Having recently cared for my husband’s 90-year-old grandmother with dementia for the last nine months of her life, I find it more important than ever to find ways to continually stimulate my neurons, in the hope that they will keep firing well into my advancing years. I am a firm believer that “use it or lose it” applies quite aptly to mental acuity.
There are many things that I find intellectually stimulating, including reading (non-fiction AND fiction), word/number games (crosswords, anagrams, sudoku), creating things (knitting, making greeting cards, building something out of wood), playing board games or card games (strategy, cooperation, competition, even “card counting”) and now even reading others’ blogs and writing my own (it is a mental exercise in itself trying to find exactly the right words to express what I’m trying to convey). Learning a new skill is a great way to stimulate your brain by creating new pathways. Stimulate your imagination! In many ways, using your brain is just like using your muscles. Anything you can do that challenges your brain will strengthen it.
Likewise, if you allow yourself to become intellectually “sedentary”, you will find it harder and harder as you age to retain new information, recall memories and skills, and eventually even to perform basic tasks. Again, I must stress that I am not anti-TV (although I would suggest that the time we spend in front of the TV can often crowd out other worthwhile pursuits) and I’m obviously not anti-computer. But I see it like this: in much the same way that our bodies will survive but not thrive when they feed them nothing but junk food, so our minds respond to their daily “diet” of activities. I suspect it’s all about balance and moderation, which are two words you’re likely to hear often from me.
If we want to keep our minds sharp, then, we should try to find things that we enjoy that also challenge us mentally. What kinds of changes could we make? I’m all for humorous TV programs (laughter is great medicine!), but there are also some fantastic educational programs out there, on nearly every topic imaginable–find the ones that interest you! And if you find yourself falling into the couch potato pit, try to replace some of those hours with something that is making your brain work, not just vegetate. I would propose that even the oft-maligned video game incorporates valuable aspects such as strategy, cooperation, and creativity (again, as long as it does not completely obliterate other activities).
One last thing I would like to put forth as an intellectually stimulating endeavor: respectful debate. I think that this is a disappearing skill in our society, unfortunately. If we do not approach a discussion with an open mind, and at least make an attempt to see the other side of an argument, we are not truly participating in a debate, only spouting what is already in our own minds as a (very often, disrespectful) monologue. But that’s a post for another day.
How do YOU enjoy stretching your mind muscles?