| 19/07/2012 | 0 Comments More

Cognitive reserve, the term used to describe the mechanism by which a  person’s mind can compensate for damage to their brain, has become a buzzword in  the medical community, thanks to its connection to one of the most infamous  issues of modern aging: dementia.

Research indicates that people who have solid stores of cognitive reserve are  generally less likely to exhibit the classic signs of dementia—short-term memory  loss, difficulty multitasking, etc.—even if their brain scans indicate mental  damage. This is because cognitive reserve effectively makes the mind stronger  and more nimble, enabling it to come up with ways to compensate for  disease-related loss of functioning.

Seek out and embrace new challenges; your brain will thank  you

Shlomo Breznitz, Ph.D., founder of Cognifit and author of Maximum  Brainpower: Challenging the Brain for Health and Wisdom, feels that finding  ways to consistently engage the brain with new and stimulating experiences is  the key to cultivating more cognitive reserve and staving off mental  decline.

No matter what age they are, Breznitz stresses that starting a cognitive  fitness regimen may help a person ward off the symptoms of dementia. “Our  cognitive skills are not fixed. At all ages the brain has the ability to respond  to new information and new stimuli,” he says.

More confusion now may mean less confusion later

According to Breznitz, the twin traits of novelty and variety are invaluable  when coming up with activities to enhance cognitive reserve. Sudoku and  crosswords alone won’t work, he says. You’ve got to get creative when coming up  with ways to stimulate the brain.

In the same way elite athletes and their trainers use the concept of muscle  confusion (varying the types and duration of exercises to expose weaknesses and  challenge muscles in new ways) to maximize their physical fitness, switching up  the things you do to engage your mental muscle can help maximize your mental  fitness.

“Challenging the brain helps maintain cognitive vigor and capacity. And  maintaining our cognitive health maintains our quality of life,” Breznitz  says.

He offers a few suggestions of things practically anyone can do to beef up  their brainpower:

Challenge yourself

1. Work on your weaknesses: “Since novelty and variety are  the keys to battling routines and enhancing cognitive ability, engaging our  minds outside of our established domains would be more beneficial,” says  Breznitz.  For example, if you’re really good with numbers but not such a  big literary buff, try picking up a classic such as Moby Dick and see  if you can read the whole thing. You may find that you’re actually a closet  book-lover.

2. Take the road less traveled: Take a different route when  going to the grocery store or the doctor’s office. Because we travel them with  such frequency, driving  routes are one of the biggest routines we have—and one of the easiest to  practice breaking. Just make sure you leave a little earlier than normal to give  yourself some time in case you get lost or your new route takes longer than you  anticipate.

3. Dominate your non-dominant hand: Pretty much everyone has  a dominant hand that they use to eat, write, and perform other daily activities.  Mix things up by recruiting your neglected hand to some activities. Your  non-dominant appendage might not be up to the task of transcribing a beautiful  handwritten letter, so you may want to start off small by holding your fork in  the other hand during mealtimes. Take it slow and try to avoid getting  frustrated. Remember, challenging exercises like this may make you feel foolish,  but you’re actually helping to preserve your mental capacity.

4. Change your point of view: You don’t have to limit  yourself to academic or physical challenges. Emotional experiments can serve the  dual purpose of helping your personal  life as well as your mental health. For example, say you’re in a fight with  your husband over who should take care of managing the family’s finances. You’re  an accountant by trade, so you feel that you have the perfect knowledge base to  handle the job. But your husband is more involved in the day-to-day running of  the household, so he feels that he has a better handle on how much money is  needed to support the family versus how much money can be saved for the future.  Try to really listen to what your husband has to say, and attempt to approach  the issue from his point of view. Forcing yourself to get out of your own head  and examine the problem from a different perspective will tax your brain and, as  an added benefit, you may find that empathizing with your husband’s position  helps the two of you come to an agreeable compromise.

Be a curious cat

1. Go back to school: Taking a class on something that is  interesting to you is a great way to flex your mental muscles, according to  Breznitz. And, thanks to the Internet, a time-crunched, cash-strapped person can  enjoy free lectures without leaving their house. There are a number of different  websites that offer video lectures on everything from organic chemistry to  classical mythology, taught by professors from such celebrated institutions as  Stanford and Harvard University. Apple also has a program called iTunesU, which  can be downloaded to any computer and has a collection of college courses that  you can bookmark and stream for no charge.

2. Take a trip: Traveling to someplace you’ve never been is  a fantastic way to fire up dormant neurons. If you don’t have the time or the  funds to become part of the jet set, don’t worry, you can still get away.  Breznitz says that simple activities like walking a new path along the beach, or  in a local park, can be enough to stimulate your mind.

3. Explore your strengths: Attending to your mental  and physical weaknesses is likely to produce a greater cognitive challenge.  But Breznitz feels that it’s important not to neglect your strengths. “Investment in one’s strengths is needed for both self-image (sense of success)  and for a more in-depth understanding of problems,” he says. Expanding upon an  existing talent can be a great way to boost your self-esteem while challenging  your brain. For example, if you’ve always been an avid reader and want to branch  out into writing, set aside time each day to practice. You can buy books of  daily writing prompts at your local books store, or go online and get a few for  free. Who knows, you may find your inner romance novelist.

4. Get a hobby: Have you always wanted to learn how to play  the guitar, learn a new language, etc., but you just never got around to doing  it? Why not start now?

By Anne-Marie Botek, Editor.


Category: Health News

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