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By Rosemary Lichtman, Ph.D. and Phyllis Goldberg, Ph.D.

Have you found this article by surfing the Internet for topics of interest? Or responded to a Google Alert about a subject that concerns you - brainpower, aging parents, growing children, nourishing relationships, family conflicts, Sandwiched Boomers? If so, congratulations, you‘re boosting the performance of your brain!  

According to a recent study, a team of UCLA scientists found that middle aged and older adults who search the Internet, using the web on a regular basis, activate brain centers necessary for complex reasoning and decision-making. Exercising the brain in this way - making decisions about what to click on to continue the search - engages brain circuit connections and improves mental functioning.  

During an assigned Internet search, study participants with considerable online experience sparked two times as much brain activity on MRI scans as those with little prior web experience. The MRI indicated more brain activity was engaged during the Internet search than during a book-reading task. When the less web-savvy volunteers completed online searches at home, their MRI scans two weeks later indicated brain activation patterns similar to the more experienced volunteers. So, take heart - enjoy the Internet and let your brain light up!          

Have you been thinking about additional ways to maintain your mental vitality? Use your creativity as you plan new ways to challenge your brain cells. Here are 7 tips to follow as you exercise your brain to keep it active and dynamic:

1. Exercise your brain with mental aerobics just as you do your body.  The Seattle Longitudinal Study found that 66% of older Americans doing brain exercise activities had significant cognitive improvement. Learning new skills increases the number of neural connections in the brain and keeps them firing.  

2. Explore new areas and interests.  Have you wanted to learn to play the piano? Take Spanish or study computer graphics? Check out your neighborhood center, school district or extension courses at a college or university near you. Traveling to new places? Surf the web for information about educational travel in America and throughout the world.  

3. Play word or number games and do crossword or jigsaw puzzles to keep your mind sharp.  Researchers believe that these kinds of mental challenges and 'disorienting dilemmas' build new neural pathways that help buffer the brain against age-related losses. Injecting novelty into your everyday tasks can have a similar affect. For example, use your non-dominant hand for brushing your teeth, rearrange the furniture in your rooms or carry out activities blindfolded.

4. A U.C.L.A. geriatric psychiatrist has developed a technique for improving memory and learning new information.  First, actively observe what you want to learn; next, create mental snapshots of your memories; finally, link your mental snapshots together. This technique can help you remember information ranging from the names of new people you meet to where you parked your car or left your keys.

5. Develop your creative talents.  Scientists have found that, as you challenge yourself to look at things in a new way and try novel behaviors, you exercise important parts of your brain. Women in their middle years have taken up a wide range of creative activities such as painting, acting, writing poetry, photography, making jewelry.

6. And don't forget that physical activity helps keep your mental powers sharper too.  Plan your schedule so that you can participate regularly. Choose an activity that you enjoy and find engaging - walking with a friend, working out at the gym, biking with your partner. A daily brisk 20 to 30 minute walk will allow you to feel better emotionally and think more clearly.  

7. Increase your physical activities and include aerobics, flexibility and strengthening exercises.  Fast walking, jogging, dancing, biking or climbing stairs are all good. Studies at Columbia University indicate that aerobic exercise brings more blood and oxygen to your brain cells, encouraging the growth of new nerve cells and connections between them. Improve your mood, control your weight and protect yourself against cognitive loss, all at the same time.  

As you incorporate these brain exercises into your daily routine, you’ll notice you are becoming more alert and engaged. Let your creativity be a guide and generate additional innovative techniques for adding to your brain power. The world - virtual and concrete - is wide open to you, so jump on and enjoy the ride.    

(c) 2010, Her Mentor Center

Rosemary Lichtman, Ph.D. & Phyllis Goldberg, Ph.D. are family relationship experts with a 4-step model for change. If you‘re coping with stress, acting-out teenagers, aging parents, boomerang kids or difficult daughters-in-law, our tips make family rifts disappear, even for Sandwich Generation Boomers. Visit us at [Link Removed] Ask for our free ebook, “Courage and Lessons Learned” and our free newsletter, “Stepping Stones.”


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