“You are never too old to become younger.” -Mae West
Longevity is not luck it is constant mindful attention to your every behavior. From research, interviews, readings and personal observations over the past twenty years, I have deduced the essence of youthfulness. I think of them as triggers, just as I learned that cosmetic procedures are triggers to self-esteem for many people, there are more triggers that when put together can open our eyes–taking our blinders off–making us mindful of negative behaviors and leading us to smart changes in our lives.
For my readers, I made a plan. It consists of triggers as a stimulus that reshapes our thoughts and actions. For this blog, my suggested triggers are to encourage behavioral changes not just for a day or week, but for the rest of your personal life. Become that person you have always wanted to be. These triggers are not just for the single woman, but all women and MEN.
You only need to be willing to commit ten days. What’s important is to do all the assignments to the fullest you can. Don’t just do them, make them happen, mean business! Although, the immersion and timing is up to you, set a calendar “end” date, it will make you see results immediately and feel younger sooner. If you want to become ageless, YOU HAVE TO WANT IT.
Because it takes time to change our cognitive script, if you can commit to a ten-day “cold turkey” makeover–kind of like speed dating, you will be weeks ahead. It’s that intense immersion programing that gets you motivated and into the new lifestyle, which in turn motivates you into becoming more engaged in the positive behaviors.
For those who cannot give up ten days, this is not a problem as long as you set up the time needed. Some triggers* be done together in the evening or over weekends. And some assignments may already be part of your positive behaviors, like you might be in a jazz exercise or yoga class now.
For many, self-discipline and self-motivation are strong in the beginning then fade to a slower pace. The only aspect of the ten-day assignments that’s hard to do is “taking that first step”. Think of becoming more youthful as a business, just as you watch every fluctuation in the stock market or the value of your latest investment in real estate, becoming ageless is even more important, the best investment you have is in yourself and you have so much control of it.
BECOMING AGELESS: Who Wants To Grow Old?
*Tweak Your Mindset, Change Your Age
DAY 1 Pick A Number
***Becoming ageless is an attitude. And picking an age “number” you feel you are is the first of the triggers to becoming ageless.
Pick a year going back five or six years…or more. If you are sixty and you want to be fifty-five again, make that your new age. If you are sixty-nine and want to be sixty-two again, make that your new age and program it into your mind, write it down and look at it and feel it in your heart. I had a sixty+ girl friend who selected her security code on her condo as 0055. This she said was her reminder to her herself everyday when she left, that she was going to mindful of being 55 all day.
If you are happy at your chronological age and want to be more active and have renewed energy, then pick your chronological age and stay there for a the next five years. Check your biological age on www.biological-age.com and see how you measure up.
But, the first thing you ask, “Is this being honest?” In Eric G. Wilson’s book, Keep It Fake: Inventing an Authentic Life, tells his story of how he was having a hard time trying to figure out how to be a good dad. He was working like crazy, battling depression and drinking too much. But he was smart enough to follow his psychiatrist’s advice—instead of trying so hard to be a serious, conscientious Super Dad, he became a zany, playful, love-charged, creative, Crazy Dad. In fact, he says he became more self-conscious in his performance in all his relationships. His social life, his love life and his depression all improved. He actively cultivated the habits to perform this new role. Wilson learned how to “fake” it. He insists that all life is a kind of fictionalizing and he wants to reassure us that he can be trusted because these roles are played in the service of truth.
Was he being honest? The sociologist Erving Goffman’s suggests we actually “act” our way through the day. We are not one self, but many selves–mother, wife, teacher, friend. We perform differently in each role. Is one role lying to the other self? Not at all. There is this nagging feeling we all have, that behind those roles, behind those masks, there is this other self: the “real me”.
Clancy Martin’s mentions an episode of the radio show, “This American Life”, where this man Michael Leviton was raised to always tell the truth. His life becomes less and less livable, can’t keep friends or lovers. Then he discovers the secret: let himself lie. Not all the time, but strategically. Maybe the lesson, Clancy goes on, “is that truth and falsehood are like many good things: healthy for us in the right amount.”
