The brain is our most complex organ: the control room for all our physical functions as well as our mental and emotional capacities. Yet while most of us give at least some thought to regular exercise for our bodies, perhaps we should be making more of an effort to keep that important grey matter in tip top condition too.
You probably wistfully recall, how – for a blissful time in your youth – you could eat pretty much what you liked, without making a conscious effort to exercise and yet still managed to stay the shape you wanted to be. One legacy of getting older is that you have to move more and eat less just to stay as you are. It’s the same with your brain. From your forties onwards, if you don’t make more effort to look after it, then it’s going to get out of shape.
We all have the capacity to improve and expand our minds. A few simple tricks and tips really can make a difference when it comes to getting the best out of your brain.
It all boils down to the old adage "use it or lose it." People who make an effort to use their grey matter tend to be more mentally fit than those who don’t. Especially as we get older.
Challenge, change and learning are the key words when it comes to giving your brain cells regular workouts. And that doesn’t just mean spending endless hours doing crossword and Sudoku puzzles – especially if you don’t enjoy them. Taking up lessons in bridge or baking can stimulate your brain cells just as efficiently.
Human nature often sees us drawn to what is familiar and easy. But by breaking out of the daily rut and experimenting with new food, places and people, we can help keep our brain cells firing on all cylinders. Anything that forces the brain to appraise new information gives it a workout.
Tests have shown that medical students studying for their exams actually expand their grey matter in the three months coming up to their finals. You’re never too old to take piano lessons or join a French class – both of which would broaden your mind in a similar way.
It’s also important to break with routine, which you can do most days without too much effort. Try changing your route to work a couple of times a week, or go a different way around the aisles when you do your supermarket shop. This way you will have to put more effort into thinking about what you’re doing instead of these becoming mindless activities that you can almost sleepwalk your way through.
Instead of writing a list when you’re popping to a shop, make an effort to remember what you need. One good memory trick is to pick a route you know well – from your home to the nearest grocers will do – and mentally place each item at a particular point along it. These might be landmarks – a school, post box or zebra crossing. Try it and you’ll be amazed how well you recall the words by visualizing them in this way. You can apply this to "to-do" lists, or anything you need to recall. Keep practicing and you may find you never need to write a list again.
Of course, all the brain training in the world might not be enough to stop you forgetting where you last saw your glasses. But there are easy life strategies you can incorporate to help you avoid misplacing them so often.
Help keep your grey matter in good shape – whatever your age.
This article was written by the Telegraph as part of its partnership with Cancer Research UK to raise awareness of the importance of legacies.
_________________Nobody grows old merely by living a number of years. We grow old by deserting our ideals. Years may wrinkle the skin, but to give up enthusiasm wrinkles the soul.