Lately, I’ve been feeling the changes that come with age. The bones are a little creakier, the eyes need more light and time to focus, and I don’t have the zip and vigor I did when I was 20.
When I was travelling the last few weeks, I could feel the effects on my mind. I would interview people and 30 minutes later not remember the details of what they said. Over and over, I’d ask my mother to tell me the name of a miniature gardenia or thin-leafed oleander she had pointed out to me just hours before. I could not remember.
People typically slow down mentally as they age. They experience short-term memory loss (where are my keys?), process information more slowly, find it harder to concentrate and focus, are more easily confused, become vague, and tend to be less creative and less adventurous.
The moment we stop using it, we start losing it. The good news is that our brain (like our body) is amazing and can adapt (grow ‘muscle’) at any age. We can (to an extent) undo some, if not most, of the damage. It’s great to be in shape physically but what’s the point of having four percent body-fat, Olympian biceps, and veins on our veins, if we have a mind like a Dalmatian?
Harper, a motivational speaker from Australia, lays out 10 reasonable ways to keep the gray matter in shape. And what’s #7 on his workout list?
I’m taking lucky 7 as a good excuse to set everything aside this summer and take action on the one thing most writers (and books on writing) seem to agree on: to be a good writer, you have to read! Read everything you can get your hands on (especially in the genre in which you write).
For other ways to increase brainpower, here is a shortened version of Craig Harper’s tips for exercising the mind. For the full article, head over to BC Magazine Sci/Tech – Ten Ways to Bench Press Your Brain:
1. Set goals.
The moment we stop setting goals is the moment we start going backwards. Without goals we don’t have to think, plan, rationalise, problem solve, or create (as much).
It’s not illegal to laugh, be silly, or have fun as you age. Although some grumpy old farts will take me to task on this, they’re wrong. “Hey Johnnie… pull my finger.” (So juvenile.)
“We don’t stop playing because we grow old, we grow old because we stop playing.” Two of my favourite people in the world are a (nearly) seventy years young couple who ski, ride mountain bikes, run up and down sand dunes, hike, lift weights, travel, help others, play practical jokes, and hang out with ‘silly’ young people.
You don’t have to go back to college and get your PhD, although you might, but maybe explore short courses, workshops, anything to blow out those cerebral cobwebs and get those rusty cogs turning once again.
5. Learn a new language.
Research tells us that people who speak two languages regularly age (mentally) at a slower rate than their unilingual buddies. They stay in shape (mentally) for longer. It even delays the onset of Alzheimer’s. Now, if you spoke three languages…
6. Express yourself creatively.
Write something: a book, some poetry, a business plan, or start your own blog. Paint, draw, or sculpt. My father began to paint at sixty-five, and now is an awesome professional artist. Invent something. A lot of the best inventors are crusty old guys. Come on, you crusty old guys… invent something!
Not just romantic novels. Read stuff that makes you use your brain, challenges you a little. Makes you think, reason, and remember; exercise your brain.
8. Consciously try and remember stuff.
It’s there, you just need to dust it off. Find your old school photos and name all your classmates. Try and remember (and replay in your mind) moments in time. Your first boyfriend’s, next door neighbour’s, brother’s… name (the one you kissed).
9. Do some mental workouts.
Crosswords are fun and great for your brain. Puzzles, problem solving stuff, Su Doku: force yourself to think, reason, and calculate.
10. Have a project.
Something to keep you thinking, communicating, planning, solving problems, and remembering. In general, bench pressing your brain.
Below are a few related posts with comments rich in book talk. One writer who frequents red Ravine is spending the summer reading the classics.
If you feel like adding your summer reading list to our comments section, it might inspire us all toward a few more presses at the bench.
What are you reading this summer?
Tuesday, June 19th, 2007