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Use It or Lose It: The Brain

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. was in private practice for more than thirty years. He is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the states ...Read More

So, you cannot stand doing cross word puzzles. So, you hate reading Shakespeare and have nightmarish memories of High School and being required to read "Hamlet." So, you hated High School and College Algebra and Calculus. Well, all of the recent research findings about Alzheimer’s Disease, the aging process and memory clearly demonstrate the fact that if you want to keep your brain functioning at optimum levels for your entire life then you had better get back to your High School and College days and get involved in those very things you thought you hated.

For example, the University of Liverpool just completed a study that shows that reading Shakespeare’s plays stimulates the brain and brain activity. In the same way, similar studies around the world show that one way to reduce the chances of Alzheimer’s disease is to do lots of activities that stimulate thinking and problem solving. Such activities include learning a new language regardless of your age, doing cross word puzzles, putting difficult jig saw puzzles together and working on math and other types of problems.

The brain is a magnificent organ made up of approximately ten billion nerve cells called neurons. They are part of a complex communication system that links the brain with every part of the human body, from the end of your toes to the top of your head. In order to facilitate that communication system, there are chemicals referred to as neurotransmitters that help keep the information highway flowing unimpeded between the brain and body and the body and the brain. Of course, part of this network includes bringing external information from the world into this amazing network so that it can be processed, analyzed and understood. This is how we come to learn and then "know" that touching a hot stove will burn our hands. These neurotransmitters are part of the body’s hormonal system, especially the adrenal glands and the hormone, adrenalin.

Now, with the ability to use EEG,s and FMRI’s (functional magnetic imaging machines) the activity of the brain can be studied as subjects, who are hooked up to these machines, work on a variety of problems. For example, when these subjects read Shakespeare, portions of the brain become excited and this excitement could be traced with the FMRI. The same occurs when the subjects work on challenging cross word puzzles.

The brain is active twenty four hours per day, keeping the various organs of the body functioning including the lungs and breathing, digestion, blood pressure, etc. We now know that the brain continues to work on solving problems left over from the day before. In fact this is why people will sometimes have the experience of awakening during the middle of the night with the sudden realization that they have found the answer to a nagging problem.

Another interesting recent finding has been that exercise seems to improve memory. It is no surprise, if you stop and think about it, because the brain is an organ, and responds positively to the same types of stimuli as do other parts of the body.

It just goes to show that if you do not want to lose it, well, you better use it and not wait.

Keep Reading By Author Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D.
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