I hate to burst anyone’s brightly sparkling Boomer bubble, but there’s no denying it: we do lose a lot as we age. Whether it’s superficial losses – a little less hair or firmness, for example – or something more significant – physical health, the passing of loved ones, memory and cognitive ability – we can’t (and should not) sugarcoat reality. It is just something to face, to figure out how to work around, and to accept.
But (here comes the sunshine!) did you know…? There are actually some things that we gain through aging. Of course we’re wiser (and wizened!), perhaps more patient or tolerant (if we’ve worked on developing those character traits), and we may have gained a little extra padding along the way as well. But, the benefit of aging I’m most excited about is actual brain cell growth, which is counterintuitive when we consider the decrease in certain brain cells that is inherent to aging. And yet, it’s true!
I find that I have better recall, more patience, and a clearer understanding of situational dynamics as I age. And, according to the recent literature on the subject, I am not alone.
In his book “The Art of Aging,” Dr. Sherwin B. Nuland shares that certain key areas of the brain never stop growing, and although, through aging, we “may have decreased numbers of synapses in some areas…this is compensated for by such factors as plasticity: the ability of the synapses to become stronger and therefore more effective.” In fact, he goes on to state that new material learned can be more rapidly stored and categorized than in our younger years.
The key, as we age, is to adapt to and maximize our evolving strengths while minimizing our losses, taking advantage of this unexpected gift of growth in our later years. The top ways, according to Harvard Medical School research:
- Aerobics: More effective for brain cell growth than resistance training, sustained, moderately intense aerobic exercises such as power walking, jogging, and swimming are believed to aid in neurogenesis (the development of new neurons in the hippocampus).
- Neurobics: Defined as “brain exercises that emphasize unexpected stimuli,” Neurobics involves attention-focusing activities, such as using your non-dominant hand for routine activities, playing complex, 3-D video games, even engaging reading material, and conversations.
Work, for me, is my Neurobics. I just spent a day in Dallas with the leaders of the state home care associations across the country, working on the current challenges to the industry and how to not only overcome those but to better position healthcare at home as a preferred and available option. Work keeps me engaged, mentally active, always learning, and allows me to interface with millennials and Gen-Xers in ways that really help me learn and continue to grow professionally.
What is your Neurobics? Do you volunteer? Do you create? Do you make? Do you expand your capacities? Do you get into a zone outside of your comfort zone?
Make a pledge and a plan to join me in finding more time for play, for learning, for striving to make these years, whether later or earlier or in the middle, truly golden? In doing so, we can ensure our gains outweigh our losses as we travel through this journey of aging. All aboard!