A neurobiologist provides simple ways to exercise your brain, enhance your memory, and boost your cognitive health.
Over forty? Getting forgetful? Having trouble learning new things, or remembering that actress’s name without reaching for your smartphone? Chances are, your brain needs a workout, and neurobics—simple, unique brain exercises that can be done anywhere, anytime—are here to help.
In this little book, you’ll find eighty-three brain teasers and challenges that will keep your mind occupied, whether during work breaks or on your commute, at mealtimes or at the market. It’s a fun, effective way to keep your neuron pathways fit and functioning, now and as you age.
“Maintaining brain health involves physical and mental exercise, stress management, and a healthy diet. Doing the Neurobics in Keep Your Brain Alive is essential to fortifying these strategies and maintaining a healthy brain.” —Gary Small, MD, coauthor of The Alzheimer’s Prevention Program
|Publisher:||Workman Publishing Company, Inc.|
|Sold by:||Barnes & Noble|
|File size:||5 MB|
About the Author
Manning Rubin, a former creative director at J. Walter Thompson and senior creative supervisor at K2Digital, Inc., is now at work on several new books. He lives in Pawlet, Vermont.
Read an Excerpt
Neurobics: The New Science of Brain Exercise
"What was the name of that actor who was in all the early Woody Allen films? You know ... curly brown hair ...?"
The first time you forget the name of a person you should know, a movie title, or an important meeting, you're likely to exclaim — only half-jokingly —"I'm losing it! My brain is turning to Jell-O." Reinforced by messages and images in the mass media, you equate mild forgetfulness with the first stages of accelerating mental decline.
"... He was just in a Broadway show with, um, what's-her-name. Oh, God, you know who I mean."
And maybe they do. But if they don't, you become frustrated and preoccupied trying to recall this buried name. Usually beginning in your forties or fifties — sometimes even in your thirties — you start to notice these small lapses: not remembering where you put the car keys or what was on the grocery list you left at home ... or being unable to understand the instructions for a new DVD player or computer ... or forgetting where the car is parked because you left the mall through a different door.
Even though these small lapses don't actually interfere much with daily life, the anxiety they provoke can. You worry that you'll become just like your Aunt Harriet, who can remember details of events from the Depression but not what she did yesterday. Firsthand experiences with people who have difficulty with perception and memory as they age can make you anxious when you suddenly forget something ordinary. No wonder you jump to the conclusion that aging is an inevitable slide into forgetfulness, confusion, or even the first stages of Alzheimer's disease.
The good news, however, is that mild forgetfulness is not a disease like Alzheimer's and action can be taken to combat it. Brain research points to new approaches that can be incorporated into everyday activities to develop and maintain brain connections. By adopting these strategies, you may actually enhance your brain's ability to deal with declines in mental agility.
There are numerous myths about the aging brain that neuroscientists are disproving daily. With the help of exciting new technologies, the traditional view of the way the brain ages is being rapidly revised. Evidence clearly shows that the brain doesn't have to go into a steep decline as we get older. In fact, in 1998, a team of American and Swedish scientists demonstrated for the first time that new brain cells are generated in adult humans.
Also contrary to popular belief, the mental decline most people experience is not due to the steady death of nerve cells. Instead, it usually results from the thinning out of the number and complexity of dendrites, the branches on nerve cells that directly receive and process information from other nerve cells that forms the basis of memory. Dendrites receive information across connections called synapses. If connections aren't regularly switched on, the dendrites can atrophy. This reduces the brain's ability to put new information into memory as well as to retrieve old information.
Growing dendrites was long thought to be possible only in the brains of children. But more recent work has shown that old neurons can grow dendrites to compensate for losses.
Other experiments show that neural circuits in adult brains have the capacity to undergo dramatic changes — an ability scientists thought was lost after childhood. The aging brain, however, continues to have a remarkable ability to grow, adapt, and change patterns of connections.
Discoveries like these are the basis of a new theory of brain exercise. Just as cross training helps you maintain overall physical fitness, Neurobics can help you take charge of your overall mental fitness.
Neurobics aims to help you maintain a continuing level of mental fitness, strength, and flexibility as you age.
