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.