Thursday, February 11, 2010

Exercising the Brain for Mental Health

The neural structure of the brain begins developing in the human foetus and continues to expand and develop throughout life; a constant and unending learning and computing process that begins with the task of hunting for food for survival and ends with the struggle to stay sharp and efficient until death.

The brain has an amazing ability to adapt to circumstances, learning new skills to cope with life’s changes and with the natural process of ageing. As we live our lives, our brains perform countless and multiple calculations in response to our environment.

This may be demonstrated by a simple effort to write with the other hand – left handed people might try writing with their right hand, for example. It is uncomfortable and the writing quality is poor but with practise the writing will improve as the brain learns the skills required to produce the desired results. Other simple day to day skills may be attempted to strengthen one’s ambidexterity, such as hair brushing or telephone dialling.

Stimulation is the key to a healthy brain, both mentally and physically. Healthy physical exercises such as aerobics help baby boomers in turn to promote healthy brain muscle: allowing a slow down in physical processes can result in a poor mental performance.

Mental stimulation for baby boomers should involve learning something new as often as possible, forcing the mind to explore new concepts. A person with set hobbies and interests is less likely to retain a sharp perception than someone who actively seeks new challenges by learning how to conquer new motor skills or perhaps a new language.

Extensive reading is a highly recommended brain stretcher. However, reading the same old romances over and over is not going to contribute to the health of anyone’s brain! Reading should be prolific,sweeping a wide range of topics, encouraging the mind to expand to engulf new ideas and perceptions.

The finest way to ensure baby boomers’ bodies and brains remain healthy is to pursue both mental and physical activities for as many hours in the day as possible. Manual skills that require an element of hand and eye coordination and a certain amount of mental calculation are excellent leisure hour fillers – hobbies that fall into this category are knitting and sewing; wood crafts; modelling; painting; sculpting and pottery.

Games that require an amount of brainwork are excellent for keeping the mind active and alert with:

• Scrabble
• crosswords
• the baby boomer website,’s Concentration Game
• Sudoku
• electronic games
• Social card games such as Bridge or Whist

All enforce an amount of calculation and reasoning, some of which are outside one’s ‘comfort zone’. It is the boundaries of the comfort zone that must be confronted to ensure the mind is made to work significantly harder.

The left and right side of the brain control different skills: simple tests can determine which side of the brain an individual favors, such as the dancing girl featured on It is important that both sides of the brain are exercised – trying to see the dancing girl turn in both directions is the challenge!

Taking an hour or two to browse titles in the local bookstore that one would normally pass by can be enlightening. Selecting a book that is totally outside one’s usual interest and determinedly reading it from cover to cover can open doors in the mind previously shut tight while one’s brain vegetated happily for years! Start with something factual and set targets to read certain passages each day.

Some baby boomers actively seek opportunities to participate in general knowledge quizzes in retirement, or begin to keep a regular journal to sharpen their writing skills. It does not matter how the brain is stretched, provided that it somehow is!

With advancing years, the baby boomers’ need to exercise the brain increases. As retirement approaches, too many of us are prepared to ‘give the brain a rest’ – brains do not need a rest! They actually need just the opposite kind of therapy to stay happy and healthy and to avoid shut down.