83 Neurobic Exercises
to Help Prevent Memory Loss and
Increase Mental Fitness
Lawrence C. Katz, Ph.D.
& Manning Rubin
Illustrations by David Suter
Workman Publishing Company, New York
Copyright Â© 1999 by Lawrence C. Katz and Manning Rubin
Illustrations copyright Â© David Suter
Cover and book design: Elaine Tom
W e both thank Peter Workman for being our match-
All rights reserved. No portion of this book may be reproducedâ€”mechanically,
maker, and our editor, Ruth Sullivan, for her steadfast
electronically, or by any other means, including photocopyingâ€”without
written permission of the publisher. Published simultaneously in
faith in the project and her relentless pursuit of clarity and
Canada by Thomas Alien 8c Son Limited.
simplicity in the writing and organization of the material.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Larry Katz wishes to thank Doris larovici, his spouse, for
Katz, Lawrence, 1956-
Keep your brain alive: the neurobic exercise program/by Lawrence C. Katz
her critical insights, advice, and editorial assistance, and Bonnie
and Manning Rubin.
Kissell, for unflagging administrative support of this project.
Manning Rubin thanks Jane Rubin, for bearing the brunt
1. Cognitionâ€”Age factors. 2. Cognitionâ€”Problems, exercises, etc. 3. Memoryâ€”Age
factors. 4. Cognitionâ€”Problems, exercises, etc. 5. Agingâ€”Psychological aspects.
of his burying himself in the research, writing, and rewriting
I. Rubin, Manning. II. Tide.
he has been obsessed with for two years, and for her level-
headed observations that helped the book. And he thanks
Larry for the voluminous work he has produced in keeping
Workman books are available at special discounts when purchased in bulk
this book alive.
for premiums and sales promotions as well as for fund-raising or educational use.
Special editions or book excerpts can also be created to specification.
For details, contact the Special Sales Director at the address below.
Workman Publishing Company, Inc.
New York, NY 10003-9555
Printed in the United States of America
First printing May 1999
10 9 8 7 6
Preface . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .ix
Neurobics: The New Science of Brain Exercise . . . . . . . . . . 1
How the Brain Works . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .9
How Neurobics W o r k s . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3 1
Starting and Ending the Day . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .41
Commuting . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .53
At Work . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7 - 7
At the M a r k e t . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .87
At Mealtimes . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .99
At Leisure . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .117
A s the population of over 76 million Baby Boomers ap-
proaches middle age and beyond, the issue of preserving
mental powers throughout greatly increased life spans has
reached an almost fever pitch. There is a growing interest
inâ€”and optimism aboutâ€”preserving and enhancing the
brain's capabilities into senior years. With the help of power-
ful new tools of molecular biology and brain imaging, neuro-
scientists around the world have literally been looking into
the mind as it thinks. Almost daily, they are discovering that
many of the negative myths about the aging brain are, in-
deed, only myths: "Older and wiser" is not just a hopeful
cliche but can be the reality. In much the same way that you
can maintain your physical well-being, you can take charge of
your mental health and fitness.
Although new and therefore not yet proved by a large
body of tests, Neurobics is based on solid scientific ground; it
is an exciting synthesis of substantial findings about the brain
that provides a concrete strategy for keeping the brain fit and
flexible as you grow older.
KEEP YOUR BRAIN ALIVE
done all this simply by looking around. Today was different. She
From Theory to Practice
could see nothing.
Jane reached into her pocketbook and fished inside for the
But Jane had not suddenly gone blind. At age 50, she was
keys to her apartment. Usually they were in the out-
introducing a lifestyle strategy called Neurobics into her daily
side flap pocket but not today. "Did I forget them?!
activities. Based on recent discoveries in brain science, Neu-
No. ..here they are." She felt their shapes to figure
robics is a new form of brain exercise designed to help keep
out which one would open the top lock. It took her
the brain agile and healthy. By breaking her usual homecom-
two tries until she heard the welcome click of the
ing routine, Jane had placed her brains attentional circuits in
lock opening. Inside the door she reached to
high gear. With her eyes closed, she had to rely on her senses
the left for the light switch... but why
of touch, smell, hearing, and spatial memory to do something
bother? Her husband would do that
they rarely didâ€”navigate through her apartment. And she
later. Touching the wall lightly with her
was involving her emotional sense by feeling the stresses of
fingertips, she moved to the closet on the right,
not being able to see. All these actions created new and dif-
found it, and hung up her coat. She turned slowly and visualized
ferent patterns of neuron activity in her brainâ€”which is how
in her mind the location of the table holding her telephone and an-
swering machine. Carefully she headed in that direction, guided
This book will explain the principles behind Neurobics
by the feel of the leather armchair and the scent of a vase of birth-
and how the exercises enhance the overall health of your
day roses, anxious to avoid the sharp edge of the coffee table and
brain as you grow older.
hoping to have some messages from her family waiting.
The table. The answering machine. She reached out and
brushed her fingers across what she believed to be the play button.
"What if I push the delete button?" she thought, and again checked
to make sure she was right. Yesterday it was so easy. She could have
The New Science of
˜\ Tf "That was the name of that actor who was in all the early
V V Woody Alien films? You know... curly brown hair... ?"
The first time you forget the name of a person you should
know, a movie title, or an important meeting, you're likely to
exclaimâ€”only half-jokinglyâ€”"I'm losing it! My brain is
turning to Jell-O." Reinforced by messages and images in the
mass media, you equate mild forgetfulness with the first
stages of accelerating mental decline.
". ..He was just in a Broadway show with, um, what's-her-name.
Oh, God, you know who I mean."
And maybe they do remember it's Tony Roberts. But if they
don't, you become frustrated and preoccupied trying to recall
this buried name. Usually beginning in your forties or fiftiesâ€”
sometimes even in your thirtiesâ€”you start to notice these
small lapses: not remembering where you put the car keys or
KEEP YOUR BRAIN ALIVE
new technologies, the traditional view of the way the brain
what was on the grocery list you left at home.. .or being unable
ages is being rapidly revised. Evidence clearly shows that the
to understand the instructions for a new VCR or com-
brain doesn't have to go into a steep decline as we get older.
puter. . .or forgetting where the car is parked because you left
In fact, in 1998, a team of American and Swedish scientists
the mall through a different door.