The exercise program calls for presenting the brain with nonroutine or unexpected experiences using various combinations of your physical senses — vision, smell, touch, taste, and hearing — as well as your emotional "sense." It stimulates patterns of neural activity that create more connections between different brain areas and causes nerve cells to produce natural brain nutrients, called neurotrophins, that can dramatically increase the size and complexity of nerve cell dendrites. Neurotrophins also make surrounding cells stronger and more resistant to the effects of aging.
Neurobics is very different from other types of brain exercise, which usually involve logic puzzles, memory exercises, and solitary practice sessions that resemble tests. Instead, Neurobic exercises use the five senses in novel ways to enhance the brain's natural drive to form associations between different types of information. Associations (putting a name together with a face, or a smell with a food, for example) are the building blocks of memory and the basis of how we learn. Deliberately creating new associative patterns is a central part of the Neurobic program.
Putting together the neuroscience findings (pages 8–9) with what scientists already know about our senses led directly to our concept of using the associative power of the five senses to harness the brain's ability to create its own natural nutrients. In short, with Neurobics you can grow your own brain food — without drugs or diet.
The word Neurobics is a deliberate allusion to physical exercise. Just as the ideal forms of physical exercise emphasize using many different muscle groups to enhance coordination and flexibility, the ideal brain exercises involve activating many different brain areas in novel ways to increase the range of mental motion. For example, an exercise like swimming makes the body more fit overall and capable of taking on any exercise. Similarly, Neurobics makes the brain more agile and flexible overall so it can take on any mental challenge, whether it be memory, task performance, or creativity. That's because Neurobics uses an approach based on how the brain works, not simply on how to work the brain.CHAPTER 2
How the Brain Works
The brain receives, organizes, and distributes information to guide our actions and also stores important information for future use. The problems we associate with getting older — forgetfulness, not feeling "sharp," or having difficulty learning new things — involve the cerebral cortex and the hippocampus. The cortex is the part of the brain that is responsible for our unique human abilities of memory, language, and abstract thought. The hippocampus coordinates incoming sensory information from the cortex and organizes it into memories. The wiring of the cortex and hippocampus is designed to form links (or associations) between different sensory representations of the same object, event, or behavior.
The Cerebral Cortex and Hippocampus
Most pictures of the brain usually show the deeply grooved and folded cerebral cortex: a thin sheet of cells (no thicker than twenty pages of a book) wrapped around the other "core" parts of the brain like a rind on a grapefruit. Although thin, the cortex is very large (spread out it would cover the front page of a newspaper) and contains an astounding number of nerve cells — about one hundred million in every square inch. And while the cortex may look like a uniform sheet, it actually consists of dozens, perhaps hundreds, of smaller, specialized regions (some as small as a fingernail, others as large as a credit card). Each of the senses has its own dedicated portions of cortical real estate — for example, there are at least thirty specialized areas just for vision.
Processing information as it comes in from the senses involves a network of many smaller regions. In addition, other regions of the cortex specialize in integrating information from two or more different senses (so, for example, when you hear a sound you know where to look).
These hundreds of regions are linked together by the brain's equivalent of wires: thin threads called axons (each only one hundredth the thickness of a human hair) that extend from nerve cells and conduct electrical impulses from one part of the brain to another. Every cortical region sends and receives millions of impulses via these axons to and from dozens of other cortical regions. The brain contains literally hundreds of miles of such wires. Thus, the cortex resembles an intricate web, with each region linked directly or indirectly to many other regions.
Some of these neutral connections are between areas that process similar information, such as the thirty involving vision, while other connections are between dissimilar areas, such as touch and smell. The network of pathways between cortical regions that do many different things is what allows the cortex to be so adept at forming associations.
Like the cortex, the hippocampus plays an important role in forming associations. The senses continually flood the brain with information, some of it vital but much of it unimportant. You don't need to remember the face of everyone you pass on the street, but you do want to recognize someone you just met at your boss's party! To prevent the information overload that would accompany having to remember too much, the hippocampus sifts through the barrage of incoming information from the cortex and picks out what to store or discard. The hippocampus acts like a central clearinghouse, deciding what will be placed into long-term memory, and then, when called upon, retrieving it. The hippocampus's decision to store a memory is believed to hinge on two factors: whether the information has emotional significance, or whether it relates to something we already know.
