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The Power of New!

To keep your brain young, try new things with all 8½ of your intelligences.

This article appeared in our October 2004 issue.The big health story of the last decade is that there is much we can do to keep our brains young and healthy and stave off memory loss as we age. The brain, we now know, remains plastic and continues to form new connections and even new cells into adulthood. One key to a healthy brain is a healthy cardiovascular system, so regular physical exercise is important. But there’s more. Just as exercise develops and maintains the muscles, the development and maintenance of brain connections depends on challenge. As Paul Takahashi, M.D., assistant professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine, reports, “All types of mental activity encourage the formation of new neural connections, but the most intense connections come with new tasks or experiences.” Thus, a brain-saving mantra might be, “News it or lose it!” Once people develop Alzheimer’s or dementia, the existing neural pathways deteriorate and new connections rarely form, so it is important to use mental functions regularly before they deteriorate. Mental exercise cannot stop serious brain di …

Emily Brandon is a neurobiology researcher at the University of Rochester Medical Center in Rochester, N.Y., where she is studying the mechanism of visual recovery after a stroke. [2004]

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