Even though these small lapses don't actually interfere demonstrated for the first time that new brain cells are gener-
ated in adult humans.1
much with daily life, the anxiety they provoke can. You worry
that you'll become just like your Aunt Harriet, who can re- Also contrary to popular belief, the mental decline most
people experience is not due to the steady death of nerve cells.2
member details of events from the Depression but not what she
Instead, it usually results from the thinning out of the number
did yesterday. Firsthand experiences with people who have dif-
and complexity of dendrites, the branches on nerve cells that di-
ficulty with perception and memory as they age can make you
rectly receive and process information from other
anxious when you suddenly forget something ordinary. No
nerve cells that forms the basis of memory. Den-
wonder you jump to the conclusion that aging is an inevitable
drites receive information across connections called
slide into forgetfulness, confusion, or even the first stages of
synapses. If connections aren't regularly
switched on, the dendrites can atro- ^ ^
The good news, however, is that mild forgetfulness is not
phy. This reduces the brains ability i L J 'F need *Â° I**
a disease like Alzheimer's and action can be taken to combat
â€¢r â€¢â€¢ ^ry' 'â€¢ I communicat-
it. Recent brain research points to new approaches that can to put new information into memory ^> .' ;/˜\y â€¢_- to Â«Â»-â€ž
be incorporated into everyday activities to develop and main- as well as to retrieve old information. \ healthy.
Growing dendrites was long thought to be possible only
tain brain connections. By adopting these strategies, you may
in the brains of children. But more recent work has shown
actually enhance your brain's ability to deal with declines in
that old neurons can grow dendrites to compensate for losses?
There are numerous myths about the aging brain that Other experiments show that neural circuits in adult
brains have the capacity to undergo dramatic changesâ€”an
neuroscientists are disproving daily. With the help of exciting
ability scientists thought was lost after childhood. The aging
Neurobic exercises use the five senses in novel ways to en-
brain, however, continues to have a remarkable ability to grow,
hance the brain's natural drive to form associations between
adapt, and change patterns of connections."
different types of information. Associations (putting a name
Discoveries like these are the basis of a new theory of
together with a face, or a smell with a food, for example) are
brain exercise. Just as cross training helps you maintain over-
the building blocks of memory and the basis of how we learn.
all physical fitness, Neurobics can help you take charge of
Deliberately creating new associative patterns is a central part
your overall mental fitness. of the Neurobic program.
Putting together the neuroscience findings (pages 6-7)
Neurobics aims to help you maintain a continuing level of
with what scientists already know about our senses led di-
mental fitness, strength, and flexibility as you age.
rectly to our concept of using the associative power of the five
The exercise program calls for presenting the brain with
senses to harness the brain's ability to create its own natural
nonroutine or unexpected experiences using various combina-
nutrients. In short, with Neurobics you can grow your own
tions of your physical sensesâ€”vision, smell, touch, taste, and
brain foodâ€”without drugs or diet.
hearingâ€”as well as your emotional "sense." It stimulates pat-
The word Neurobics is a deliberate allusion to physical exer-
terns of neural activity that create more connections between
cise. Just as the ideal forms of physical exercise emphasize using
different brain areas and causes nerve cells to produce natural
many different muscle groups to enhance coordination and flexi-
brain nutrients, called neurotrophins, that can dramatically in-
bility, the ideal brain exercises involve
crease the size and complexity of nerve cell dendrites.5 Neu-
activating many different brain areas
rotrophins also make surrounding cells stronger and more
in novel ways to increase the range
resistant to the effects of aging.
of mental motion. For example, an
Neurobics is very different from other types of brain exer-
exercise like swimming makes the
cise, which usually involve logic puzzles, memory exercises,
body more fit overall and capable
and solitary practice sessions that resemble tests. Instead,
of taking on any exercise. Similarly,
KEEP YOUR NEUROBICS
THE SCIENTIFIC BASIS
Neurobics rests on much more than a single breakthrough 3. The brain is richly endowed with specific molecules--lihe
finding. It is a synthesis of important new information neurotrophinsâ€”which are produced and secreted by
about the organization of the brain, how it acquires and nerve cells to act as a kind of brain nutrient that actually
maintains memories, and how certain brain activities pro- promotes the health of these nerve cells as well as the
duce natural brain nutrients. These findings include: health of their neighbors and the synapses tjetweea .tibÂ«opu*.
1. The cerebral cortex, the seat of higher learning in the 4. The amount of neurotrophins produced by neiw c^Hs-^
brain, consists of an unexpectedly large number of dif- and how well nerve cells respond to n
ferent areas, each specialized to receive, interpret, and made by other nerve cellsâ€”is regulated by howr
store information from the senses. What you experience those nerve cells are. In other words, the
through the senses doesn't all end up in one place in the brain cells are, the. more growtii-sisteBuJating 'i^i^i^
brain. they produce and die better they .respond/-
2. Connecting the areas of the cerebral cortex are hundreds 5. Specific kinds of sensory stimulation, especially lumwo"*
of different neural pathways, which can store memories tine experiences that produce novel activity pattsfn$ in
in almost limitless combinations. Because the system is nerve cell circuits, can produce greater quantities'â€¢>*
these growth-stimulating molecules.8
so complex and the number of possible combinations of
brairt pathways so vast, we employ only a small fraction
of the possible combinations.
KEEP YOUR BRAIN ALIVE
Neurobics makes the brain more agile and flexible overall so it
can take on any mental challenge, whether it be memory, task
performance, or creativity. That's because Neurobics uses an
approach based on how the brain works, not simply on how to
work the brain.
T he brain receives, organizes, and distributes information to
guide our actions and also stores important information
for future use. The problems we associate with getting olderâ€”
forgetfulness, not feeling "sharp," or having difficulty learning
new thingsâ€”involve the cerebral cortex and the hippocampus.
Motor Cortex muscle control and coordination
the seat of higher brain function
HOW THE BRAIN WORKS
KEEP YOUR BRAIN ALIVE
THE CEREBRAL CORTEX AND HIPPOCAMPUS
THE LIMBIC SYSTEM
brain areas involved in processing emotions
Most pictures of the brain usually show the deeply grooved
bridge of nerve tissue
connecting the left and
and folded cerebral cortex: a thin sheet of cells (no thicker
than twenty pages of this book) wrapped around the other
involved in sensory
"core" parts of the brain like a rind on a grapefruit. Although
sensory messages to
thin, the cortex is very large (spread out it would cover the
the brain are sorted
in the thalmus and
front page of a newspaper) and contains an astounding num-
routed to the proper
receiving centers in
ber of nerve cellsâ€”about one hundred million in every square
inch. And while the cortex may look like a uniform sheet, it
critical in forming and
retrieving memory and
actually consists of dozens, perhaps hundreds, of smaller, spe-
in creating mental maps
cialized regions (some as small as a fingernail, others as large
information from the olfactory
bulbs connects directly to the
as a credit card). Each of the senses has its own dedicated
cortex, the amygdala
(emotional center), and the
portions of cortical real estateâ€”for example, there are at least
hippocampus (memory). This
may account for the strong
thirty specialized areas just for vision.
memories and emotions that
can be evoked by smells
Processing information as it comes in from the senses in-
volves a network of many smaller regions. In addition, other re-
The cortex is the part of the brain that is responsible for our
gions of the cortex specialize in integrating information from
unique human abilities of memory, language, and abstract
two or more different senses (so, for example, when you hear a
thought. The hippocampus coordinates incoming sensory in-
sound you know where to look).
formation from the cortex and organizes it into memories. The
These hundreds of regions are linked together by the
wiring of the cortex and hippocampus is designed to form links
brains equivalent of wires: thin threads called axons (each only
(or associations) between different sensory representations of
one hundredth the thickness of a human hair) that extend
the same object, event, or behavior.