—In this trigger, you are picking an age you feel. This is the “self-voice” speaking out, telling the truth between you and your other selves of how you feel just being honest. This voice is not positive thinking; it’s your mind that’s talking to you because you really know what’s best, you just need to do it.
–Talk to yourself. You are your best cheerleader to reinforce new behaviors, maybe even think of your voice as that angel on your shoulder. This may sound like pop psychology, but gaining psychological distance allows us to think more clearly kicking in our self-control. This voice is not positive thinking; it’s your mind that’s talking to you because you really know what’s best, you just need to do it.
–Listen to this voice and talk to this voice, brainstorming is good. A conversation might go like this: “Nola, don’t think that mini skirt is for you,” says Nola’s Self-Voice. “But if you work out like crazy and loose twenty pounds, it would go great with your black stilettos. Just don’t have this conversation in public!
The tagline borrowed from Charles Fernyhough in the article: The Voice Of Reason, by Pamela Weintraub, Psychology Today, May/June 2015, reads—“Inner talk is one of the most effective, least-utilized tools available to master the psyche and foster life success.” Going back into our childhood, this incessant self-talk of toddlers is a kind of instructional manual, it’s the way a child works his way through challenges beyond his reach talking himself through the task. Then, as he learns the task, self-talk is still going on, but becomes internalized, silent.
It’s so easy for us to advise our friends. We actually do a good job of it. Why are we so smart in telling others what to do and not ourselves? It’s because we distance ourselves and become a detached observer. If we just apply psychological distance to ourselves, we can gain control over our choices.
But there is one important fact. When talking to ourselves, we must do it correctly. The difference is amazingly very simple. When you talk to yourself with the pronoun, “I”, you are likely to preform poorly. But, address yourself by your “name”, your chances of success jumps sky high.
Why does this work? “Gaining psychological distance, that is moving further from our sense of self and all its emotional intensity, enables self-control, allowing us to think clearly, perform competently. We gain perspective, focus deeply and can plan better. Remember to use your name when talking to your self.
“Nola, you can do it!” Using my name empowers me.
***Pick a favorite old photo and while “self-talking” agree to become that person again. Tape the photo to your fridge, headboard or make-up mirror.
It’s important to be actively involved every day in a “trigger”, getting into it encourages a more mindful and more positive lifestyle, sooner.
–Dig out all the old photographs of yourself from as many years back as you can and in particular the photos of ten years ago. If you don’t have any or just a few, you might want to connect with family or friends that might have ones that can be copied. You not merely reminisce about yourself some 10 years earlier, but make a psychological attempt to be that person.
–With our old photos this is the opportunity to study them and look at every detail. Recall the time and place of the old photo focusing on the details, like a zoom lens of a camera, zoom in and savor the memory.
–Looking at these older photos is a trigger to remind yourself that you are still that person, but over the years you have been living with blinders on and not seeing small changes happening; and that if you had known, you would never have let it be. There might be photos that are negative responsive photos bringing up not so happy days or a bad haircut. That photo will be a reminder not to go backwards.
When we feel our renewed energy and understand that we are not limited to those past behaviors, we can make changes.
It’s true, when you come close to death or the thought of death you start living. The next part of the Day 1 assignment is to write your obituary—An obituary is someone else writing the aspects of your life that people recognize, mentioning your important accomplishments. In this assignment, your obit is your life from a different point of view. The point of view of what “you” want people to know and remember.
- You as CEO or PTA president–the big things, are what most people will remember. But it’s the day you took your daughter, at age five, to see the ice skating at Rockefeller Center that’s important to you, just being a mom encouraging her dream to become a competitive skater.
- This is also where you can list the parts of your life you want the world to know about: your passions–rare book collecting, organizing beach cleanups, saving the elephants, etc.
- Or it’s a place to see what little you have done and that you have stopped becoming involved, stopped listening to the needs of others or just stopped listening to your family, friends and yourself. Maybe you have tuned out the world.
- The obituary should be written as if you were going to submit it to The New York Times to be published under their death notices. So think about it seriously. Include quirks, hobbies, passions and secrets, even quotes. Everyone has a story to tell.
