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Time to think about working out those lobes

As I See It

A recent article in The Wall Street Journal (“Lobes of Steel: Giving Your Memory a Workout,” April 29, 2003) captured my attention.

The gist of the story: we can improve our mental acuity by doing exercises, similar to doing pushups to improve our physical acuity. This subject is of particular interest to me since I am convinced that my brain is losing function far beyond what my years justify.

Names of people I have known for years escape me and I frequently can’t find the right words to express myself in conversation. I have suspected, actually I’m convinced, that my culprit is the cholesterol drug I take. Stop eating animal products and quit the drug and I’ll be good as new, maybe.

The Baby Boomers invented the fitness craze to retain their youthful appearance into and beyond middle age. They (we) are a vain generation. They are also the moving force behind this newest fad of training the brain. It seems that all trends, both good and bad, originate in California and brain training is no exception.

The University of California at Los Angeles offers a five-week memory-training course. Students perform two hours of cognitive testing, drills and receive memory tips each week.

Scientists have long said that getting enough sleep, regular exercise and reducing stress can help improve memory. Diet is another factor in maintaining mental sharpness. Active memory training, or “mental aerobics,” is the newest approach to extending the useful life of our cerebellum.

Recent studies have supported this notion that memory, like a flabby midsection, can be toned even late in life. Last fall, the National Institute on Aging (NIA), which is part of the National Institutes of Health, released their findings indicating that memory training can indeed be beneficial. Some 26% of those who got memory training showed substantial improvement that lasted for at least two years.

Naturally, there are those who don’t believe this latest Baby Boomer fad has any validity. There is some disagreement even within the NIA, where associate director, Richard Suzman, says there is little evidence that classroom improvements carry over into day-to-day living. Other skeptics cite studies indicating that education earlier in life paves the way for better memory in middle age and beyond. This would suggest that mental gymnastics later in life are largely ineffective.

Nonetheless, there is some real potential for personal growth while attempting to train our brains. Performing math without benefit of a calculator and working crossword puzzles are two activities listed as potentially beneficial. Since neither of these exercises are particularly attractive to me, I suggest the following alternative brain stimulating activities.

Read some serious stuff and think about what you read. Good fiction, non-fiction, newspaper and news magazine stories are good candidates for memory stimulation. Beyond just reading, give some thought to the significance of what was said and whether you agree or disagree with the writer and what impact the subject might have on you personally, our country and our society.

Then, regardless of whether the brain jogging fad proves legitimate or not, you’ll be a better conversationalist, a more engaged citizen and an all around more interesting person. That is sufficient reward within itself.

Thought for the Moment — Giving money and power to government is like giving whiskey and car keys to teenage boys. — P.J. O’Rourke

Joe D. Jones, CPA, is publisher of the Mississippi Business Journal. Contact him at cpajones@msbusiness.com.


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