How to exercise your brain

From Robyn Williams’s “How to Keep Your Brain Young” (The Science Show: 24 September 2005):

Ian Robertson: Seven steps for keeping your brain functioning optimally when you’re older, but not just when you’re older but throughout life are: One, Aerobic fitness – amazing effects on the brain. Mental stimulation, both general mental stimulation and there are also specific memory and other training exercises you can do. The third one is new learning, learning new skills and new facts. The fourth one is reducing stress; severe stress has poor effects on the brain. The fifth one is diet; a diet that’s high in antioxidants and fresh fruit and vegetables and also fish and low in saturated fats has quite extraordinary effects on the brain. The sixth one is social interaction and a rich social environment. This is correlated with enhanced cognitive function. And finally, think young. Thoughts about age, which may not be justified, can actually influence your behaviour, and by influencing your behaviour perhaps to behave in an old way can thereby have deleterious effects on your brain. …

But that’s what education is all about; it’s about trying to train people to think, trying to train them to use their brain capacity. The trouble is we tend to stop being educated when we’re about in the early 20s, and that may be part of the reason why we see more of a drop off of mental capacity as we get older than we need see. If you keep training your brain – it’s a bit like a vintage car: a vintage car can go as fast as a new car but needs more maintenance. Well that’s true of the vintage brain as well when you’re over 60 or over 50 even.