“Brain power: use it or lose it.” Nobody over 50 is unaware of this. But how? By learning new habits of thinking and speaking and paying attention! By shifting away from our automatic way of processing information! Brainfit Coach Jude Walter says we can make specific choices in the way we think and speak. Her guidelines on brain fitness made me sit up. I’m going to start taking her advice. Because it makes perfect sense, given all the reliable data we have about aging.
A press release from Brainfit says,
“we can control three of the four causes of brain aging in just a few minutes a day.”Scoop, 6 March 2023
OK, you’ve all heard the lifestyle instructions. You believe them and do your best. Learn a new language or musical instrument, sleep, exercise, socialise, eat well, etc. You know these lifestyle factors have a powerful impact on the quality of your life and your cognitive ability in old age.
But Jude Walter’s advice about maintaining brain power kicks in at a different level. It just requires a decision and practice, as we go about our daily lives. All these things you and I can start doing at once, this minute. Only No. 6 is about lifestyle changes. The others are brain changes.
I’m going to quote Brainfit’s whole list of top tips for helping to build strong memories and healthy brains because it is … at once blindingly obvious and … for me, mind-blowing.
No. 1 is what I’m taking on board right now, this minute. For a long time I’ve been busily explaining to myself why I forget things. But that’s a waste of effort, or even self-sabotaging. Like you, I’ve got a great little brain inside my skull. And it can carry on learning. I believe in my memory. Yes, I’ll stick with that.
Numbers 2 and 4 are screaming for my attention. (3 is easy. I’m a poet, I’m a human, I make connections compulsively, relentlessly, unstoppably.) And Number 5 looks like fun. Now… What was number 5 again? Ah yes. Number plates and shopping lists. And what did I just read in the newspaper? Review and summarize! I get it.
Read the whole article in Scoop: Use it or Lose it — Simple Advice from From NZ Memory And Brain Health Experts For Brain Awareness Month
- Believe in your memory – self-belief is essential to a strong healthy brain. Remember you can control three of the four factors that cause brain aging so never say never and don’t be afraid to try new things.
- Focus – When you pay attention and actively register details you are creating strong memory traces. The more memory traces you have, the easier it will be to recall that information later. Think of it like shining a torch on the information you need to recall later.
- Connect – Try connecting the information you want to remember to something or someone you already know – it could be an image, a funny story, a song. This will help to further strengthen the memory traces and aid recall.
- Rehearse – Repeating the information as soon as possible afterwards is also good for embedding the memory so make a point of telling someone else as soon as you get home or repeat a new person’s name while you are still talking to them.
- Practise – Different parts of the brain are activated by different tasks. The key is to try a variety of activities as newness gives your brain a full workout and keeps the mind sharp. It could be as simple as switching from doing the Sudoku to a jigsaw puzzle once a week, walking to the shops along a different route, trying to memorise your shopping list or adding up the numbers on the number plate in front of you while you sit in traffic. If you can do this, you will see a noticeable improvement in memory in just a few weeks.
- Look after yourself – good food, water, exercise and sleep are essential for all round health and wellbeing, but they are also extremely good for the brain and memory. Exercise helps to improve blood flow to the brain while water and food fuel the brain, which needs twice as much energy than any other cells in your body!
Brain training that is not boring or impossible
Ah yes, I did do some formal brain training many years ago, with a US organisation. It was ground-breaking at the time and also expensive. But I got bored doing exercises for their own sake instead of for fun. It became a grind. I suspected that repeating made-up stories and meaningless lists was not going to transfer to my daily life. On the exercises that involved listening to consonants (so important!) I was a big fail and would fail forever, because of hearing loss. I think the experience of doing these exercises diminished my belief in my own capacity to remember, so that was a pretty awful outcome. Maintaining brain fitness must not be boring or it’s all over, Baby Blue.
Standard memory training used to require visualisation. Create a castle in your mind, and locate things you wish to remember in a particular room, for instance. I was a big fail at that too, because I am neurologically incapable of seeing pictures in my mind. No amount of effort or practice will make this possible for me and others like me. (It’s a funny little syndrome, aphantasia.) So attempting to train my memory this way eroded my belief in my own capacity to remember even further.
Research has advanced and I like the Brainfit guidelines far better. They make me feel good already, and positive. I can start doing some of these things already. I know that I frequently don’t pay attention, don’t focus, partly because deep down I have little faith in my ability to remember. I reckon that even a wee bit bit more attention will slow down my personal memory diaspora.
Enlisting friends in developing brain fitness
Maintaining this burst of enthusiasm will be easier if I enlist a couple of friends. I’m thinking of two of us who meet for coffee after Pilates classes or a swim once or twice a week. Maybe they’ll read this. And now and then we can remind each other or congratulate each other when we do something right. And stop saying anything negative at all about our brains! They are awesome. They want to be fitter and stronger and their beautiful best selves. It’s not fair to pick on them.
How about you?Follow Write Into Life