I’m going to ask a very personal question for each of you to think about. What is your GREATEST concern about your health for the rest of your life? Until recently, most people would have said cancer or heart disease; today the major health concern on our planet is losing brain function as we age, being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, dementia or Parkinson’s.
So I have some exciting news: Recent research is supporting an idea worth spreading — changing your aging brain can be as simple as “child’s play”!
I’m 64 and have been passionate about exercise and movement most of my life in order to overcome congenital spinal challenges – the more I move, the less pain I feel and the better my body and brain function.
My brilliant mother did crossword puzzles and games all her life, read 2 or 3 books a week, was a pianist and teacher, hated exercise and struggled the last years of her life with Alzheimer’s. My artist-sculptor father rarely read anything other than the newspaper. He decided he could sculpt his own body, became an international body builder and lived cognitively sharp and physically youthful almost until the day he died.
So I’ve spent the last 12 years studying the fields of neuroscience, movement and exercise in a top 100 U.S. hospital, in a graduate program in gerontology and as a graduate of The Neuroscience Academy. My goal has been to understand why people age so differently, and if we have any control over the way we age, both physically and mentally.
Dr. Sarah McKay, who founded of The Neuroscience Academy based in Sydney, Australia, compares the field of neuroscience today to the study of astrophysics in the 17th century – rapid new discoveries about the brain and how it functions are literally mind-boggling!
It turns out that simply playing number and word puzzles does NOT delay cognitive decline. It only affects some of the brain and just makes you better at puzzles! And traditional repetitive exercise does NOT stimulate all the brain functions.
Scientists do now believe there IS something you can do to change the brain and help prevent cognitive decline. I’m here to tell you what it is and give you a few simple ways to do it! (2 min 20 seconds)
How many of you have heard of the word Neuroplasticity? (Raise hand, point to sign). It’s clearly a big word that can have an even bigger impact on the lives of each one of you.
Neuroplasticity means you can actually change the form and function of your brain and central nervous system. Dr. McKay and other scientists believe the best exercise for changing the brain is physical exercise; although, it’s not just about physical activity, but consciously choosing to do something new, or in a different way, in order to engage your brain. Knowing how to stimulate neuroplasticity can directly affect the quality of the rest of your life, regardless of your age!
Neuroscientists now believe the primary purpose of the brain is to control movement of the body. From the time you were born until your mid- teens, you didn’t read a book to learn physical activities. Through trial and error, you discovered how to walk, hop, skip, run; play hide-and-seek, use a yo-yo or roller skate. You learned to ride a bicycle or play on a team.
I bet your mother never asked you “Why don’t you go outside and fire some neurons?” Yet every time you PLAYED you WERE firing neurons and developing something called neural pathways that deliver messages between the brain and body.
You were also activating all five primary functions of the brain. As a young girl growing up in Raccoon Valley, TN, I learned to play baseball in a farm pasture with my friends. So I’ll use baseball to explain the functions of the brain.
S (draw) is for strategic planning: how your brain helps your body figure out how to get from point A to B to C. For the good of the game, should my body bunt, walk or hit a line drive right now?
M (draw) stands for memory and recall: remembering a physical experience you’ve had, or recalling information about that activity. If you ever connected the ball and bat – or saw Mickey Mantle do it on TV – you remember how it feels to hit the ball!
A (draw) is for analytical thinking: breaking down the parts or components of an activity. In baseball, you can bat, pitch, catch, run, or cheer from the stands!
C (draw) stands for creativity and imagination: attempting to do something physical a new and different way, or seeing an image of (4 min 48 sec) yourself doing this activity even before you try it. Practice batting lefty instead of right – and imagine yourself hitting the ball over the wall and out of the park!
K (draw) is for kinesthetic learning: allowing your BODY to try something physical at first, while the brain observes what you’re doing in order to make you more efficient. I didn’t take a course in baseball. I just grabbed a bat and jumped into the game!
Put the first letter of all these functions together and you have the word SMACK – the sound of neurons firing!
After I swung the bat a hundred different ways, and fired thousands of neurons, I improved! Messages began to travel more and more quickly along my neural pathways.
In childhood, you learned new activities all the time by playing. You were stimulating neuroplasticity by physically learning and didn’t even know it!
According to Dr. Norman Doidge, author of The Brain That Changes Itself, we must learn new things in order to feel fully alive. When we learn, we alter genes in our neurons, which can change our brain.
Neuroscientists now know we can still develop and change our brains, no matter how old we are! We can learn through play to restore, maintain and develop NEW neural pathways by doing something physical we don’t know how to do — or by doing something we already know how to do, differently!
It can take as little as 10 minutes of PLAY each day to activate all five functions through physical action. And some of us feel “playing” is MUCH more fun than “working out”!