HOW THE BRAIN WORKS
KEEP YOUR BRAI\ ALIVE
with information, some of it vital but much of it unimportant.
There are 30 spe-
from nerve cells and You don't need to remember the face of everyone you pass on
cialized areas in
conduct electrical im- the visual cortex the street, but you do want to recognize someone you just met
alone; each area
pulses from one part of at your boss's party! To prevent the information overload that
links up (commu-
the brain to another. would accompany having to remember too much, the hip-
nicates) with its
Every cortical region pocampus sifts through the barrage of incoming information
here in simplified
sends and receives mil- from the cortex and picks out what to store or discard. In other
form). A realistic
lions of impulses via words, the hippocampus acts like a central clearinghouse, de-
show over 200
these axons to and from ciding what will be placed into long-term memory, and then,
dozens of other cortical when called upon, retrieving it. The hippocampus's decision to
regions. The brain con- store a memory is believed to hinge on two factors: whether
tains literally hundreds the information has emotional significance, or whether it re-
of miles of such wires. lates to something we already know.
Thus, the cortex resem- The hippocampus is also vital for making mental maps,
bles an intricate web, VISUAL AREAS OF THE CORTEX allowing us to remember things like where our car is parked
with each region linked directly or indirectly or how to get from home to work. Animals in which the hip-
to many other regions. Some of these connections are between pocampus has been removed cannot learn or remember
areas that process similar information, such as the thirty in- simple mazes.
volving vision, while other connections are between dissimilar Most problems that cause mental deficiencies involve the
areas, such as touch and smell. The network of pathways be- cerebral cortex or the hippocampus. So keeping mentally fit re-
tween cortical regions that do many different things is what ally means exercising these parts of our brain so they function
allows the cortex to be so adept at forming associations. at their best. And what they do best is to form associations be-
Like the cortex, the hippocampus plays an important role tween different kinds of information they receive.
in forming associations. The senses continually flood the brain
KEEP YOUR BRAIN ALIVE HOW THE BRAIN WORKS
ASSOCIATIONS: How WE LEARN mans and animals can form similar links between almost any
kind of sensory inputs.
Associations are representations of events, people, and places
Obviously, humans are capable of much more sophisticated
that form when the brain decides to link different kinds of in-
and abstract learning that isn't as closely tied to external stimuli
formation, especially if the link is likely to be useful in the fu-
(like bells) or external rewards (like food). Take learning a lan-
ture. The raw material for associations originates primarily
guage, for example. An infant learns language by associating a
from the five senses but also can be emotional or social cues.
particular set of sounds with a certain behavior, person, or ob-
The brain takes several different things into account in decid-
ject. (An explicit reward may or may not be present.)
ing whether to forge these mental connections. For example, if
Once such associations are formed, they reside in the
something provides inputs to two or more senses close to-
brain as a long-term memory, which can be accessed just by
gether in time, like the sight, smell, and taste of a cheese-
experiencing the original stimulus. It's rather astounding
burger, the brain will almost automatically link the sensations.
when you think about it: A certain kind of sensory experience
In essence, this is our basic learning process.
can permanently change the wiring in part of your brain!
The classic example of associative linking, often taught in
Most of what we learn and remember relies on the ability
introductory psychology courses, is Dr. Ivan Pavlov's experi-
of the brain to form and retrieve associations in much the
ments with dogs. Dogs normally salivate at the sight of food.
same way as Pavlov's dogs learned that a bell meant food. For
Every day when Pavlov fed the dogs, he rang a bell. After a
example, you pick up a rose, and its smell activates the olfactory
few days, just ringing a bell made the dogs salivate, even if no
(smelling) parts of the cortex, its image activates the visual
food was presented.
areas, and the soft petals or sharp thorns activate the feeling
These dogs made an associationâ€”a connection within
sections. All these different sensations cause nerve cells in
their brainsâ€”that a certain sensory stimulus (the bell) meant
very different areas of the cortex to be activated at the same
food. Consequently, the sound of the bell alone made the
time in a particular pattern, strengthening some of the link-
brain instruct the salivary glands to get ready for food. Hu-
ages between these areas.
KEEP YOUR HOW THE RAIN WORKS
Once that happens, anything that activates just part of the
network will activate all the areas of the brain that have repre-
Existing programs for brain exercise have ignored this power-
sentations of rose events. Someone hands you a rose, and as you
ful associative route to forming and retrieving memories.
hold it, you may remember your first wedding anniversary
Neurobics seeks to access it by providing the cortex with the
when you received a dozen roses, which reminds you of your
raw material that will create new and potent associations.
first apartment in that awful building with the broken elevator.
Because each memory is represented in many different cor-
Or the smell of roses reminds you of Aunt Harriet's rose garden
tical areas, the stronger and richer the network of associations
in late summer where you had picnics with your cousin Arnie
or representations you have built into your brain, the more your
who is now living in California and whom you keep meaning to
brain is protected from the loss of any one representation.1
callâ€”all sorts of memories result from a single stimulus.
Take the common problem of remembering names.
When you meet a new person, your brain links a name to a
K you just see a rose, you activate only a small number of neural few sensory inputs, such as his appearance (visual). When the
pathways (bold arrows, left segment) within the visual cortex.
brain is younger, these few associations are strong enough so
that the next time you see this person, you recall his name.
But the more you age, the more people you've met, leaving
fewer unique visual characteristics available to represent each
new person, so the associative links between visual character-
istics and names are more tenuous. Now, imagine closing
your eyes in the course of meeting someone. Sensory inputs,
other than vision, become much more important as the basis
for forming associations necessary for recalling a name: the
But if you smell, touch, and see a rose, a much larger number of direct and indirect
pathways between the olfactory, visual, and tactile areas are activated (above, right feel of his hand, his smell, the quality of his voice.
segment). These associative linkages between senses help in memory recall.
HOW THE BRAIN WORKS
KEEP YOUR BRAIN ALIVE
These multisensory representations for tasks like remem-
Neurobic First Meeting
Ordinary First Meeting
bering names were always available to you, but early on, your
brain established an effective routine for meeting people that
relied primarily on visual cues. An important part of the Neu-
robic strategy is to help you "see" in other waysâ€”to use other
senses to increase the number and range of associations you
make. The larger your "safety net," the better your chances of
solving a problem or meeting a challenge because you simply
have more pathways available to reach a conclusion.