- Look outside the box to find personality traits and personal characteristics: zest for life to cranky disposition, Las Vegas poker player, tango dancer, clown school graduate, the secret to your long life: a one-scoop-midnight ice cream treat or…whatever fits.
- It’s sad to think that it has to take a life threatening experience to become mindful of your presence. Sometime it’s the death of a family member or the death of a young friend. No matter, don’t wait.
Realizing death is a wakes-up call.
Joan Rivers, iconic, unbelievably energetic, smart, a wonderful mother, grandmother was so passionate about her work and forever reinventing herself, she is the ageless queen. She never let life’s traumas keep her down and lived her life to the fullest. She planned every detailed step of her elaborate New York funeral. She wanted it to be a big showbiz affair, with lights, cameras, craft services and paparazzi.
Yep! The next part of this trigger is to plan your funeral. List the most important things: location, music, dress, flowers, foods, speakers and don’t forget the limos and paparazzi. Be specific where you can. The Beatles or Adel? The guest list? Private or a big party? Flowers? (I don’t want carnations or chrysanthemums at my funeral. I can’t stand the smell. And I want to be buried over looking the sea. Yes, an ocean view. I like the idea of my family and friends and even people who I don’t know coming to visit me and chatting, I think it’s good for them to have a place to go to reminisce and reflect.)
You can think about this one and start your list; it’s O.K. to leave blank spaces. This is a good time to say what you want. Do the best you can. If you don’t write it down, who will know your wishes? It makes it so much easier. My girlfriend’s husband passed away suddenly, they were happy to find a document file on his computer: The Exit.
They say when you do write your obituary and your Exit file, a weight has lifted from your shoulders. Facing death head on and feeling like you have some control over some aspect of it, helps you want to live. Don’t wait for a life threatening experience when you can live life to the fullest, now. And to live life to the fullest, you need to make changes and make choices.
Wilson, who also authored, “Everyone Loves a Good Train Wreck”, again, has a few words. This time on the subject of our obsession with morbidity: “To repress death is to lose the feeling of life. During gloomy pauses. we often discover parts of ourselves we never knew we possessed, talents that, properly activated, enrich our lives.”
Finally, last part of this assignment: Have fresh flowers in the house. It is the sight and scent of fresh seasonal flowers in the house that brings memories of the first lilacs of spring, the huge pom-poms of hydrangea, the sage in the backyard, the blueberry hunts, fresh cut grass, the holiday poinsettias and the pine scent of the Christmas tree. They bring us back to our youth and every time you see them, gently touch them becoming aware not only of the scent, but their texture and beauty; will you feel inner warmth, you will feel more alive.
To become ageless you need to feel, touch and smell. This is being alive.
Girlfriend: One Who Has Your Back
“The surest sign of age is loneliness.” Annie Dillard
One reason behavior is hard to change is that you can’t change your environment. When you are at work, your social group, with co-works, family and friends who see you a certain way and expect you to act a certain way, to walk in changed is challenging. A lot of our everyday habits are caused by circumstances in the world and how we have been reacting to them for years. They are automatic. We purchase the same toothpaste, go for coffee to the same coffee shop, we hang out with the same people, we listen to the repeated negative complaints from the same people. We get into a routine and don’t see what else is out there. You put sugar in your coffee without thinking about how bad sugar is for your body and that much of the coffee flavor is lost.
Places can have negative triggers. Our morning coffee comes with a free donut. We might even go out of our way just for that bakery goodie.
Negative thinking family members and close friends can encourage negative behaviors. You need to avoid these people and places. Be mindful of what’s happening around you and make the choice. Most of us have phone ID and we know who’s calling. We don’t have to answer every caller. If you have a negative personality type friend, chances are the call is to complain. Maybe you are this person’s go to “rant” girlfriend, but this time you don’t need the negative conversation that goes on and on. You feel guilty after all she would listen to you. This is where you ask yourself–can it not wait? Don’t answer and let it go to voicemail. You can always call back if it’s a real emergency. Let yourself feel what it’s like not to answer the phone. For some of us, this is a huge challenge. It might be harder than refusing the free donut.
People and places have powerful influences over us. Our environment is the most potent mechanism controlling our lifestyle. And it’s not always under our control. The best way to deal with a negative situation when we can’t change the environment is to avoid it. There are behaviors we do when we are there or with certain friends which we would never do alone.
