Tuesday, December 11, 2007

TO WRITE: The Rewards of Using Your Brain
An article in today's New York Times describes how people who use their minds frequently in intellectual and social ways have much lower rates of Alzheimer's disease and dementia. The idea is that by challenging our brains we build up "cognitive reserve" -- extra nerve cells and the connections between them. Then as we age and the likelihood of brain pathology increases, these extra neurons can compensate, leaving us more able to recall names and dates and think well in general. (Remember, those of us with mood disorders already have some structural changes going on in our brains, so this might be extra important for us.)

There are many activities believed to be useful in building cognitive reserve. Doing crosswords and Sudoku puzzles, learning a new language, working with computers, attending plays and concerts, working and traveling have all been identified as activities of older people who have clear thinking. Even knitting can be helpful, it's thought -- as long as you continue to challenge yourself with new techniques and patterns rather than repeating the same old things all the time. You need to introduce new mental challenges in order to reap the benefits.

Play with this. . .
What is the most rewarding thing you do with your brain? If you're taking a class or going to the museum with friends or playing challenging board games, terrific. If you're not, well. . . maybe you should increase the amount of writing you do each week?

For now, describe in writing the most rewarding things you've done with your brain in the past, and what you're doing now. Then consider any activities you might want to explore, including what writing projects you might want to work on. Is now the time to write the first scenes of that screenplay you've been mulling over? What about pulling out that notebook of poems and adding to it? As they say, this is another case of "use it or lose it."

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