It turns out, doing something hard might be good for your brain.
This is the time of year when people tend to try and make and keep resolutions. Are you still looking for one? Try this one out: Do something hard.
A group of researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital recently studied the brains of several older adults. In an article recently published in The Journal of Neuroscience, they outlined how some people seem to “age better” than others when it comes to things like memory function and overall cognitive ability. Decline in these areas is often seen as a normal part of aging. However, the decline of memory function and overall cognitive ability for some people is less than others.
How do you preserve memory and cognitive function as you get older?
The researchers are still trying to answer that question, but it looks like one of the answers might be to do something hard. When it comes to neurons in the brain, the “use it or lose it” rule seems to apply. The problem is, some of the same structures in the brain responsible for memory and cognitive function do something else: they influence our affect.
When those parts of the brain work hard, they can make us feel frustrated or exhausted. That means working our brains is kind of like going to the gym in that, sometimes the best way to gauge your workout is how sore you are the next day. If your legs are never sore after a workout, there’s a good chance you’re not pushing yourself hard enough. In the same way, if you’re not finding yourself mentally exhausted or frustrated, you’re probably not working your brain hard enough.
This means those little Sudoku puzzles might not be enough of a challenge to ward off the memory loss that comes as we get older. Instead, try learning to play a new instrument or speak a new language. Work at it until you’re exhausted. And then work a little more. Your brain will thank you.
Eric McClerren, LAPC