Having girlfriends for our support system is important as we age. Quality girlfriend time creates more serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps combat depression and gives us a feeling of wellbeing. Just being able to call a girlfriend and “rant” can release anxieties especially when we have family members or partners who don’t see it our way. Hanging out with good friends is very good for ones health; jogging or playing tennis with them is even better.
Stress reduction is deeply ingrained in becoming ageless.
Don’t be afraid to get new girl friends. As our lives change, you need to not only keep the old, but add new girlfriends. Often when we become single again our married girlfriends don’t seem to fit any more. As our needs change, so do our friends. If you are back in the single dating scene, we find it’s more fun to go out on with other single women. The conversations will be different. They will go from kids and what brand of toilet tissue to clothes and shoes.
Your old girl friends will see you differently. Once divorced and back into the single scene, I went to the Christmas party my best friend has every year. She spends hours decorating and preparing; the food is delicious and always a generous flow of selected wines. Can’t tell you the number of years I have been invited. My life had changed as I was now single again, and so looking forward to the night, a chance to be with friends. However, the last time I went, I was not invited back. The following day, my girlfriend called to tell me that if I’m coming next year, I must bring a date. It seemed that the wives complained. They felt their husbands were spending too much time with me. And when I thought about the evening, I realized that it was true, the husbands found me more interesting as I had fresh ideas and fresh information to bring to the conversation. And I also realized, I had little in common with the married wives, in their “old lady shoes”, talking about bunion surgery or muffin receipts. I was not flirting. It’s just that the men were more interesting. But the wives saw their husbands enthusiastically chatting with me and were jealous. They did not like having a single girl, in stilettos and pencil skirt, at the party. And my interests had changed, my lifestyle had changed. I found the married women at the party and me were coming from a different planet.
To make new friends, you need to know yourself. To connect with new people, you need to reconnect with yourself. What passion that you have put on the back burner do you want to explore? What sport have you let slide into non-existence? What’s important to you now?
The buddy you chose needs to actively supports your efforts to expand your horizons. This buddy may not be your long time best friend. A good buddy mitigates bad habits and helps jettison unfavorable qualities. Like going to a new hairdresser to have a different eye look at you, so too, a different perspective can offer new suggestions. Then again, if it’s been your best friend trying to tell you to make changes in for lifestyle, then that best friend might be the perfect buddy.
This Day 2 assignment is to make a list of people you like to be with and be sure to include not only upbeat women but also men whose company you enjoy. Put a star in front of any one you think would make a good “buddy” if you don’t have one already.
Picking the right buddy might seem like a walk in the park, at first. Sometimes asking a best friend might not be the best choice. Family members don’t necessarily want you to change. They like the old grandmotherly, babysitter person around; seeing you in high heels frightening them that you’re your next purchase will be a fire-red BMW convertible.
One of the positive behavioral habits to encourage is to make younger friends; this buddy can be someone a whole generation younger? Keep this in mind when asking a buddy.
This buddy needs to understand your goals, be encouraging and not judge you if you slip. This person should not be judgmental yet listens and can give you a reality check; you want both input and support and fun on the side.
A funny thing happened, I got a call from a very well known and popular Emmy winning actress who I have worked for when I was just married. As young married college students doing graduate studies we were always looking for extra ways to live inexpensively. I had noticed an ad in the UCLA housing office for a guesthouse. The rent was “free”. When my husband remarked, ‘Forget it! There’s got to be a catch.” Against his pessimism, I called.
The owners were looking for a couple to housesit their eleven acre estate on the top of quiet and gorgeous Tower Road (neighbor was Jack Lemmon) a prestigious address in Beverly Hills. The current owners, Freddie Fields andwere major players in the entertainment industry; actually he was “the” major studio executive and founder of Creative Management Associates, the most powerful agent in all of Hollywood at the time. Although they loved the park-like setting, they wanted to have a closer access to city life. They moved to the Beverly Hills flats, as that prestigious area was called, allowing them only minutes to parties, other Hollywood moguls and the Hollywood film premiers. Arriving from Long Island, a country girl and not into Hollywood gossip or an “E” entertainment fan, I had no clue who he was, but his wife, Polly Bergen, was a wonderful singer and actress from the south, I knew who she was!
