Education for Mental Fitness: “A Sharper Mind, Middle Age and Beyond”

Kudos to Patri­cia Cohen for one of the best arti­cles I have read in The New York Times in a long time: A Sharp­er Mind, Mid­dle Age and Beyond, by Patri­cia Cohen. These are a few quotes — please do read the arti­cle in full, it is worth it.

  • Some peo­ple are much bet­ter than their peers at delay­ing age-relat­ed declines in mem­o­ry and cal­cu­lat­ing speed. What researchers want to know is why. Why does your 70-year-old neigh­bor score half her age on a mem­o­ry test, while you, at 40, have the mem­o­ry of a senior cit­i­zen? If inves­ti­ga­tors could bet­ter detect what pro­tects one person’s men­tal strengths or chips away at another’s, then per­haps they could devise a pro­gram to halt or reverse decline and even shore up improvements.”
  • As it turns out, one essen­tial ele­ment of men­tal fit­ness has already been iden­ti­fied. “Edu­ca­tion seems to be an elixir that can bring us a healthy body and mind through­out adult­hood and even a longer life,” says Margie E. Lach­man, a psy­chol­o­gist at Bran­deis Uni­ver­si­ty who spe­cial­izes in aging. For those in midlife and beyond, a col­lege degree appears to slow the brain’s aging process by up to a decade, adding a new twist to the cost-ben­e­fit analy­sis of high­er edu­ca­tion — for young stu­dents as well as those think­ing about return­ing to school.”
  • Many researchers believe that human intel­li­gence or brain­pow­er con­sists of dozens of assort­ed cog­ni­tive skills, which they com­mon­ly divide into two cat­e­gories. One bunch falls under the head­ing “flu­id intel­li­gence,” the abil­i­ties that pro­duce solu­tions not based on expe­ri­ence, like pat­tern recog­ni­tion, work­ing mem­o­ry and abstract think­ing, the kind of intel­li­gence test­ed on I.Q. exam­i­na­tions. These abil­i­ties tend to peak in one’s 20s.”
  • Crys­tal­lized intel­li­gence,” by con­trast, gen­er­al­ly refers to skills that are acquired through expe­ri­ence and edu­ca­tion, like ver­bal abil­i­ty, induc­tive rea­son­ing and judg­ment. While flu­id intel­li­gence is often con­sid­ered large­ly a prod­uct of genet­ics, crys­tal­lized intel­li­gence is much more depen­dent on a bou­quet of influ­ences, includ­ing per­son­al­i­ty, moti­va­tion, oppor­tu­ni­ty and culture.
  • At a time when the prospect of a longer life is shad­owed by the fear of men­tal decline, the pos­si­bil­i­ty that the aging can have some con­trol over their men­tal fit­ness is an idea even William Osler would support.”

Full arti­cle: A Sharp­er Mind, Mid­dle Age and Beyond, by Patri­cia Cohen.

Relat­ed resources:


  1. Cascia Talbert on January 20, 2012 at 3:36

    Great tips!

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SHARPBRAINS is an independent think-tank and consulting firm providing services at the frontier of applied neuroscience, health, leadership and innovation.
SHARPBRAINS es un think-tank y consultoría independiente proporcionando servicios para la neurociencia aplicada, salud, liderazgo e innovación.

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