16 April 2013

The Old Grey Matter

I heard an interesting report on NPR the other morning about aging and the brain.  There's new studies being done on old people (80+ years old) who have retained all there mental faculties and have the brain age of a 50-60 year old person.  As I quickly approach the big 50, this is something that I'm a bit concerned about.

The studies indicated that brains stayed more functional from 4 things:
  1. Physical exercise -- Apparently, when you exercise, your brain gets extra oxygen and more of the waste is removed.  So, the authors of the study recommended 2-3 45-minute periods a week of exercise such as walking or swimming.  This is something I know I should be doing anyway, but I never seem to have time to do except on the weekends.
  2. Healthy diet -- It makes sense, the healthier you diet, the better your brain functions.  If you eat lots of junk food, then, well, what do you expect?  Red wine was mentioned as beneficial.  My diet is basically okay -- probably better than most since I'm a vegetarian, but I still rely too much on carbs and maybe need to up my protein level.  The red wine is easy!
  3. Social interaction -- Having friends and talking to them seems also to help keep a brain young.  I do have friends and I do talk to them, but it's sporadic since many live far away from me.  I'm not sure what I can do to increase this part, because I'm basically not-social, I have little time, and I've never figured out how to find interesting people locally.  I do wonder if talking to my students and/or teaching would count?
  4. Learn new things -- Oh this is perfect!  If you learn new things or even try new things (such as a language, a skill, reading, puzzles, etc) this encourages your brain to grow.  I love learning new things, be it something totally new such as linguistics or an extension of something older such as projective geometry.  I don't have a lot of time to do delve into new topics, but maybe this summer.
I don't want to end up old and not have my mind functioning.  I've always enjoyed the ability to pick new things up quickly and I'm afraid this is waining.  Last time I tried some serious math, I had problems.  I'm not sure if it was my brain per se, or the fact that I was tired, or the sporadic nature of my working on it.

But at least I have some ideas on what I need to do to preserve as much of my brain as I can!

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