The July/ August 2009 issue of The Journal on Active Aging includes my article Why We Need to Retool “Use It Or Lose It”
“By now you have probably heard about brain plasticity, the lifelong capacity of the brain to change and rewire itself in response to the stimulation of learning and experience. The latest scientific research shows that specific lifestyles and actions can improve the health and level of functioning of our brains, no matter our age.
Of particular importance to maintaining cognitive functioning through life are the hippocampus (deep inside the brain, part of what is called the limbic system), which plays a role in learning and memory; and the frontal lobes (behind your forehead), which are key to maintaining decision-making and autonomy. Is there a way to physically protect these parts of the aging brain? Yes. But the right answer is far from “do one more crossword puzzle” or “do more X” (whatever X is). The key is to add significantly different activities to ensure a flow of novelty, variety and challenge, combining physical and mental exercise while not ignoring factors such as stress management and balanced nutrition.
We need, in other words, to retool our understanding and practice of “Use it or lose it.” We must focus on the importance of getting out of our physical and mental routines and activities to get the benefits of real exercise—physical and mental.”
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