We got the guesthouse! The “catch” was simply to keep an eye out so that the housekeeper, pool guy, gardener didn’t slack off. Really tough! But, I think our real job was just to be there for them as they would drive up on weekends and just sit poolside and enjoy their enormous, peaceful, panoramic LA city view. And just chat with a normal person who wanted absolutely nothing from them. I know they were sad when thirteen months later it sold. Of course, so was I.
Now it’s thirty years later, I’m running The Hidden Garden hideaway and Polly Bergen is on the phone reserving a room. The second day of her stay at the Hidden Garden I wasn’t sure if I should say anything. How unprofessional it was of me to even think such a thing, what an invasion of privacy! Then I couldn’t stand it any longer, after all it’s thirty years later and her life was different now. What a treat it was when she remembered me and how fabulous it was to reminisce about her early singing days, her kids and her visits to Tower Road.
And then she came back with her sister, her best “girlfriend”, who she treated to a facelift. That was a special friendship.
Pick a buddy who will be honest and yet will laugh with you at the slip-ups–kale and dirty martinis don’t mix, yet we need a taste of both.
Day 3 assignment is to unclutter your house! There is no reason not to recruit a family member or a friend to help. Just keep the progress moving, as this is an all day affair. It might even take longer for those who have not moved in recent years. I use the office storage boxes whenever I’m doing any kind of packing, they are smaller and then you are less apt to over fill making them impossible to lift. Dress for the task!
Some people start with cleaning and organizing the garage, then they can box the unwanted stuff from the house and store it in the garage. I’ll leave that up to you. It’s hard to clean up the garage when it’s already stuffed with stuff from the house. This is a choice and not an easy one. But thinking ahead, it all needs to be done. If you think of this assignment as “recycling” it won’t hurt as much; or making money from your old stuff by having a garage sale. Local churches collect store these unwanted goodies and have a yearly garage sale and that might be a great way to feel better about giving up those items that you haven’t seen in years and yet can’t part with.
And don’t forget the refrigerator. Many homes have refrigerators so packed with food, that when the kids asks, what’s for dinner, you order takeout, because you can’t see anything that would make a dinner through all the foods packed so tightly. Sadly there’s good stuff there, somewhere. And when you discover it days later, it’s spoiled.
Pick a room to start. Makes no difference, we each have our organizational techniques and if we don’t we need to start. I like to suggest starting with the worst room, as your enthusiasm is high in the beginning and it feels good when it’s done, Boxes are a good way to go having them divided into stuff you want to give to your family members, boxes to go to the church’s garage sale, Goodwill, boxes for your garage sale or e-bay–if that interests you, and one box of stuff you can’t decide on just yet (but avoid having too much undecided stuff). Whatever method you use, set it up, have a plan and have plenty of boxes and newspaper or packaging material before you start.
If you want help with organization, read Kondo’s book and learn how to organize de-cluttering and also learn how to fold socks.
Why is it so important that we unclutter the house now? If you want to be more mindful and think more clearly, you need to get rid of the “things” in your life that slow you down, clog the brain and represent the negative past. So after your house and garage, it’s your car.
Clutter in our house, bathroom medicine cabinets, kitchen cabinets, refrigerator, laundry rooms, basements, linen closets and don’t miss under the kitchen sink are all signs that label us. Even thought my granddaughter’s room is a disaster, she is labeled, “messy”. When I have a stack of newspapers in the corner, I am labeled, “old”.
The good news here is that this assignment, excludes your clothes closet as that’s a day in it’s self. This uncluttering day might take more than one day to complete, but as Marie Kondo says in her book: “If you tidy a little each day, you’ll be doing it forever”. So keep at it until it gets done. A buddy might be a big help in moving it along. The important part of this assignment is “to do” it.
This chapter may be short but the task is not. When you are done reorganizing and uncluttering, you will feel free, see and find things, be lighter on your feet, breathe better, sleep better.