Name Recall: If you use only sight when you meet someone, you're less likely to remem-
More often than not, adults don't exploit the brain's rich po-
ber his name. If, on the other hand, you use all your senses, you'll have many more as-
tential for multisensory associations. Think of a baby encoun-
soclations-'thinnlng hair, middle-aged, glasses, hand feels like a damp, limp rag,
clothes smell like a smokehouse, voice sounds like a bullfrog"-to recall his name.
tering a rattle. She'll look at it closely, pick it up, and run her
fingers around it, shake it, listen to whether it makes a sound,
You have now tagged someone's name with not just one or
and then most likely stick it in her mouth to taste and feel it
two associations, but at least four. If access to one associative
with her tongue and lips. The child's rapidly growing brain uses
pathway is partly blocked ("Gosh, he looks familiar"), you can
all of her senses to develop the network of associations that will
tap into associations based on other senses and do an end run
become her memory of a rattle.
around the obstruction. Adopting the strategies of forming
Now think of yourself finding a rattle on the floor.
multisensory associations when the brain is still at or near its
Most likely, you'll just look at it and instantly catalog it:
peak performanceâ€”in the forties and fiftiesâ€”builds a bulwark
"It's a rattle." The point is that a child is constantly tapping
against some of the inevitable loss of processing power later in
into the brain's ability to strengthen and increase connections
life. If your network of associations is very large, it's like hav-
between its many regionsâ€”for smelling, touching, hearing,
ing a very tightly woven net, and the loss of a few threads isn't
tasting, and seeingâ€”to produce an ever-growing tapestry
going to let much fall through.
HOW THE RAIN WORKS
KEEP YOUR BRAIN ALIVE
ferent are your commutes, your breakfasts, lunches, and din-
of associations...and neural activity.
ners, week in and week out? And what about things like shop-
Adults miss out on this multisen-
ping and laundry? It's startling to realize just how predictable
sory experience of new associations
and free from surprises our everyday lives really are and, as a
and sensory involvement because we
consequence, how little we tap into our brain's ability to make
tend to rely heavily on only one or two
senses. As we grow older, we find that
Now, routines are not necessarily bad. People created rou-
life is easier and less stressful when
tines because until recent times, the world was unpredictable,
it's predictable. So we tend to avoid
and finding food and shelter was filled with risk and
new experiences and develop routines Simultaneous sensory
input creates a neural danger. Once reliable sources of food, water, and shelter were
around what we already know and feel "safety net" that traps
discovered, it made sense to continue in the same patterns
comfortable with. By doing this, we information for future
that allowed them to be obtained with a minimum of risk.
reduce opportunities for making new access.
associations to a level that is less than ideal for brain fitness. Discovering and practicing successful routines in an
unpredictable world ensured survival.
But in our late-twentieth-century, middle-class American
ROUTINES CAN BE BRAIN-DEADENING lives, such unpredictability is largely gone. Food is readily
available at the local supermarket; water flows from the tap;
You may be reading this and thinking, "I lead a fairly active
weather-resistant, heated and cooled houses shrug off the cli-
life and my brain seems pretty stimulated. Sure, I have my
mate. Modern medicines ward off most common diseases.
routines, but it's not like I don't see new movies, listen to new
We even count on the fact that our favorite TV shows air
songs on the radio, watch TV, or meet new people."
each week at the same time.2
The truth, however, is that most of us go through our adult
What consequences does this predictability have on the
lives engaged in a series of remarkably fixed routines. Think
brain? Because routine behaviors are almost subconscious,
about your average week.. .or day-to-day life. Really, how dif-
HOW THE BRAIN WORKS
First Exposure Routine Novel
they are carried out using a minimum of brain energyâ€”and
provide little brain exercise. The power of the cortex to form
new associations is vastly underutilized.
If you drive or walk to work via the same route every day,
you use the same brain pathways. The neural links between
brain areas required to perform that trip become strong. But
other links to areas that were initially activated when the
route was novelâ€”such as a new smell, sight, or sound when
you rounded a certain cornerâ€”get weaker as the trip be-
comes routine. So you become very efficient at getting from
point A to point B, but at a cost to the brain. You lose out on
PET scans of three vertical slices of the brain show that significantly more path-
opportunities for novelty and the kind of diverse, multisen-
ways are activated (shown in cross-hatching) when the brain processes a Novel
sory associations that give the brain a good workout. task than when it performs a Routine one. During the routine task (middle column)
there is no increased activity in the anterior cortex, cerebellum, or frontal cortex.
THE BRAIN HUNGERS FOR NOVELTY But if it is simply more activity in the brain that leads to in-
creased neurotrophin production, then listening to more music
The human brain is evolutionarily primed to seek out and re-
(even noise), or watching more TV, or getting a massageâ€”all of
spond to what is unexpected or novelâ€”new information com-
which stimulate the sense organsâ€”would lead to better brain
ing in from the outside world that is different from what it
health. Such passive stimulation of the senses, however, doesn't
expects. It's what turns the brain on. In response to novelty, cor-
tical activity is increased in more and varied brain areas.3 This work as a brain exercise and neither does repeatedly doing the
same routine activities. Neurobics is neither passive nor routine.
strengthens synaptic connections, links different areas together
It uses the senses in novel ways to break out of everyday routines.
in new patterns, and pumps up production of neurotrophins.
HOW THE BRAIN WORKS
KEEP YOUR BRAIN ALIVE
OUR UNDERUSED SENSES far more relevant than they are today. A keen sense of smell
was often vital to survival. Native Americans could track ani-
Our five senses are the portals, or gateways, through which
mals by their smell; farmers could smell when a change in the
the brain gets its entire contact with the outside world. We
weather was about to happen; smell was important in making
rely primarily on our senses of vision and hearing because
sure that foods were safe to eat; doctors even used their sense
they quickly tell us a lot about our environment. Our other
of smell to diagnose illness. Today, unless you have a very spe-
sensesâ€”smell, taste, and touchâ€”are less frequently and obvi-
cial job, such as creating perfumes, aromas usually function as
ously called upon. To understand this better, close your eyes
masks (that's why we use deodorants and fragrances).
and try walking through a room. Instantly, the world around
Despite its diminished role in our daily lives, however, the
you changes radically. Sounds, smells, and spatial memories
sense of smell plays an important role in memory. Associations
of your physical surroundings leap into consciousness. With
based on odors form rapidly and persist for a very long time,
vision gone, your sense of touch suddenly becomes para-
unlike those based on the other
mount. Navigating even a familiar environment is a real chal-
senses. The olfactory system is the
lenge, and your brain goes into high alert.
only sense that has direct connec-
The brain has a huge network of pathways based on visual
tions to the cortex, hippocampus,
information. That's why so many everyday experiences are
and other parts of the limbic sys-
geared to visual appeal. In magazine, television, and billboard
tem involved in processing emo-
ads, businesses use visual associations to encourage purchasing
tions and storing memories (see
decisions. In a world increasingly dominated by shrink-
illustration, page 10). That's why
wrapped, plastic-packaged, and deodorized items, the efforts
certain aromas like fresh-baked
demanded of our other senses, such as touch and smell, are
bread or a particular flower, spice,
diminishedâ€”far more than we're consciously aware of.
or perfume can trigger an abun-
Information and associations based on smell used to be
dance of emotional responses that
HOW THE BRAIN WORKS
"SMART DRUGS" AND DIETS?
