Use games new language to challenge your brain
The Arizona Republic
Sept. 26, 2006
Question: I've recently retired, and all the leisure time disturbs me. I
think I should seek out new challenges to keep my mind and memory nimble.
Answer: You're right about the need for new challenges as we age. Workouts for
the brain are as important as physical activity is for the body. In my new book,
Healthy Aging, I describe various ways to keep the mind agile and boost memory
and concentration. I've long recommended card games and word puzzles as
worthwhile traditional pastimes to exercise the brain.
But if you're looking for truly new challenges for your brain, the best mental
workouts I can think of are learning a new computer operating system and
learning a new language. If you've used a computer, you're familiar with the
frustration of learning a new operating system - it wears you out. But this kind
of challenge is exactly what is needed to force change on the brain's neural
network so that it will stay flexible and young. If you haven't used a computer
very much, now's the time to learn. It may drive you crazy for a while, give you
headaches and make you wish you never decided to take up the challenge. But it
will open a new world for you once you learn all its complexities and give your
brain a good workout in the process.
Learning a language is another perfect challenge to take on now that you've
retired. Some people have a natural ear for language and learn quickly, but
anyone who can hear and imitate sounds can learn a new language at any age.
And you don't have to master it; it's the attempt to learn that gives the
benefit. This type of learning draws on "fluid intelligence," the ability to
stay focused and manage attention while ignoring irrelevant information.
Fluid intelligence is one of the first aspects of brain function to suffer as
age takes its toll on the mind. Learning another language should be more
protective than any supplements or smart drugs designed to stave off cognitive
I speak Spanish and used to speak German. I'm determined to brush that up and
one day learn Japanese.
Weil is a pioneer in the field of integrative medicine. He is a professor of
medicine and heads the program in integrative medicine at the University of
Arizona. Weil also is a monthly columnist for Prevention magazine and editor
of Self Healing Newsletter. Visit www.DrWeil.com for more information.