Brain Myth, #3

(Use It or Lose It)

Myth #3: Yes, using the brain is good up to a point. Simply engaging in boring or repetitive mental activity won't stave off decline.

Pursue eclectic interests; that is, treating the brain to novel experiences and stimuli seems to be a key to keeping the mind agile.

    Americans adhere to the notion that exercising the mind will protect it from mental decay. New research suggests that using the mind is good, but it doesn't guarantee that anyone won't lose it.

    The quality of mental flexibility or the willingness to improvise and to try unorthodox ways of doing things is a primary predictor of mental vivacity or liveliness in later years.

  • There is no doubt that idle minds decay faster than those which are engaged in life, but scientists say there is no direct connection between mental activity and mental acuity.
  • Treating the brain to novel experiences and stimuli seems to be a key to keeping the mind agile. Evidence suggests that it is not worth the effort to put the brain through mental workouts that aren't enjoyable.
  • Some studies find that the hard-driving types who insist on doing things as they've always been done are susceptible to declining more rapidly later in life.
  • Other research implies that emotional well-being may be just as influential on the aging mind as mental activity.
  • Those who suffer frequently from negative emotions like depression, anxiety, and anger tend to decline more than those who find life satisfying.
  • Robert Sapolsky, author of Stress, the Aging Brain, and the Mechanisms of Neuron Death theorizes that the stress-related release of adrenal hormones bathes neurons in a dangerous chemical wash which can eventually damage the brain.
-Compiled from excerpts presented in "Brain Power" by Joannie M. Schrof in
U.S. News & World Report; November 28, 1994; pages 91-92.

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