Retaining a youthful mind





Why Gymnasium for the Mind?

Today, as never before, people of all ages need to maintain their mental acuity, not only to compete in the business world, but also to enjoy the maximum quality of life.

According to the 2010 census, 16.2% of the population of the United States is over the age of 62. The Baby Boomers (those born between 1946 and 1964) started turning 62 in 2008, and the number of older people is increasing dramatically during the 2010–2030 period. The older population in 2030 is projected to be twice as large as in 2000, growing from 35 million to 71.5 million and representing nearly 20 percent of the total U.S. population. As this significant section of our population ages, its ability to lead full, meaningful, and comfortable lives will be in direct proportion to its ability to maintain mental acuity.

While memory decline and mental insufficiency are usually passed off as a normal part of aging, there are many other factors that come into play – and these factors can affect all age groups. Nutrition, stress, lack of proper sleep and exercise, medication, and general lack of stimulation can all have a major influence on our mental performance and retention, especially in terms of short-term memory. Mental health experts and healthcare practitioners have universally stressed the importance of mental and social stimulation in maintaining not only clarity of thought, but also a positive attitude and a general enjoyment of life.

Our games and exercises are played in a safe and encouraging atmosphere, and stimulate “playfulness.” At the same time, they strengthen basic neural connections and increase the plasticity of mental processes. Having fun makes us smarter and produces vitality and enthusiasm in the players. Since the games and exercises are group activities, they encourage social interaction, as well as benefit the health of the mind.

Improving mental acuity

As a group, we’re all staying stronger and mentally sharp for longer periods of time. A 2008 study indicates that the brain function of seniors aged 70 and older, when compared to a 1990′s baseline, is improving, paralleling similar results regarding physical function.

"It was once assumed that the brain stops developing in young adulthood and then starts declining. Neuroscientists have discovered in the last couple of decades that not only is that inaccurate, the brain continues to remodel itself based on experience throughout adulthood into old age. It's called neuroplasticity and we see that, barring disease, neuroplasticity occurs throughout life."

Liz Zelinski, PhD, Professor of Gerontology and Psychology at USC.

To effectively exercise the brain, it is essential that new and different tasks and challenges be presented. While many of the typically recommended mental challenges can be helpful, once they are learned, they do not force the brain to process information and creativity in new ways. These tasks merely reactivate existing circuitry rather than cause fundamental improvement. So the question becomes, what can we do to maximize our mental acuity and vitality?

The importance of variety

Mental acuity is sharpness of the mind, and scientific research has shown there are things we can do to improve mental acuity, such as mental puzzles or other things that actively engage our mind. However, those activities need to address a wide range of functionality to be optimally effective. The popular pastime of watching TV is passive and would not increase mental acuity, and may actually decrease it. “If you do crossword puzzles, you get better at crossword puzzles,” said Lisa Berkman, director of the Center for Population and Development Studies at Harvard. “If you do Sudoku, you get better at Sudoku. You get better at one narrow task. But you don’t get better at cognitive behavior in life.”

Limiting training or activity to a specific function of the brain, such as memory or visual attention, will yield very limited results and have little benefit in real-world situations. While there are benefits to continuing to acquire knowledge, facts alone will not build the kind of flexible neural pathways that a brain needs to remain creative and fluid.

Coping with the tasks of daily living requires proper functioning of several aspects of cognition, many occurring simultaneously. Optimal functionality of the brain consists of information being processed rapidly and effectively, absorbed by focused attention, and then stored in memory.  All aspects of the brain must work together to lead to a productive and satisfying experience. Variety of activity is also essential for fluid intelligence, i.e., the ability to think logically outside the boundaries of existing information and to analyze and solve novel problems.

It is imperative - whether we are still working or enjoying a leisurely lifestyle in our retirement - to maintain a varied, fun, and challenging mental workout program. This, along with a healthy diet and exercise program, are key ingredients to living each phase of our life at peak performance and pleasure.

“We don't stop playing because we grow old.

We grow old because we stop playing.”

– George Bernard Shaw