Exercising our brains at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute

Just came back from a pre­sen­ta­tion at the San Fran­cis­co Osh­er Life­long Learn­ing Insti­tute, where am teach­ing a class this fall. This OLLI  is part of a net­work of more than 80 cen­ters sup­port­ed by the Osh­er Foun­da­tion.

It is the third time I lead this class, and am look­ing for­ward to anoth­er fun expe­ri­ence. Work­ing with a num­ber of sci­en­tif­ic advi­sors, we have pre­pared some good infor­ma­tion plus fun activ­i­ties that exer­cise our key “men­tal muscles.”

Let me give you a flavor:

Accord­ing to some sim­pli­fied brain anato­my, we can think of the fol­low­ing major “men­tal mus­cles” and ways to exer­cise them:

1) Cere­bel­lum and brain stem area

  • Motor coor­di­na­tion: danc­ing in cou­ples is one of the best activ­i­ties, as well as sports. You can also try sign­ing with your non-dom­i­nant hand.

2) Lim­bic sys­tem area

  • Emo­tions: see how good you are at iden­ti­fy­ing the feel­ings asso­ci­at­ed with facial expres­sions. Activ­i­ties like yoga and med­i­ta­tion, and biofeed­back-based games, can be very pow­er­ful to help us improve our emo­tion­al intelligence.
  • Mem­o­ry: maybe the eas­i­est tricks are to cat­e­go­rize things (so instead of try­ing to remem­ber we need to do 8 things we struc­ture them in 3–4 groups) and to visu­al­ize fun con­nec­tions (for instance, if you want to remem­ber that you are meet­ing a friend in the cor­ner of Pow­ell and Mar­ket streets, you could visu­al­ize Col­in Pow­ell buy­ing a toma­to at an organ­ic mar­ket). You can also read about a very pow­er­ful mem­o­ry tech­nique that has been used since clas­sic Greece.

3) Neo­cor­tex area

  • Lan­guage: cross­words, casu­al games like Book­Worm. Maybe write a haiku about the choco­late exper­i­ment pro­posed below.
  • Visual/ spa­tial: many casu­al games, like Tetris.
  • Sens­es: get a good piece of choco­late, get into a silent room, close your eyes, and let it slow­ly melt in your mouth.
  • Exec­u­tive func­tion (plan­ning, prob­lem-solv­ing,…): solve any com­plex real-world prob­lem. Maybe help a local non­prof­it fundraise, or plan a new hol­i­day vaca­tion, or help your kid do his/ her math homework.


  1. saravanan on September 21, 2006 at 4:06

    i want to know more about Brain Train­ning and Brain Exercise

  2. Alvaro on September 25, 2006 at 10:51

    Hi Sara,

    I will con­tact you offline to ask what ques­tions you have. Feel free to always ask us any question.

English About SharpBrains

SHARPBRAINS is an independent think-tank and consulting firm providing services at the frontier of applied neuroscience, health, leadership and innovation.

English About SharpBrains

SHARPBRAINS es un think-tank y consultoría independiente proporcionando servicios para la neurociencia aplicada, salud, liderazgo e innovación.

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