DAY 4: Cut The Corners
“It is sad to grow old but nice to ripen.” –Brigitte Bardot
One of the factors in becoming ageless is getting out of your everyday routine and comfort zone. Your comfort zone is a behavioral space where your activities and behaviors are familiar falling into a routine that minimizes stress and risk. But a little bit of healthy stress is a catalyst for personal growth leading you to becoming ageless. Stepping out of your comfort zone, trying something new, challenging and fun create conditions of youthfulness.
What’s also important to note is that stepping out of your comfort zone, your self defined box and chosen limits just once, makes it easier and more likely you’ll do it again. Maintaining a strong strong social network, exploring one’s inner and outer lives helps us to stay sharp as we get older. Best to start early in our lives.
DAY 4 is for you to get out of your box! Widen your circle–be proactive and invite people of all ages into your life. Find a local park or community center that has mixed age social gatherings, sport events. Places that have activities that interest you, even the little league, tennis matches or bocce ball play offs. You don’t have to participate, just a sport you like to watch. These are usually posted in the local throw paper or on the Internet.
And check out what volunteering projects there are, also listed in the local papers or posted on church bulletin boards; check on-line or make a phone call. In becoming more aware of your environment and surroundings, you need to become involved in a charity/community/church/school volunteer group. We learn so much about ourselves and become a more understanding person when we get involved. Our lives become more youthful when we are proactive and invite people into our lives and give back to others.
Today’s assignment is to first start with an email to long time friends you haven’t seen in awhile; a family member we haven’t contacted since a dozen holidays ago. What about the neighbor you have seen for years and for some reason, perhaps shyness or indifference, have never introduced yourself to. A sister you haven’t spoken to: call your mom.
Every town has a senior group or home that needs volunteers and not just at Thanksgiving, but all year long. A children’s hospital or homeless shelter needs help every day not just when we get in the mood or it’s the season. Commit to a board—YMCA, St. Vincent de Paul, Salvation Army, Boys and Girls Club, Make a Wish just to name a few and organize a fun raiser, Halloween party or gala event. Not only do you meet new people you add a new dimension to your life, which not only makes you more interesting as a person, you become more interested in others, you become more mindful and aware of the world. These interactions make you younger and self-fulfilling.
This assignment is for you to join such a parks and rec team, a volunteer project or charity function. Stepping out of that comfort zone and make a commitment for several hours one day a week. It’s amazing what pops up. I was playing tennis one Saturday morning at the local college when we were asked to give up our court to a volunteer group who were practicing and training handicap kids for the Tennis Special Olympics. I was not aware that this group existed and delighted to pitch in and rally with theses kids. The excitement of just making contact with the ball in a forehand swing made me more aware of my own ability and I got just as much joy out of the game as they did.
There is always a bird watching, Homes for Humanity or adventure group. Find the local bocce/chess/swim team that you would enjoy, join and do it regularly; you don’t need a buddy here, you can do this alone. If you like to cook, check out the soup kitchens. If you like kids, call the school to be a teacher’s helper. If you like helping infirmed elderly or kids, the trained service animals that make visits to the hospitals is an experience to be remembered as well as training a “blind” service dog or pig. I met a 72-year-old man who has committed to a weekly visit at the cat shelter. He was trained in handling rescued cats, as cats require more human contact, many come from the streets and can not be adopted unless they are friendly. Kittens need to be held and played with. Something more adventurous, the park rangers have wild animals that are injured and need help being fed. Some programs require training by the caretakers, but what a great experience.
Friends of the River train river rafting hosts and teach kayaking. From making soup to petting kittens to feeding wild birds to freeing seals to handicap kids to the elderly to saving the rivers, to saving the wetlands to planting the coastal cliffs to cleaning up trash from the beaches you must find a cause with which you want to become involved.
The next part of this assignment: look through the Community Educational catalogue for “mind” improvement classes. There might be something you have always wanted to take; besides tap dancing I have wanted to go back and study French. Photoshop is popular and so are computer classes. Dog training, ceramics, watercolors, chess, bridge and many more! My friend, Dan, has been acting since he retired at sixty-five. He took an acting class through the Beverly Hills Adult Education program and immediately got an agent; he still goes to casting calls at ninety-six. Another friend takes piano, at a local college, which offers discounts for non-credit classes. It’s something she has wanted to get back doing since her high school recital days. It relaxes her. And yet it keeps her mind focused as she is in a class of younger students.
