Bench Press for Your Brain


We all understand what happens to our body as it ages.

Without intervention (an exercise/activity program) we know that our muscles waste, our lung capacity decreases, our heart gets weaker, our bones become brittle, our flexibility and mobility decrease, our reaction time slows, our posture suffers, we move slower and we become more susceptible to illness and injury.

Unless of course we happen to live a naturally active lifestyle (one where we regularly expend lots of energy, move, lift, stress our body... consistently do stuff physically).

I have spoken before on this site about a concept called biological age (also known as physiological age) and we have established that by controlling certain variables (diet, lifestyle, exercise, stress levels) we can absolutely turn back our body clock. Even though we may be fifty (chronologically) we can 'build' ourself the body equivalent to that of a typical thirty year-old (in terms of cardio-vascular function, strength, bone density, blood pressure, flexibility).

If you've punished your body for fifty years it may be a different story of course... but at the very least, you can turn back the clock at little and see a notable improvement in health, physical function and overall fitness.

What happens (typically) with a large percentage of the population is that we get to a point in time when we simply stop moving as much. We stop lifting, walking, hammering, climbing, cleaning, working.... doing physical stuff. And as soon as this happens our body begins to age at a faster rate. It's hard to quantify (the rate of ageing) as it varies from person to person... but let's just go with... a much greater rate.

(Than our active counterparts).

For many people, retirement should be renamed the-beginning-of-the-end; they stop doing pretty much everything that kept them in shape (I'm talking about from a health and function perspective here... not from a looking incredible perspective).

I'm not suggesting that we all work until we're ninety five... but for some people, the day they retire is the day they stop using their mind and their body (in a significant way).

The day they begin to deteriorate.

Ironic, when you consider how excited most people are about that day.

And while it's common and 'normal' for some of us to train our body in an effort to stay young physically, surprisingly, the majority of us don't consciously take a similar approach when it comes to keeping our mind in shape (that is, consciously 'exercising' our mind like we do our body).

Interesting when we consider these two facts:

1) People typically slow down mentally as they age.... short-term memory loss (where are my keys?), process information slower, find it harder to concentrate and focus, more easily confused, become vague and tend to be less creative and less adventurous.

2) They don't have to! Countless studies (and simple observation) tell us that our mind, like any other muscle (okay, it's not a muscle but you get my point), needs to be trained to stay in shape. Excluding people with specific medical conditions, we find that people who have remained mentally active as they have aged typically see little (or no) deterioration in their level of brain function.

The moment we stop using it... we start losing it.

The good news is that our brain (like our body) is amazing and can adapt (grow 'muscle') at any age. We can (to an extent) undo some (if not most) of the damage.

It's great to be in shape physically but what's the point of having four percent body-fat, Olympian biceps and veins on our veins, if we have a mind like a Dalmatian?

So after two hundred years of helping people get in shape physically, here are my tips for developing and maintaining a high-performance mind.

1. Set goals.

The moment we stop setting goals is the moment we start going backwards. Without goals we don't have to think, plan, rationalise, problem solve or create (as much).

2. Laugh.

It's not illegal to laugh, be silly or have fun as you age. Although some grumpy old farts will take me to task on this... they're wrong.

"Hey Johnnie... pull my finger."

(So juvenile).

3. Play.

"We don't stop playing because we grow old, we grow old because we stop playing."

Two of my favourite people in the world are a (nearly) seventy years-young couple who ski, ride mountain bikes, run up and down sand dunes, hike, lift weights, travel, help others, play practical jokes and hang out with 'silly' young people.

4. Study.

You don't have to go back to college and get your PhD. (although you might) but maybe explore short courses, workshops... something to blow out those cerebral cob webs and get those rusty cogs turning once again.

Most people stop (consciously) learning when they finish school.

Pity.

One of my staff (Rona) is fifty two. She started university (for the first time) last year. She will graduate with her bachelors degree (in Exercise Science) when she's fifty four and has already informed me that she wants to continue studying once she completes her current course. The other day she told me.. "it's the best thing I've ever done... in my life!"

(Condolences to her husband!).

5. Learn a new language.

Research tells us that people who speak two languages (regularly) age (mentally) at a slower rate than their uni-lingual (made that up... I think) buddies. They stay in shape (mentally) for longer... It even delays the onset of Alzheimer's.

Now, if you spoke three languages...

6. Express yourself creatively.

Write something... a book, some poetry, a business plan, start your own blog.

Paint, draw, sculpt... my father began to paint at sixty five.. and now is an awesome professional artist.

Invent something... a lot of the best inventors are crusty old guys.... c'mon on you crusty old guys... invent something!