Brain Boost

“Mom, why do you have Cheerios on your forehead?”

Let me begin by saying that I am VERY right-handed. My left hand holds my watch and wedding ring and pretty much skates through a bejeweled life of ease, while my right hand does the majority of the “heavy lifting”. I’ve decided that my left hand needs to put forth some effort and pull its weight. To this end, I attempt to eat my morning Cheerios left-handed. I have to do this in the privacy of my own home, because eating with my left hand produces a fairly comical sight. I have been known to miss my mouth entirely. This is why I never get dressed for work until after I’ve finished my Cheerios. I have also tried brushing my teeth with my left hand, although a battery-powered toothbrush does most of the actual brushing. If the brushing action was entirely up to my spastic left hand, I’d end up brushing my nose, my cheek, my forehead — anything but my teeth. As it is, my brushing does help clean off the residual Cheerios, but it doesn’t do much for my teeth. About now you may find yourself asking, “Just where is she going with this?” I’m so glad you asked.

In order to keep our functionality, we have to exercise. We exercise muscles to keep them strong; we must exercise our cognitive side as well. We might, for instance, challenge ourselves to do simple, everyday tasks – eating, brushing teeth, washing dishes, and dusting – with our non-dominant hand. The simple act of forcing oneself to use the other hand exercises new areas of the brain.

Other ways to pump mental iron are learning new games, taking an art class, learning a language, working crossword or number puzzles, learning to play a musical instrument, or listening to music. Try an activity that also requires brain activity with some muscle memory, for example learning Tai Chi, yoga, or a new dance step. For the computer literate there are on-line mind-boosting games, puzzles, and tests.

Something else to keep in mind when trying to maintain brain power is to avoid the four deadly S’s: Stress (releases cortisol), lack of Sleep, being Sedentary, and Smoking. All of these things can interfere with optimal brain functioning.

Of course, a healthy lifestyle with proper nutrition is also helpful. Avoid junk food, take fish oil, laugh heartily, take regular walks if possible, keep a journal or a diary, stimulate the olfactory areas of the brain (smell some lavender, a rose, or our wonderful salt air), set goals, and think positively. Spend some time with people of a different age group. Challenge yourself to do something new. If you are a senior citizen with family, jot down stories about your youth, your first job, your parents and grandparents, what you loved to do and hated to do. You can give the journal containing these stories to your family; it will be a gift they will cherish forever.

Some studies suggest that antioxidants and other supplements may be beneficial to brain health. Antioxidants attributed to brain health can be found in dark chocolate, blueberries, raspberries, cranberries, carrots, pecans, walnuts, almonds and red wine (in moderation, please). They are also found in the vitamins and supplements: Vitamin E, Vitamin C, beta-carotene, and CoQ-10. In other words, as your mom told you “Eat your fruits and veggies” and as girlfriends tell each other, “Come over for a glass of red wine and some chocolate!” Always listen to the women in your life.

My current brain challenge is figuring out how to use my birthday gift. My husband gave me a high tech cell phone. I think it does everything, including blending smoothies. So if you see someone sitting in the ferry line wearing Cheerios for earrings and pouring fruit juice on her cell phone, that would be me. I’m just trying to improve my brain function.