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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!

Mental exercise is one way to help prevent Alzheimer's. Another means of prevention is to remain physically fit throughout life. All of the organs in the body benefit from being physically fit, including the brain. One Harvard study of more than 18,000 participants found that people who got the most exercise showed less mental decline than those with sedentary lifestyles.

Physical exercise increases blood flow to the brain and keeps it working efficiently by stimulating the production of neurotrophins. This is especially true for the hippocampus which is the first area of the brain affected by Alzheimer's disease. This increased blood flow and neuronal efficiency can reduce the natural shrinkage that occurs in the brain as it ages. An average person will lose between 15% and 25% of brain cells by the age of 90. Those people who get the most exercise will be at the bottom of that scale, while those people who never exercise will be at the top of that scale.

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Several recent studies have shown that mental and physical exercise throughout one's lifetime may significantly reduce the effects of Alzheimer's.

Mental exercises such as crossword puzzles, brain teasers, chess, or card games help keep the mind working in top shape. This helps build what is called a "cognitive reserve." Formal education also helps build a person's cognitive reserve. In fact, each year of education reduces a person's chances of getting Alzheimer's by an average of 17%. Scientists believe this is because people with a large cognitive reserve are better able to adapt as neurons are killed by the disease. The more neural connections you have, the longer it takes for the disease to make a significant impact.

It's important to note that mental exercise cannot help significantly once Alzheimer's has already set in. A person must have a lifetime commitment to learning in order to build up his or her cognitive reserve. It is probably not possible to completely prevent the disease in genetically susceptible people, but it is possible to delay the onset so that it will not occur in the person's lifetime.

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Alzheimer's disease is a degenerative disease of the nerve cells in the brain that causes impairment of memory and other brain functions -- such as language or perception of reality. Alzheimer's patients also experience personality changes and a decreased ability to take care of themselves. Many scientists believe that the disease is caused by the abnormal accumulation of a specific protein that eventually leads to nerve cell death. The disease appears to start in the hippocampus and spreads to other parts of the cortex as it progresses.

Alzheimer's disease is not part of the normal aging process. There are some genetic risk factors (gene mutations) that may influence the development of the disease. The main risk factor is age. Ten percent of people over the age of 65, and 50% over the age of 85, have the disease. Some studies have shown that a lifelong love of learning and physically staying in shape are negative risk factors for getting the disease. So, even if you are genetically prone to this disease, if you stay mentally and physically in shape, you can significantly delay or prevent the onset of Alzheimer's.

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As we have learned, events with emotional significance get preferential treatment by the hippocampus and are more likely to make strong memories. The most important way that emotions are created is from interactions with other people.

Modern technology is constantly reducing the social interactions that we have on a daily basis. Drive-through pickup, self-checkout lines, Internet shopping and email are examples of ways that today's technology isolates us from face-to-face interactions with other people. Humans are social beings, and social interactions are required for good mental health. Several studies have shown that people with social lifestyles have stronger cognitive function than people who are reclusive. Social ties can also help one deal with life's stressful events.

Try to get in touch with more people. Strike up a conversation with the person next to you on the bus, or the checkout person at the store. In addition to the mental benefit, you will be making the other person's day a little more interesting.

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Our senses of vision and hearing are used far more often than our other senses of taste, touch, and smell. This may be why there are common names for a lack of vision (blindness) and a lack of hearing (deafness), but not for a lack of the others. Humans used to rely on smell more than we do today. We used smells to track animals, navigate the oceans, and to tell if food was spoiled. With grocery stores, GPS devices, and refrigeration, people hardly know how to use their noses anymore.

Try to concentrate on your underused senses from time to time, especially if you want to remember something. The more senses you can bring to bear on the situation, the stronger associations you will create in your mind. Smell in particular has an important role in memory. Sometimes you only need a whiff of a smell to have a flood of old memories rush into your mind. This is because the olfactory system has a direct link to the hippocampus. Try to pay more attention to the smells that are around, it will help keep your mind in shape.

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