Pick five random numbers, say them out loud. Now say them backward. No fair using props. You have now exercised your brain, and your brain appreciates it.
Alvaro Fernandez, co-founder and CEO of SharpBrains, author of The SharpBrains Guide to Brain Fitness, enthusiastic speaker on healthy brains and how to keep them, addressed a group at the New York Library — great spot for exercising brains — recently and another in San Francisco a few days later. If you’ve ever despaired over forgetfulness or worried about some day getting Alzheimer’s, Mr. Fernandez will brighten your day. Much as the gym trainers promise you your muscles can be strengthened, Alvaro Fernandez can convince you those neurons can multiply and prosper. With an energy and demeanor to match his several degrees, he may one day be the Jack Lalanne of brain fitness.
The San Francisco audience was made up of members of San Francisco Village, the second such aging-in-place organization in California. (Other village-concept communities are springing up across the country, preferred options for many seniors who want to stay in their homes.) Most of them highly active and engaged, they were receptive to Fernandez’ proposals about how to stay that way.
Fernandez began by offering facts to debunk a few popular myths about brain function: Lifelong neuroplasticity means we can always help our brains evolve through lifestyle and activities; brain function can be affected by a variety of things, from yoga to cognitive therapy; and nothing is carved in stone that says brains deteriorate with age. In short, you might not be able to avoid Alzheimer’s completely if it’s in your genes and your karma, but you might well be able to forestall it with vigorous exercise.
Four “pillars of maintenance” will keep the brain fit, Fernandez says: good nutrition, stress managment, physical exercise and brain exercise. Potato chips and TV are not on the pillars list. The best comment of the event, in fact, probably came from author/healthy aging expert and SF Village advisory board member Walter Bortz, MD, who quoted a Harvard study that revealed “watching TV is like staring at a brick wall.”
Your brain is, when you come right down to it, not interested in the TV.