The hippocampus is also vital for making mental maps, allowing us to remember things like where our car is parked or how to get from home to work. Animals in which the hippocampus has been removed cannot learn or remember simple mazes.
Most problems that cause mental deficiencies involve the cerebral cortex or the hippocampus. So keeping mentally fit really means exercising these parts of our brain so they function at their best. And what they do best is to form associations between different kinds of information they receive.
Associations: How We Learn
Associations are representations of events, people, and places that form when the brain decides to link different kinds of information, especially if the link is likely to be useful in the future. The raw material for associations originates primarily from the five senses but also can be emotional or social cues. The brain takes several different things into account in deciding whether to forge these mental connections. For example, if something provides inputs to two or more senses close together in time, like the sight, smell, and taste of a cheeseburger, the brain will almost automatically link the sensations. In essence, this is our basic learning process.
The classic example of associative linking, often taught in psychology courses, is Dr. Ivan Pavlov's experiments with dogs. Dogs normally salivate at the sight of food. Every day when Pavlov fed the dogs, he rang a bell. After a few days, just ringing a bell made the dogs salivate, even if no food was presented.
These dogs made an association — a connection within their brains — that a certain sensory stimulus (the bell) meant food. Consequently, the sound of the bell alone made the brain instruct the salivary glands to get ready for food. Humans and animals can form similar links between almost any kind of sensory inputs.
Obviously, humans are capable of much more sophisticated and abstract learning that isn't as closely tied to external stimuli (like bells) or external rewards (like food). Take learning a language, for example. An infant learns language by associating a particular set of sounds with a certain behavior, person, or object. (An explicit reward may or may not be present.)
Once such associations are formed, they reside in the brain as a longterm memory, which can be accessed just by experiencing the original stimulus. It's rather astounding when you think about it: A certain kind of sensory experience can permanently change the wiring in part of your brain!
Most of what we learn and remember relies on the ability of the brain to form and retrieve associations in much the same way as Pavlov's dogs learned that a bell meant food. For example, you pick up a rose, and its smell activates the olfactory (smelling) parts of the cortex, its image activates the visual areas, and the soft petals or sharp thorns activate the feeling sections. All these different sensations cause nerve cells in very different areas of the cortex to be activated at the same time in a particular pattern, strengthening some of the linkages between these areas.
Once that happens, anything that activates just part of the network will activate all the areas of the brain that have representations of rose events. Someone hands you a rose, and as you hold it, you may remember your first wedding anniversary when you received a dozen roses, which reminds you of your first apartment in that awful building with the broken elevator. Or the smell of roses reminds you of Aunt Harriet's rose garden in late summer where you had picnics with your cousin Arnie who is now living in California and whom you keep meaning to call — all sorts of memories result from a single stimulus.
Existing programs for brain exercise have ignored this powerful associative route to forming and retrieving memories. Neurobics seeks to access it by providing the cortex with the raw material that will create new and potent associations.
Because each memory is represented in many different cortical areas, the stronger and richer the network of associations or representations you have built into your brain, the more your brain is protected from the loss of any one representation. Take the common problem of remembering names. When you meet a new person, your brain links a name to a few sensory inputs, such as his appearance (visual). When the brain is younger, these few associations are strong enough so that the next time you see this person, you recall his name. But the more you age, the more people you've met, leaving fewer unique visual characteristics available to represent each new person, so the associative links between visual characteristics and names are more tenuous. Now, imagine closing your eyes in the course of meeting someone. Sensory inputs, other than vision, become much more important as the basis for forming associations necessary for recalling a name: the feel of his hand, his smell, the quality of his voice.
You have now tagged someone's name with not just one or two associations, but at least four. If access to one associative pathway is partly blocked ("Gosh, he looks familiar"), you can tap into associations based on other senses and do an end run around the obstruction. Adopting the strategies of forming multisensory associations when the brain is still at or near its peak performance — in the forties and fifties — builds a bulwark against some of the loss of processing power later in life. If your network of associations is large, it's like having a tightly woven net, and the loss of a few threads isn't going to let much fall through.
These multisensory representations for tasks like remembering names were always available to you, but early on, your brain established an effective routine for meeting people that relied primarily on visual cues. An important part of the Neurobic strategy is to help you "see" in other ways — to use other senses to increase the number and range of associations you make. The larger your "safety net," the better your chances of solving a problem or meeting a challenge because you simply have more pathways available to reach a conclusion.