If, magically, there were a drug to increase mental per-
Progress in neuroscience research has also led to promising
Mrnance, it would do no good unless you were exercising
drugs for treating serious brain ailments like Alzheimer's
brain at the same time. It would be like drinking one of
and Parkinson's diseases. But an unfortunate by-product of
|ifaose high-protein boosters and then not doing any physi-
this progress in a society oriented to a "pill for every ill" is a
growing demand for medications, pills, or diet supple-
There are also claims that brain performance can be
ments that will either magically halt declines in mental
lanced or preserved by taking large amounts of certain
abilities or improve performance with a quick fix.
iturally occurring vitamins, minerals, or plant extracts,
The media perennially tout the promise of new memory-
lile there is no question that a well-balanced diet and
enhancing pills with advertisements for "smart drugs."
physical exercise are important for maintaining a healthy
There are, in fact, drugs that do increase the synaptic
JpMrain, there is no clear scientific evidence to support the
transmission in the brain in various ways, and some of
Ijclaimed memory benefits of specific dietary supplements.
these may provide short-term memory enhancements. The
We believe a more prudent route to brain health is to
problem is that there are always hidden and still unknown
planless the brain's ability to manufacture its own natural nu-
risks in using such drugs. (Remember the negative side ef-
strients. With this approach, neurotrophins and similar mol-
fects on athletes who took steroids to boost physical per-
fecules wUl be produced in the right places, and in the right
formance?) Furthermore, the effects of "smart drugs" are
lamounts, without side effects.
only short term, so they have to be taken continuously.
HOW THE RAIN WORKS
stimulate the memory of events associated with them. (For ex-
As we age, our social circles tend to shrink, so an important as-
ample, realtors often advise you to have something delicious
pect of Neurobic exercise is to find opportunities to interact
baking in the oven when you're showing your house for sale.
with others. Not only does this engage our interest, which di-
And if you saw Scent of a Woman, you'll remember how Al Pa-
rectly helps us to remember things, but as the MacArthur
cino's blind character could call up complex associations based
Foundation's studies on aging have clearly demonstrated, so-
on smell alone.) cial interactions themselves have positive effects on overall
THE SIXTH SENSE: EMOTION The pace and structure of modern life has reduced the
number and intensity of our ordinary, day-to-day social inter-
Researchers are finding that brain circuits for emotions are
actions, just as modern conveniences have deprived us of
just as tangible as circuits for the senses, and advanced imag-
the richness of many sensory stimulations. Remember when
ing techniques can now observe this.4 It is also clear from a
buying gas meant talking with an attendant instead of
number of studies that one's ability to remember something is
swiping a card at a gas pump? Or getting cash involved deal-
largely dependent on its emotional context.5 As we discussed
ing with a bank teller instead of pushing buttons on an ATM
earlier, the hippocampus is more apt to tag information for
machine? Or a night out involved going to the movies with a
long-term memory if it has emotional significance. That's why
crowd rather than renting a video and sitting alone in front of
engaging emotions through social interactions is a key strat-
your VCR? And the computer and the Internet have isolated
egy of Neurobics. us even further from any number of personal transactions.
Interactions with other people are an important trigger of
There's ample evidence today that being out in the real
emotional responses. Also, since social situations are generally
world, where you're engaging all the senses, including the im-
unpredictable, they are more likely to result in nonroutine ac-
portant emotional and social "senses," is essential to a healthy
tivities. Most people have a strong, built-in need for these in-
brain and an active memoryâ€”especially as you age.
teractions, and in their absence, mental performance declines.
KEEP YOUR BRAIN ALIVE
The aim of Neurobics and the exercises that follow is to pro-
vide you with a balanced, comfortable, and enjoyable way to
stimulate your brain.
As we have shown, Neurobics is a scientifically based
program that helps you modify your behavior by introducing
the unexpected to your brain and enlisting the aid of all your
senses as you go through your day. An active brain is a
healthy brain, while inaction leads to reduced brain fitness. here is nothing magic about Neurobics. The magic lies in
Or, in simpler wordsâ€”"Use it or lose it." the brain's remarkable ability to convert certain kinds of
mental activity into self-help. Happily for everyone with busy
lives, there is no need to find a special
time or place to do Neurobic exercises. 'lr\'
Everyday life is the Neurobic Brain
Gym. Neurobics requires you to
do two simple things you may ^
have neglected in your lifestyle: )
Experience the unexpected and
enlist the aid of a!! your senses in the course of the day.
No exercise program is going to help if you aren't moti-
vated and can't find time to do it. That's why Neurobic exer-
cises are designed to fit into what you do on an ordinary
HOW NEUROBICS WORKS
KEEP YOUR BRAIN ALIVE
aren't these Neurobic activities? What is it about the specific
dayâ€”getting up, commuting, working, shopping, eating, or
things we suggest that make them Neurobic?
relaxing. Just as weight-loss experts advise against fad diets in
To begin with, not everything that's novel provides the
favor of changing your overall eating habits, Neurobics is rec-
kind of nerve cell stimulation necessary to activate new brain
ommended as a lifestyle choice, not a crash course or a quick fix.
circuits and enhance neurotrophin production. For example,
Simply by making small changes in your daily habits, you can
if you normally write with a pen and one day choose to write
turn everyday routines into "mind-building" exercises. It's like
everything in pencil, you've broken your routine and are do-
improving your physical state by using the stairs instead of the
ing something new. But such a small change wouldn't register
elevator or walking to the store instead of driving. Neurobics
as an important new sensory association. It would not be
won't give you back the brain of a twenty-year-old, but it can
enough to engage the circuitry required to really give your
help you to access the vault of memories and experience that a
brain a workout.
twenty-year-old simply doesn't own. And it can help you keep
Contrast this with deciding one day to change the hand
your brain alive, stronger, and in better shape as you grow older.
you normally write with. If you are right-handed, controlling
Many Neurobic exercises challenge the brain by reducing
a pen is normally the responsibility of the cortex on the left
its reliance on sight and hearing and encouraging the less fre-
side of your brain. When you change to writing left-handed,
quently used senses of smell, touch, and taste to play a more
the large network of connections, circuits, and brain areas in-
prominent role in everyday activities. By doing so, rarely acti-
volved in writing with your left hand, which are normally
vated pathways in your brain's associative network are stimu-
rarely used, are now activated on the right side of your brain.
lated, increasing your range of mental flexibility.
