Sustaining flexibility of mind, body and attitude

Memory, learning and being not-so-strange at seventy

Will I go stark raving bonkers with no memory of who or what I am? It’s a pretty standard fear for people in my age bracket.

Like Simon and Garfunkel all those years ago, we once thought “how terribly strange to be seventy”. Now it’s getting close, we hope when we get there they’ll be calling it the new 50. Or at least the new 60.

‘Old friends,
Memory brushes the same years,
Silently sharing the same fears…”

If you remember the tune, you’re in the right age group to fear a failing memory. Are those ‘seniors’ moments’ normal, or a sign you’re teetering at the edge of the slippery slope? Those who sell programs to exercise our brain’s neuro-plasticity want us to believe playing games will keep us functional. But maybe learning anything – if it interests you – would work as well? And while you’re at it, get some exercise.

The New York Times reports a study that suggests physical exercise actually helps our brains learn. “Recent experiments show that when mice and rats jog on running wheels after acquiring a new skill, they learn much better than sedentary rodents do,” the article says. Works for me – who wants to be the sedentary rodent?

However, the study published in Current Biology says the type of exercise matters. Eelco van Dongen, lead author and a former researcher at Radboud University, the Netherlands, says overly strenuous workouts “could be less positive or even detrimental” to learning, while taking it too easy, like “a short, slow walk,” may not boost the necessary biochemicals to influence the way the brain learns. Enter, of course, yoga!  It’s not too strenuous, not too light, it’s the Goldilocks of workouts.

And yoga itself has been shown to improve memory and learning capacity. A recent study by neuroscientists at UCLA, funded by the Alzheimer’s Research and Prevention Foundation, suggests asana may beat Lumosity for managing mild cognitive impairment. According to lead author, psychiatrist Helen Lavretsky: “If you or your relatives are trying to improve your memory or offset the risk for developing memory loss or dementia, a regular practice of yoga and meditation could be a simple, safe and low-cost solution to improving your brain fitness.”

Gandhi said, “live as if you were to die tomorrow, learn as if you would live forever”.  Learning isn’t just important for brain function and memory training, it’s important for something much more valuable: living. Curiosity keeps us engaged in life, whatever our age or physical capacities. And yoga isn’t just good for helping your brain learn, it will increase your strength, flexibility and range of motion…so when you graduate from that Masters you’re about to enrol in, you won’t need a stick to get across the stage at graduation!

2 Responses to “Memory, learning and being not-so-strange at seventy”

  1. Jerry

    I have been reading some of your articles and really love the motivation I’m getting from the material you have included along with your very excellent writing!! I’m looking forward to following your site regularly!! Sincerely, jerry Eisner


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