Use it or you may lose it – Brain power

For years we assumed that our memory starts to decline considerably as a process of normal ageing. Research says this remarkable decrease in cognitive performance is because we no longer engage our brain at high level on everyday basis after retirement. Today there is plenty of evidence to prove that people who lead a cognitively active lifestyle have a lower risk of memory problems even in old age.

Regardless of your age or retirement status, exercise is a way to stay physically fit and mentally sharp. You may have heard the phrase “use it or lose it” which definitely applies here. So how do we use it effectively?

Choose activities that teach you something new and challenging; exercise your brain by doing online puzzles, crosswords or jigsaw puzzles (500+ pieces); learn to play an instrument or take up an old one; listen to your favourite song, don’t memorise it but just hear it a number of times to write down the lyrics and learn to sing and move on to the next.

Dr. Michael Merzenich, professor emeritus at the University of California, has pioneered research in brain plasticity for more than 30 years. On a visit to South Australia, Dr Merzenich warned medical advances of the past century had dramatically increased the average life span but had largely ignored brain function. A summary of his finding:

1. Research into brain plasticity has proven that your brain continues to make new neurons throughout life in response to mental activity, which means that cognitive function can be improved, regardless of your age, and cognitive decline can be reversed

2. A key factor or ingredient necessary for improving brain function or reversing functional decline is the seriousness of purpose with which you engage in a task. In other words, the task must be important to you, or somehow meaningful or interesting

3. There are computer-based brain fitness programs designed to help improve cognitive function in six different areas in about 40 hours, and can be used by any age group

4. To optimize your brain fitness, the following lifestyle factors can help: daily physical exercise, focusing on your body movements and your environment, engaging in new learning throughout your life, staying socially active, and practicing “mindfulness”