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Mentalrobics™

You exercise your body to stay physically in shape, so why shouldn't you exercise your brain to stay mentally fit? With these daily exercises you will learn how to flex your mind, improve your creativity and boost your memory. As with any exercise, repetition is necessary for you to see improvement, so pick your favorite exercises from our daily suggestions and repeat them as desired. Try to do some mentalrobics every single day!

In the middle of the brain, connected to the cortex, is the hippocampus. Actually there are two hippocampi, one on each side of the brain. The hippocampus helps to form new memories about experienced events. It interprets incoming sensory inputs and turns them into memories. If the hippocampus is damaged, it becomes incredibly difficult to form new memories and recall old memories. In fact, it is one of the first parts of the brain that succumbs to Alzheimer's disease.

The hippocampus also stores and processes spatial information. This is how you remember locations and know how to get from place to place. The types of people who never get lost and are good at finding shortcuts have a very active hippocampus. Taxi cab drivers tend to have a large hippocampus, indicating that if you use your spatial skills, your hippocampus can actually grow.

To prevent information overload, your hippocampus is constantly sifting through incoming sensory inputs and deciding what to save and what to discard. For a memory to get into long-term storage, it must be selected by the hippocampus. Information with emotional significance or information that relates to something we already know tends to get preferential treatment. This is why meaningfulness is important for information you want to learn.

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The cerebral cortex is the main part of the human brain. It is the part that handles memory, language, thought, and consciousness. When you see a picture of a brain, the outer layer that looks convoluted and bumpy is the cerebral cortex. It is actually a flat sheet of cells that are all bunched up around the middle parts of the brain. This folding increases the surface area; if you unfolded a human cortex, it would measure more than 4 square feet. The cortex is made up of four lobes separated from front to back and left to right. Each type of sensory input has its own place on the cortex. For example, there is a specific place where all processing related to smells happen. Muscle movements have their own spot, vision has a spot, and so on.

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Neurotrophins are small proteins that are naturally produced in the brain and act like mental nutrients. A constant level of neurotrophins are required just to keep the neurons alive. Neurotrophins are also responsible for pruning out unwanted cells and for stimulating the growth of new dendrites.

Stimulating your mind with new and interesting experiences causes it to increase the production of neurotrophins, which in turn increase the strength and complexity of the dendrites. It causes neurons to connect to different areas of the brain and form new patterns. The more connections you have, the more ways you have to remember a piece of information.

So, seeking out novel experiences is a great way to keep your mind in shape.

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Previously, we learned how natural brain deterioration is mostly caused because of disuse. If a neural pathway is not activated from time to time, it will slowly diminish in strength until the memory is no longer recoverable. Having a rigid daily routine is a sure way to make sure your brain doesn't have to think very much. To keep your memory intact, make sure that you use it on a daily basis. Vary your routines, do the crossword, or try memory games to keep your brain active.

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The brain does not have to deteriorate as we grow older. In fact, one recent study shows that new cell growth in the brain occurs in adults, something previously thought not to occur. This growth occurs in the hippocampus which is where memories are stored.

Another recent study shows that brain cells do not die as we age. In fact, when we are senior citizens, we will have the same number of brain cells as when we were teenagers.

Nearly 90% of people will age without any memory impairment caused by diseases or other medical conditions. The decline that most people will experience is due to a reduction in the number of dendrites in the brain, which form the connections between neurons in the brain.

Dendrites deteriorate because of disuse. The good news is that this can be avoided by staying mentally active. Solving brain teasers and playing games is one way to keep mentally fit.

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