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Getting Your Brain in Shape!

by Dr. Paul Nussbaum, Brain Health Expert
August 03, 2012

Question: My grandfather does not exercise at all and leads a sedentary life. I read somewhere that crossword puzzles are beneficial for exercising the brain. Maybe I can introduce that activity in his routine. Will it help him?

Answer: Your brain simply wants to be stimulated. A little secret about the brain is that it really does not know how old you are. Further, chronological age is all made up and really serves no purpose other than to breed anxiety, birthday cards, and a curious set of national policies that affect all of our lives.

Your brain reacts to environmental input and such input will shape your brain across your lifespan. Passive and rote pursuits will not promote brain health. Novel and complex stimuli will because you need to engage your “cortex”, the outer shell that helps us process information on a conscious level.

When your brain is exposed to a novel and complex activity it reacts by spawning a part of the brain cell known as the “dendrite.” This is a branch like figure that pulls information into the core of the brain cell and over time you can grow a jungle of dendritic branches. It is this growth of the dendrites that helps us fight off disease, to delay the onset of disease such as Alzheimer’s. We refer to such cellular growth as “brain resilience.” By engaging in novel and complex pursuits such as learning a new language, writing and reading, travel, crossword puzzles and game playing, music, etc. we are building brain resilience and our brains will be healthier.

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Dr. Nussbaum earned his Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the University of Arizona and completed his internship and post-doctoral fellowship at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. He has provided care to older adults for over 25 years and specializes in normal aging, Alzheimer’s disease, and related disorders. His brain health lifestyle ® has been published in consumer friendly texts, presented to diverse audiences across the nation, and is frequently cited in the media.

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