More often than not, adults don't exploit the brain's rich potential for multisensory associations. Think of a baby encountering a rattle. She'll look at it closely, pick it up, and run her fingers around it, shake it, listen to whether it makes a sound, and then most likely stick it in her mouth to taste and feel it with her tongue and lips. The child's rapidly growing brain uses all of her senses to develop the network of associations that will become her memory of a rattle.
Now think of yourself finding a rattle on the floor. Most likely, you'll just look at it and instantly catalog it "It's a rattle." The point is that a child is constantly tapping into the brain's ability to strengthen and increase connections between its many regions — for smelling, touching, hearing, tasting, and seeing — to produce an ever-growing tapestry of associations ... and neural activity.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Keep Your Brain Alive"
Copyright © 2014 Lawrence C. Katz and Manning Rubin.
Excerpted by permission of Workman Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
CHAPTER 1 — Neurobics: The New Science of Brain Exercise,
CHAPTER 2 — How the Brain Works,
CHAPTER 3 — How Neurobics Works,
CHAPTER 4 — Starting and Ending the Day,
CHAPTER 5 — Commuting,
CHAPTER 6 — At Work,
CHAPTER 7 — At the Market,
CHAPTER 8 — At Mealtimes,
CHAPTER 9 — At Leisure,
About the Authors,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Keep Your Brain Alive is very easy to read.The neurobic exercises are fun.I thought they would interfere with my usually hectic day but far from it.The science is also easy to understand and very logical. It's encouraging to think I can actually do something to help keep my mind fit as I move along in years. I believe this book is important. That's why I'm taking the time to comment on it.It is something we boomers can do,pardon the pun,without thinking about it
in my modest opinion, social interaction has been the best brain enhancer for me.. whether it is just sharing what this little book is about with your friend, boyfriend/girlfriend, spouse, child, sibling, parent-another human being-- or doing the the exercises with the other- is fun, loving, different- and does not fun, funny and loving make you happy? and happiness is a result of endorphins and endorphins are generated by the brain and generate well being? so easy to understand it is motivating..
Keep Your Brain Alive with neurobic exercises reminded me of that which I learned through physical exercising years ago; if its fun, its easy to stick with and it works. Without the day to day stimuli I encountered as a younger person, I enjoy and notice the acuity difference I derive from these simple and productive tasks. And, it comforts me to know that I have some control over my aging mind. I've told my friends, its a book for boomers for sure.
“Keep Your Brain Alive” by renowned neurobiolgist Lawrence Katz, gives the reader basic background background info about how the brain's prcesses of handling information. The author explains how we can He then proceeds to give the reader some easy, practical exercises that most of us can blend into our everyday lives. One example would be using our non-dominant hand for some things. Studies have shown that these types of exercises build new connections and help us maintain optimum brain health, as we age. My husband and I are enjoying trying out some of the exercises. You can finish the book at one sitting, inasmuch as it contains only 77 pages. But they are 77 pages packed with feasible exercises in the field of brain exercises called neurobics.
This is a quick-read but very interesting and practical. The gist of the book is to improve memory, you need to keep your brain active and use all of your senses. ¿Routines can be brain deadening.¿ Basically, learn to enjoy new experiences, change things around, interact with people and change up routines. The most startling thing I learned from reading this book is: "Research has shown that watching television literally numbs the mind: The brain is less active during TV-viewing than during sleep!" (p. 117)
This book was bought as a gift for my husband at Christmas. He isn't usually much on puzzles, quizzes, suduko, etc. He has found that this book of "brain tests/teasers" is quite interesting. Great for keeping the mind active and in tune.
After a brief scan of the beek I knew it was not at all what I had hoped for and returned it. Recommend that you take a peak before you purchase.
I ran across this little book in the process of studying some related material and I can't get over how user-friendly it is, as well as containing a wealth of information and concrete suggestions for stimulating your brain and nervous system. The "neurobic exercises" are fun and very easy to integrate into any lifestyle. I would highly recommend this book to anyone wanting to improve their memory and mental focus, and reduce their risk of developing age-related mental deficits. In fact, I plan to give copies of it to several of my loved ones.
it was an enjoyable read.