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Keep Your Noggin Fit with Brain Exercise

The dog ran. The dog barked. The dog raced.

What else did the dog do?

That many seem like a silly question. But the act of thinking up verbs to go with nouns pumps extra blood into your brain, according to brain scans.

Getting more blood to the brain is an important way to counteract the effects of aging. The increase in blood flow nourishes the neurons, which are the main communicators in the brain.

Try a variety of mental exercises

There are various mental exercises that can increase cerebral blood flow, such as the process of adding verbs to several nouns. There's also serial subtracting. That involves beginning with a number such as 900, and then subtracting any number from it -- say seven. So you get 893, and then you subtract seven from that to get 886... and so forth.

The exercises can also include visualizing, which stimulates a different part of the brain.

Doing the exercises is great, but just doing something novel is good for your brain, too. That's because as you age, a percentage of your brain's neurons die. You can still create new dendrites, however. They are the connections between the neurons. They grow from neurons, like branches grow from a tree, when you do brain exercises or just think or see new things. The dendritic networks make a model to comprehend those things.

So your goal is to make more dendrites. They are as vital to mental dexterity as phone lines are to phone networks.

Diet, physical exercise, and social activities

Getting physical exercise and eating a low-fat diet are important, too. The benefits exercise and a good diet provide to the rest of the body certainly apply to the brain.

The chemistry of the brain is complex, and does not necessarily improve with age. For example, over the years, stress produces cortisol, which damages the glial cells that provide nutrients to the neurons in your hippocampus, a part of the brain. Your hippocampus helps handle, among other things, short-term memory.

But it's wrong to assume that older people can't compensate for those physical changes. There is evidence from studies in other countries that some memory deficits in older Americans may be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Our culture expects older people to have short-term memory loss, and so they do. In China, older individuals are respected, and do not show the same memory problems.

It's also important for older people to have lots of activities, including frequent socializing with others. Consider taking up hobbies, chess, crossword puzzles, playing a musical instrument, or a challenging volunteer position. Interact with others on the Internet, but get out with real people, too.

Each of these activities will help keep your brain fit and full of life.