Suddenly your brain is confronted with a new task that's en-
WHAT MAKES AN EXERCISE NEUROBIC? gaging, challenging, and potentially frustrating.
So, what are the conditions that make an exercise Neuro-
Throughout the course of every day, your brain is activated by
bic? It should do one or more of the following:
your senses, and you encounter new stimuli all the time. Why
KEEP YOUR BRAIN ALIVE HOW NEUROBICS WORKS
WHAT HAPPENS IN THE BRAIN
1. Involve one or more of your senses in a novel context.
By blunting the sense you normally use, force yourself to WITH NEUROBICS
rely on other senses to do an ordinary task. For instance:
Let's look again at the example on page x of Jane returning
Get dressed for work with your eyes closed. home from work and entering her apartment, but now let's
Eat a meal with your family in silence. consider what is actually happening in her brain that makes
these few minutes of her day a Neurobic exercise.
Or combine two or more senses in
unexpected ways: "''/â€¢ Jane reached into her pocketbook and fished inside for the keys to her
apartment. Usually they were in the outside flap
Listen to a specific piece of music while
but not today. "Did I forget them ?! No... here
smelling a particular aroma.
they are." She felt their shapes to figure out
2. Engage your attention. To stand out from the back- which one would open the top lock.
ground of everyday events and make your brain go into
Jane's keys are in the depths of
alert mode, an activity has to be unusual, fun, surprising,
her handbag, which is filled with
engage your emotions, or have meaning for you.
dozens of different objectsâ€”eyeglass
Turn the pictures on your desktop upside down. case, lipstick, tissuesâ€”each with
Take your child, spouse, or parent to your office for the day. a different texture and
shape. Instead of using
3. Break a routine activity in an unexpected, nontrivial way.
vision to quickly find
(Novelty just for its own sake is not highly Neurobic.)
the keys, as she might
Take a completely new route to work. routinely do, she relies
Shop at a farmers market instead of a supermarket. now on her sense of touch.
HOW NEUROBICS WORKS
nerve connections between her sense of touch and her pro-
Because getting into her apartment is important to her,
her brain's attentional and emotional circuits are active as she
touches the hard, smooth exterior of her lipstick case, moves Touching the wall lightly with her fingertips, she moved to the
past the soft feel of tissues, and eventually identifies the keys. closet on the right, found it, and hung up her coat. She turned
In her brain, long-dormant associations are being reactivated slowly and visualized in her mind the location of the table holding
between the areas of her cortex that process touch, areas in the her telephone and answering machine
visual part of her cortex that hold the mental "pictures" of ob-
On most days, and in most situations, Jane, like the rest
jects, and areas of the brain that store the names of objects.
of us, makes her way through the world using sight as a
This reactivation causes specific groups of nerve cells to
guide. Over time, her visual system has constructed a spatial
become more active in an unusual pattern for Jane. This in turn
"map" of her apartment in various parts of the brain. Her
can activate the cells' neurotrophin production and strengthen
other senses of touch and hearing have also been tied into
or build another set of connections in her brain's "safety net."
these maps, but these nonvisual connections are rarely called
It took her two tries until she heard the welcome click of the lock upon. Today, however, Jane is using her sense of touch to trig-
opening. ger a spatial memory of the room in order to navigate
through it. The touch pathways that access her spatial maps,
Normally, placing a key in a lock uses vision and "motor
usually dormant, are now critically important for accomplish-
memory"â€”an unconscious "map" in the parts of our brain
ing this simple task and unexpectedly get exercised. And the
that control movementâ€”which provides an ongoing feed-
same holds true for her other senses.
back that allows us to sense where parts of our body are in
Carefully she headed in that direction, guided by the feel of the
space. (This is called the proprioceptive sense.) But this time
leather armchair and the scent of a vase of birthday roses, anxious
Jane is trying to fit a key into a lock by using the motor map
to avoid the sharp edge of the coffee table and hoping to have some
in conjunction with her tactile, not visual, sense. And this
messages from her family waiting.
nonroutine action is activating and reactivating seldom-used
KEEP YOUR BRAIN ALIVE HOW NEUROBICS WORKS
Here, Jane's olfactory system is kicking into high gear to Furthermore, as a result of the exercise, a small but signifi-
do something it rarely doesâ€”help her smell her way through cant change has occurred in Jane's brain. New sensory associa-
the world. The olfactory system has a direct line into the tions, such as the feel of the leather armchair, had become part
hippocampus, the area of the brain that constructs spatial of her brain's vocabulary when she entered the room the next day.
maps of the world. The odor of the roses is working at several
brain levels. The emotional association of roses with her
birthday, combined with an important emotional goal of
getting to her answering machine and retrieving messages
from her family, makes them a strong, meaningful stimulus.
How TO USE THIS BOOK
In addition, Jane is constructing a powerful new associationâ€”
Like the body, the brain needs a balance of activities. Fortu-
not only are flowers something that smell good and make you
nately, the ordinary routines present hundreds of opportunities
feel good, but they can show you where you are in part
to activate your senses in extraor-
of your world.
dinary ways. To demonstrate how
Today was different... to incorporate Neurobics into your
life, we've taken some "snapshots"
Yes, it was. By spending just a few minutes doing all the
things she normally would do when coming home in a novel of a variety of daily activities. For
way, Jane had engaged literally dozens of new or rarely used most of the exercises that follow,
brain pathways. Synapses between nerve cells were strength- we give an explanation (in italics)
ened by these unusual and challenging activities. And in re- of what's going on in your brain
that makes the exercise work.
sponse to their enhanced activity, some of Jane's brain cells
were beginning to produce more brain growth molecules, Don't try to use Neurobic ex-
ercises for every activity all day
such as neurotrophins.
YOUR BRAIN ALIVE
long. Instead, pick one or two things from our Neurobic
menu: Try "Starting and Ending the Day" today and "Com-
muting" tomorrow. Mix and match from the various cate-
gories so your Neurobic exercises themselves don't become
routine. And don't give up those crossword puzzles, reading,
learning a new language, travel, engaging with stimulating
people, and other kinds of challenging activities that exercise
brain circuits in different ways. Once you get the hang of it,
we hope you'll begin inventing your own exercises â€” which is, ll of us have our morn-
ing rituals to get us
in itself, Neurobic.
Of course, as with any exercise program, you should be quickly and "mindlessly" out
aware of your own physical limitations. And if you have seri- the door. These set routines
ous concerns about your mental abilities, you should consult a allow the brain to go on au-
tomatic pilot and be more
qualified health care professional.
efficient. And at bedtime,
when we need to wind down
from a day of mental and
physical exertion, routines
are similarly comforting.
Because routines are so
ingrained in our mornings and evenings, they're ideal times
to inject a bit of novelty to awaken new brain circuits.