Another girlfriend, Laura, a veterinarian, went away to “circus” school to be a clown! Marin Community Education has a Stand Up Comedy workshop covering joke theory, comedy writing and editing techniques and performance methods. Comedy is popular in Marin; it’s where one of our greats, Robin Williams, got his start. It is never, never too late to start something new.
Stretching you social circle makes you more sensitive to the needs of others and this in turn takes you beyond your comfort zone. It might become your new passion. Here is where you socially grow, improve your mind and become more youthful, especially doing something different and outrageous. Keep trying until you find something fun and it will become part of your new becoming ageless routine.
If the “idea” of joining a volunteer group or taking a class doesn’t excite you, think about this assignment as spending time with your brain. Professor of psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical College, Richard A. Friedman, wrote an article: Can You Get Smarter? For The New York Times, Sunday Review, 10/25/2015. He has a great introduction that I just could not resist:
“You can increase the size of your muscles by pumping iron and improve your stamina with aerobic training. Can you get smarter by exercising—or altering—your brain?”
Considering that one of the big issues of aging is cognitive decline starting at age 55 when our hippocampus—the brain area critical to memory–shrinks. It shrinks at 1-2 percent a year. Think about that fact; at 65 you could be 20 percent less smart. That’s a lot of smarts to loose. But the good news is, the brain has remarkable neuroplasticity. That is according to Friedman, it can remodel and change itself in response to various experiences and injuries. If that is so, Friedman asks, can it be trained?
Good question. There is a multimillion-dollar brain training industry out there and they think so. They claim you can increase your memory, attention and reasoning just by playing various mental games; use your brain in the right way and you can get smarter. BBC and Cambridge University challenged this claim. They questioned: Do brain gymnastics actually make you smarter or just make you better at a task? Does this improved skill transfer to other tasks?
Now I have actually signed on to an online site that gives you a daily mentally changing skill. They claim that within months you will be sharper. I had a great time with it, it was not easy, and I think if you did it every day, it would really help. Like all exercise and diets, it needs to be done every day for long-term results. And once I finish this book, I will go back and give it my all. The tasks I did were visual—shapes and not crossword puzzles, and I like that. But you can select what interest you. It’s actually quite fun, a mental gymnastics, but very challenging as each task is timed! If you go on line you will find these sights and they usually give you a free trial before you commit to signing up and paying a fee. The plan I tried was called: Lumosity. I did not check out the other sites and I would recommend doing that before you commit to any plan. However, I must admit, it was fun and I do like the idea and opportunity to sharpen my brain.
Back to the BBC and Cambridge study, Friedman says the results showed after six weeks of brain training—games of reasoning, problem solving, tests of attention, short-term memory and math skills that are typical of these commercial brain-training games. The subjects 60 and older showed a significant improvement in verbal reasoning, one of the components. This is good news as it shows that brain exercise might delay some of the effects of aging of the brain.
What we know for sure, Friedman goes on to say, that even if mental gymnastics doesn’t make us smarter, physical exercise does. It is physical exercise that promotes the creation and growth of neurons. Researchers have found that while both resistance and aerobic training groups improved equally on spatial memory, only the women who did aerobic exercise improved on verbal memory. They also found that women who did weight training twice a week, not just once a week or did stretching exercises for a full year had less brain shrinkage.
Actually what’s going on is that exercise increases the level of a protein called BDNF in the blood and brain. It promotes growth of new neurons that increase the size of the hippocampus and improved memory.
Friedman goes on to inform us that there is not real evidence that any prescription drug or supplement or smart drink is going to raise your I.Q. But he does say there is one thing that does seem to help preserve cognitive fitness and that is: OTHER PEOPLE.
There is strong epidemiological evidence that people with richer social networks and engagements have a reduced rate of cognitive decline as they age. If getting out and finding a volunteer group of social club seems like too much effort, put on your tap shoes or tennis shorts and get out there and go exercise and do it with your friends.
…..more to come……