When most people think about aging gracefully, it’s often about keeping the wrinkles at bay or doing a weekly sudoku puzzle to stay mentally sharp. Since the wrinkles are rapidly creeping up on me as well, I don’t have much advice on that front— other than suggesting that a healthy and varied diet of fish, fresh produce, and tons of water is what seems to slow them down.
I can, however, provide you with some interesting research on how varying up your usual routine can have long-term benefits for your cognitive health.
What’s at Play
Our brains store memories inside nerve cells. Multiple nerve cells communicate with one another through the release of chemical messengers called neurotransmitters. Even though we lose some brain cells and our brains generate fewer neurotransmitters as we age, we have the ability to produce natural growth-promoting molecules called neurotrophins. Neurotrophins signal particular nerve cells to develop, grow, function, or survive and it is the release of these neurotrophins that can help fight off the effects of mental aging.
To start the flow of neurotrophins, the brain must be stimulated by novel experiences that disrupt our usual routines and engage the senses and emotions, according to research compiled in the book “Keep Your Brain Alive: 83 Neurobic Exercises to Help Prevent Memory Loss and Increase Mental Fitness,” by neurobiologist Lawrence C. Katz, PhD and author Rubin Manning.
Neurobics is a term coined by Dr. Katz, to literally mean “aerobics exercises for the brain” and the book suggests that practicing different neurobic exercises can act as novel experiences for the brain. Neurobics can be done anywhere, anytime by performing simple tasks in what seems like offbeat ways.
For example, you can try closing your eyes while unlocking your front door, simply brushing your teeth with your non-dominant hand, or walking backwards on a treadmill. Our senses (vision, hearing, smell, taste and touch) all have their own sections in our brains.