. Being open to new ideas also helps in building constructive dialogue, which can be a useful, lifelong skill.
Learning how to play an instrument is a great hobby to take on, no matter what your age! And even if it seems like an impossible task at first, just remember that when we are young, failure does not stop us. We keep trying and practicing until we get it right. Stay patient and persistent!
New learning is key at any age. Taking on a new language is a great example. I enjoy using the Duolingo app to practice Spanish and Italian, two languages I had studied in high school. There are also tons of online courses on any range of topics. Coursera offers many courses, for instance. For learning, the setting can be formal or informal, it doesn’t matter.
Keeping a sharp mind as the years go by doesn’t have to be a difficult task. We just need to apply ourselves to implement the above practices, a little bit every day. As Brant Cortright states, “Each brain requires special nourishment, and we must experiment with different activities to find out what works for us, what we enjoy doing, and what our optimal engagement is.”
Until next time!
Cortright, Ph.D., Brant. The Neurogenesis Diet and Lifestyle: Upgrade Your Brain, Upgrade Your Life. Mill Valley, CA, Psyche Media, 2015, pp. 160, 178–182.
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