50 Shades of Challenges

. Following on from last week’s blog about celebrating our achievements, I hope you took stock and asked yourself how far you have come, and you may be surprised how much more you can do now. So well done to all of us and celebrate!  After all, these achievements in themselves should motivate us and make us feel better about ourselves.

I recently came across an article in the Saturday Times asking the question how fit our brain was. It was always widely believed that we were born with a finite number of brain cells which with age, would slowly ‘die’ and not be replaced. From the age of 40 it indeed loses volume but if the brain is not only exercised but actually stretched, in other words if we challenge it, it can form new neural connections, called neuroplasticity, and hold off the aging process. As you are already aware I fully believe in and am excited by neuroplasticity

The article, written by Judith Horstman, author of ‘The Scientific American Healthy Aging Brain: The Neuroscience of Making the Most of Your Mature Mind’, says that the brain we own is the one we build and we are building it with every day with what we do. In her piece she mentions that only a few weeks ago, an American study published findings on online brain training games concluding that these could reduce the risk of dementia by a third.  However, we do not have to take up these games, there are many other ways to challenge our brain to build new networks.  Judith Horstman says,” …find something really difficult and new that you would like to do – and do it.”  Card games are difficult at the early stage of recovery but try playing pairs. Pairs, is a card game in which all of the cards are laid face down on a surface and two cards are flipped face up over each turn. The object of the game is to turn over pairs of matching cards. Try the underlined links to find out more. We may initially not remember any, but it improves and can also be played online along with other card games. 

Interestingly, the article talks about the ‘healing benefits of sleep’.   New studies have found that ’it enhances memory if you sleep within a few hours of learning something new.’  But don’t discount naps, even short ones can improve learning. This is even now something I have to constantly remind myself of and accept that I still need a daily sleep, which I don’t have to justify.

Whatever we do, we must try to be positive and not stressed as negative emotions can produce neurochemicals which can kill brain cells. Meditation is a good way of reducing stress but new studies have also shown that it increases ‘grey matter in parts of the brain associated with flexibility, memory and learning’ (Richie Davidson at the Centre for Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA).

So are you ready for the challenge?

Learn another language, try art, photography, possibly build a bike, (I know a stroke survivor who has attempted this). try gardening, this could be simply in tubs if that is all you can manage

The list is endless and the internet a good starting point. There are courses for free from FutureLearn, where you can do short courses at your own speed, trying to build up memory. It does not matter about long it takes, it is all about improving which means you are winning and achieving.

Embrace to be challenged.


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