You may or may not be aware that I occasionally “dabble” in the arts. Actually, the arts is how I made a living for about 15 years. But now, with a regular gig, regular pay & regular benefits, and my side-obsessions of running and travel, “dabbling” is about all I have time for. But I keep an eye out for the right show, the right timing and/or the right director. So when one of my favorite directors asked me about doing a staged version of the radio play “War of the Worlds”, with one weekend of performances, I checked my work / travel schedule, saw no major conflicts, and jumped at the chance. I didn’t ask what role, etc.
I trust her.
And my trust is well founded. I’m doing 3 roles, which are interesting and different enough to keep my attention.
But oh my…
I have lines on top of lines. Paragraphs on top of paragraphs. My LINES have freaking lines.
I’m going to be studying lines for the next 6 weeks straight. Don’t call me. Don’t ask if I want to go out for a movie, or drinks, or a date. Oh, the date thing would be fine if your idea of a “date “ would be coming to my place, reading everyone else’s lines back to me while eating carryout pizza and drinking a bottle of wine.
It’s not my job anymore.
It’s my hobby.
I don’t need this.
( Note; I don’t think it’s ever taken me this long to get to the point of one of these blogs, but I digress…)
As a 59 year old, I do take decent care of myself from a exercise and dietary perspective. But something I haven’t consciously addressed is the importance of cognitive fitness. So, is it really that important? Let’s take a look, shall we?
According to many studies and reports, when it comes to keeping healthy and fit, living a mentally active life is as important as regular physical exercise. Just as your muscles grow stronger with use, mental exercise keeps your mental skills and memory in tone. But are certain kinds of “brain work” more effective than others? According to Dr. Anne Fabiny, chief of geriatrics at Cambridge Health Alliance and an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, the answer is yes.
The activities with the most impact are those that require you to work beyond what is easy and comfortable. Playing endless rounds of solitaire and watching the latest documentary marathon on the History Channel may not be enough. “If it’s too easy,” Dr. Fabiny says, “it’s not helping you.”
But when should you start “exercising your brain?”
“Many people don’t start thinking about their brain health until they notice some cognitive changes and memory loss in their 60s or 70s,” says Elise Caccappolo, PhD, an associate professor of neuropsychology at Columbia University Medical Center in New York. “But there are many things you can do, starting as young as childhood, to keep your brain as healthy as possible throughout your lifetime. We know that intellectual pursuits, social interaction, and perhaps most importantly, physical activity are helpful in keeping one’s brain sharp
Some ways to promote cognitive fitness include;
Be a lifelong learner: You spend the first half of your life building dense networks of connections between brain cells. Scientists call that “cognitive reserve.” Continuing to learn new things builds and maintains these connections
Get uncomfortable: Getting out of your comfort zone from time to time challenges your mental skills. An example of this would be traveling to a city that you haven’t been to before, which forces you to navigate unfamiliar surroundings.
Be social: Social isolation, aging researchers have discovered, puts people at risk of losing some of the brain reserves they have built up over a lifetime. There are many ways to be social. One good way is working as a volunteer in a social setting, which allows you to have contact with a variety of people and puts you in new situations.
Try New Things; Building new skills throughout your lifetime. Challenging your brain essentially creates a backup system. The more intellectual stimulation you have, the more various neural circuits are used. And the more circuits you have, the harder it is for the changes associated with neurodegenerative diseases to manifest, It’s more helpful to master real-world skills than to play online “cognitive enhancement” games. “We’ve found that people improve on the specific tasks in those games,” says Dr.Caccappolo, “but that doesn’t really correlate with real-world activities”.
Focus on one task at a time; Did you know that it’s literally impossible for your brain to multitask? Men have known this for years, btw. By focusing on one task at a time, you can keep your brain working at maximum capability and accomplish more than you imagined. Find a task you need to finish and focus solely on it. Leave the phone in the other room, turn the TV off, and focus. Your brain will thank you.
Write. Like on a real piece of paper; Computers, iPads, tablets, smartphones and the connection to the internet everywhere means it’s becoming less and less likely that you will pull out a piece of paper and write. But research suggests handwriting makes you smarter. So leave the computer on your desk during your next meeting and write your notes.
Meditate; Meditation is one of the best, oldest forms of relaxation. But it also helps your body and mind! A recent study found that meditation benefits nearly every part of the brain. I believe you can also call this “prayer” or “chilling” You’ll feel more relaxed and truly will be in a better state of mind.
Be optimistic; Being optimistic not only helps you enjoy life, it also does wonders for your brain. When you think positive, research suggests that your brain can be a huge beneficiary. So start taking life with the glass half full approach and help your attitude and your brain.
Other habits which can benefit your cognitive and overall health include keeping your heart healthy. High blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, smoking, and diabetes all increase the risk for developing neurodegenerative diseases by impeding blood flow to the brain. Getting plenty of quality sleep will reset the brain, allow it to heal, and to restore mental health. Also, a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids, low in saturated fat, full of the nutrients found in leafy green vegetables, along with whole grains can help keep your brain healthy throughout your life.
So, I guess the next 6 weeks will be good for me. I may not always be happy about it, but I’m not always dancing to & from the gym either. It gets back to “what do you want, and what are you willing to do to get it?” I do the work to keep my body fit. I’m pretty sure it won’t mean a lot if my mind isn’t there to appreciate it. If you’re looking for me between now and October 27th, I’ll be at home or in the theater.
Studying and worrying.