KEEP YOUR STARTING AND ENDING THE DAY
1. WAKE UP AND SMELL THE VANILLA 2. SHOWER WITH YOUR EYES CLOSED
1 o change your usual morning olfactory associationâ€”wak- .Locate the taps and adjust the temperature and flow using
ing to the smell of freshly brewed coffeeâ€”wake up to some- just your tactile senses. (Make sure your balance is good be-
thing differentâ€”vanilla, citrus, peppermint, or rosemary. fore you try this and use common sense to avoid burning or
Keep an extract of your favorite aroma in an airtight con- injury.) In the shower locate all necessary props by feel, then
tainer on your bedside table for a week and release it when wash, shave, and so on, with your eyes shut. Your hands will
you first awaken, and then again as you bathe and dress. probably notice varied textures of your own body you aren't
aware of when you are "looking."
^ Odds are you can't remember specifically when you "learned" to
associate the smell of coffee with the start of a day. By consistently ^ Even though it is probably the least intrusive or time-consum-
linking a new odor with your morning routine, you are activating ing Neurobic suggestion, this shower exercise will wake up the
new neural pathways. brain as described in "How Neurobics Works, "pages 35-38.
â€¢ Variation: Combine Exercises #2 and #4 by laying out your
wardrobe the night before (or have someone lay it out for
you). Then with your eyes closed, use only tactile associa-
tions to distinguish and put on pants, dress, socks, or panty
KEEP YOUR BRAIN ALIVE
STARTING AND ENDING THE DAY
3. BRUSHING ROULETTE which they usually don tparticipate. Research has shown that this
type of exercise can result in a rapid and substantial expansion of
JJrush your teeth with your nondominant hand (including circuits in the parts of the cortex that control and process tactile in-
opening the tube and applying toothpaste). You can substi-
formation from the hand.
tute any morning activityâ€”styling your hair, shaving, apply-
ing makeup, buttoning clothes, putting in cuff links, eating, Variation: Use only one hand to do tasks like buttoning a
or using the TV remote. shirt, tying a shoe, or getting dressed. For a real workout, try
using just your nondominant hand.
^ This exercise requires you to use the opposite side of your brain Another exercise that associates unusual sensory and mo-
instead of the side you normally use. Consequently, all those cir- tor pathways in your cortex with a routine activity is to use
cuits, connections, and brain areas involved in using your domi- your feet to put your socks and underwear in the laundry bas-
nant hand are inactive, while their counterparts on the other side ket or pick out your shoes for the day.
of your brain are suddenly required to direct a set of behaviors in
RAIN ALIVE STARTING AND ENDING THE DAY
4. A TOUCH OF STYLE 5. SAY WHAT?
Without looking, choose clothing, shoes, and so on, with Wear earplugs when you join the family for breakfast and
experience the world without sound.
matching or contrasting textures. For example, make it a silky,
smooth day or a rough, nubby day. Use not only your fingers but
^ Has your spouse ever complained that you are only "half-
also your cheeks, lips, and even your feetâ€”they're all packed
listening"? If you're in the middle of a morning routine, it's proba-
with receptors for fine touch.
bly true. By virtue of ingrained routines, your brain has a pretty
good idea of what to expect each morning, so only a few words are
^ Extensive practice using
enough for you to follow a sentence. And, engrossed in a newspaper
the fingers to make fine dis-
or listening to the radio, you "tune out" most other sensory inputs.
tinctions between objects or
Blocking a major sensory route by wearing earplugs forces you to
textures causes expansion and
use other cues to accomplish even simple tasks like knowing when
rewiring of the brain areas in-
the toast is done or passing the sugar bowl.
volved in touch. This has been
observed in monkeys trained
to use their fingers to get food
and in brain imaging exper-
iments in blind human
STARTING AND ENDING THE DAY
K E F. P YOUR BRAIN ALIVE
7. CREATE A SENSORY SYMPHONY
6. INTRODUCE NOVELTY
IN THE BATH
We wouldn't recommend trying all these things on the same
J\X the end of the day, when you want to wind down, try some-
morning, but do incorporate one or two of the following:
thing relaxing and Neurobic, such as a warm bath. Use a vari-
â€¢ Vary the order in which you do your normal routine (e.g.,
ety of sensory stimuliâ€”aromatic bath oils and soaps, sponges,
get dressed after breakfast).
loofah, body scrubs, candlelight, champagne or tea, music,
â€¢ If a bagel and coffee is your daily fare, try something else plush towels, and moisturizer. Luxuriate in a cavalcade of
like hot oatmeal and herbal tea. scents, textures, and lighting to create link-
ages between old and new associations.
â€¢ Change the setting on your radio alarm or tune into a
morning TV program you never watch. Sesame Street, for
^ Certain odors evoke distinct moods
example, may arouse the brain to notice how much of what
(alertness, calmness, etc.) in
you take for granted is explored in depth by children.
many people. In a Neurobic
â€¢ Walk the dog on a new route. (Yes, you can teach old dogs
bath, simply by pairing a spe-
cific odor and/or music with
an enjoyable, relaxing ac-
^ Brain imaging studies show that novel tasks activate large ar-
tivity, you form a useful
eas of the cortex, indicating increased levels of brain activity in
stress-relieving association that
several distinct areas. This activity declined when the task had
can be tapped simply by
become routine and automatic. Much greater "brain power" is
smelling the aroma or hear-
exerted for novel verses automatic (rote) tasks.
ing the melody again.
STARTING AND ENDING
KEEP YOUR RAIN ALIVE
9. SEX: THE ULTIMATE
8. AURAL PLEASURES
rvead aloud with your partner. Alternate the roles of reader
and listener. It may be a slow way to get through a book, but JVlany of the techniques we've suggested in other sections of
it's a good way to spend quality time and gives you something this book, like shutting one's eyes to heighten sensation in
to discuss other than your day at work. other senses, are an intuitive part of sexual exploration. Nov-
eltyâ€”the thrill of the newâ€”plays a central role in sexual
^ When we read aloud or listen to someone reading, we use very arousal. Especially in a long-term marriage, the challenge
different brain circuits than when we read silently. One of the ear- (and fun) of lovemaking is finding ways to make each time
liest demonstrations of brain imaging clearly showed three distinct with one's partner a fresh adventure.
brain regions lighting up when the same word was read, spoken, or Use your imagination and pull out all the sensory
heard. For example, listening to words activated two distinct areas stops.. .wear silk, strew the bed with rose petals, burn lavender
in the left and right hemispheres of the cortex, while speaking incense, have chilled champagne, massage with perfumed oils,
words activated the motor cortex on both sides of the brain as well put on a romantic CD.. .and whatever else turns you on.
as another part of the brain called the cerebellum. Just looking at
words activated only one area of the cortex in the left hemisphere. ^ To think that a good sexual encounter also helps keep the brain
alive is almost too good to be true. But it is; more than most "rou-
tine activities," sex uses every one of our senses and, of course, en-
gages our emotional brain circuits as well.
