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Brain Flexing In my job ...

Posted Jun 13 2009 12:00am
Brain Flexing

In my job at the school, at any one time, I'm dealing with 90 new names and faces. I get frustrated when I forget names and I've been experimenting with different tricks to attach names to all the faces. It's getting better, but my memory challenges at work have gotten me to think about brain health, in general. I'm spawned from hearty Appalachian-hillbilly stock, with just enough cross-breeding with Native American stock to produce some long livers. Some of my ancestors have lived physically fit into advanced years, yet many were affected with severe dementia. My current reading project: The Athlete's Way: The Sweat and Biology of Bliss, has convinced me that running, and any exercise aerobic enough to stimulate blood flow is also paramount for stimulating blood flow to the brain and creating new brain cells. So, I hope this will keep me physically fit into the years and hopefully not crazy as a loon.

According to the Alzheimer's Association, low levels of education, have been found to be related to a greater risk of developing the disease due to overall levels of stimulation. (www.alz.org. Early in my genesis as a runner, running would make me so tired in the evenings that I couldn't get through a paragraph of my book without falling asleep. My prolific reading took a huge nose dive, but I was merely priming my brain cells. My husband made jokes that I was turning into a dumb jock. I'm back to the books and consider myself a prolific reader and lifelong learner again.

I used to think the best way to flex my brain was to subject myself to doing a maddening array of brainteasers, Sudoku, crossword puzzles, or tavern puzzles, which are those God forsaken twisted pieces of wire--manifestations of pure frustration. I don't have the patience for these or twisted tangled necklaces, garden hoses, or shoe laces for that matter; I've been known to blow my red-headed top at tangled heaps. Does this mean my brain is sure to rot because I have a low frustration tolerance for "knotty" things? From my research, I think certain other activities that I engage, will be the brain sustaining life buoys to deliver me from uncertain aimless confused wandering of the old folks home. I love to write. I will stare at a sentence for a long time, trying to figure out how to better say it. It takes real concentration and brain effort to find just the right word, or to figure out what is superfluous bullshit that needs cut because it doesn't contribute to the piece. So, if you think I'm blogging my life and my brain away with the over 200 posts I've made on this blog, and I maintain more than one blog, then I think you are wrong. Blogging gives me great joy, records my life, and flexes my brain. Writing is my puzzle. Writing is hard, but worthy of the challenge. It's what works for me. What works for you?

Reading flexes the brain, but if you've gotten into say, a certain genre of books, and haven't deviated for the last ten years--then you may be carving a well worn path in your brain if you've been on a steady diet of Nora Roberts for the last decade. The brain gets to the point where it stagnates, where you can recite the whole plot of a Nora Roberts novel in your sleep. It's like what happens when you've been doing the same strength routine for months, your muscles aren't challenged anymore. By the way, I have never read a Nora Roberts novel, never gotten into the whole romance genre, but my point here is that it would be good to try a something different. I try to alternate between fiction and non-fiction. Maybe this winter when the training season is over, I'll go back and read some literary classics, but they'd put me to sleep now, gearing up for marathon training.

Another important component to brain health is diet. Brain researchers recommend eating healthy quantities of the good fats: salmon, olive oil, fish caps, unsaturated and mono saturated fats, while nixing trans fats from the diet to best keep the brain supple and lubed for brain work. Happy running and thinking.
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