W e use mental maps to navigate through our daily lives.
By middle age, we've created hundreds of these maps
and can readily recall the layout of rooms in houses where
we've lived, street grids in towns, interstate highway net-
works, and the relationships of countries and continents to
each other. Because losing one's sense of place is confusing, or
even frightening, the brain devotes a lot of processing power
to forming and interpreting these mental maps.
Early Polynesian sailors didn't have AAA TripTiks or
global positioning systems. They navigated the Pacific by pay-
ing attention to multisensory cuesâ€”subtle changes in ocean
waves, the smell of the sea, the types of seaweed drifting by,
and the feel and direction of the wind. In short, these early ex-
plorers had available all the ingredients for Neurobic exercise:
an important task, the use of all their senses, and novel associ-
ations! Today, the opportunities to exercise our brain by ex-
ploring uncharted seas are limited. Most days, our visuospatial
abilities are called upon to do something much more ordi-
naryâ€”the daily commute.
KEEP YOUR BRAIN ALIVE COMMUTING
1. THE SIGHTLESS START
Unfortunately, the commute is
about as far from Neurobic exercise
as you can get. It's predictable, If you drive to work, enter and get ready to start the car with
routine, and brain-numbing. We've your eyes closed. Using only your sense of touch and spatial
all had the experience of getting to memory, find the correct key on your key chain, unlock the car
work and having almost no recol- door, slide into the seat, buckle your seatbelt, insert the key into
lection of how we got there. Most the ignition, and locate familiar controls like the radio and
of the ride is spent encased in a windshield wipers.
cocoonlike environment, shielding
us from the sights, sounds, and ^ Just as in the Jane example, on page 35, your tactile sense trig-
smells of the outside world, and gers a spatial memory of where things are via rarely used sets of
often from other people as well. brain pathways. Closing your eyes also opens up opportunities to
But with a little planning and rethinking, your commut- form additional associationsâ€”like the detailed feel of your keys or
ing time can be changed from a passive, mindless activity to the cold steel of the seat-belt buckleâ€”that are suppressed when you
one that strengthens the brain. Here are some ideas on how rely solely on sight.
to transform your daily trip into a Neurobic workout.
KEEP YOUR BRAIN ALIVE COMMUTING
2. BLAZE NEW TRAILS
lake a different route to work. If you're driving, open the win-
dows as in Exercise #4 to help construct a new mental map. If
you walk to work, the Neurobic possibilities are even greater.
^ On your routine commute, the brain goes on automatic pilot and
gets little stimulation or exercise. An unfamiliar route activates the
cortex and hippocampus to integrate the novel sights, smells, and
sounds you encounter into a new brain map.
In one Seinfeld episode, Kramer is asked how to get to Coney Is-
land from Manhattan. He launches into an elaborate description of
subways and buses involving numerous changes scattered through-
out the city, various alternatives at each point, and the consequences
of each choice. Elaine pipes up and says, "Couldn't you just take the D
train straight there?" Well, of course you can. But in this case Kramer
was thinking and living "Neurobically," looking for alternative
pathways, new possibilities, and engaging his brains associative
powers and navigational abilities to engage in flexible, spatial
thinking. Elaine, alas, remains trapped by routine.
EEP YOUR BRAIN ALIVE
3. FEEL IN CONTROL ^ Different textures produce patterns of activity in the so-
matosensory cortex of your brain (that's why you can tell them
apart). But after repeated exposure to the same texture, your brain
utimulate the tactile pathways involved in the routines of
barely pays attention. When you change these textures, drivingfeels
steering, shifting, and signaling by prodding your brain with
differentâ€”and your brain can no longer use familiar assumptions
new materials. (It's important that the new textures be on the
for controlling the car. In addition, using different textures during
controls, because that gives the new sensory input impor-
an activity like driving can activate other association networks in
tanceâ€”you need to drive accurately and skillfully, so you pay
a new context. You might end up describing the morning commute
attention to anything involved in that process.) Improvise by
as "rough," not because the traffic was bad, but because that was the
attaching (with double-stick tape or Velcro) different textures
tactile stimulus you experienced during the drive.
(various grades of sandpaper, for example) to the steering
wheel or gear shift. Or buy a few inexpensive steering wheel
covers with unusual texturesâ€”raised grips, terry cloth, tex-
tured vinylâ€”and use a different one each week.
â€¢ Consider swapping cars with a friend who has a very differ-
ent kind of car (a stick-shift, van, or sport utility vehicle, for
â€¢ If you're usually the driver, switch and ride in the backseat.
Your perspective on the drive will be totally different.
KEEP YOUR BRAIN ALIVE
5. TIME TO PUT THE GLOVES ON
4. WINDOWS OF OPPORTUNITY!
Wear work gloves (or heavy mittens) while driving. Blunting
Oimply opening the windows as you drive will let in a tapes-
your sense of fine touch forces you to rely on other cues to
try of smellsâ€”fresh rain on a macadam road, a street vendor's
steer the car or change stations on the radio. Caution: Do this
cart, leaves burning in autumnâ€”and soundsâ€”birds singing,
only when weather conditions and traffic permit.
kids yelling in a school playground, sirensâ€”that mark your
route. Like an ancient navigator, your brain will begin to
^ In addition to fine touch, the skin has receptors for heat, cold,
make and recall associations between the sights, sounds, and
and deep pressure. By blunting fine touch you enhance the role of
odors that you encounter.
information coming from pressure receptors and activate different
brain pathways involved in driving.
^ Remember that the hippocam-
pus is especially involved in asso-
ciating odors, sounds, and sights to
construct mental maps. Opening
the windows provides these cir-
cuits with more raw material.
6. FOLLOW YOUR NOSE
MAKING A SCENT CANISTER
Use odors to form a specific association with a place. Prepare
Cut an ordinary household sponge into 'A-inch cubes.
five scent canisters labeled 1 to 5 (see opposite page). At some
Assemble a variety of different-smelling liquids: for ex-
specific point in your commuteâ€”when you pass a certain
ample, vanilla, lemon oil, lavender, cloves, vinegar, or ex-
building, exit, or landmarkâ€”open and smell canister #1 for a
tracts of different flowers or herbs from your own garden
few seconds to give the place an olfactory "tag." Having created
or from a health food store. Put a drop or two of liquid
an association between a specific odor and a place, the presence
on each sponge and place it in a 35 mm film canister. Try
of either the odor or the place will thereafter activate that asso-
to make at least five different canisters.
ciation. For example, the smell of cloves may call up a mental
Leave a canister loosely covered in
image or verbal reference of the "big red house" you tagged.
your car door pocket or cup holder, and
On another day, use another scent canister to "tag" a dif-
open it occasionally for a direct sniff. For
ferent place on your route, and so on.
a stronger, longer-lasting stimulus, wedge
You can do this same exercise while strolling around your
the sponge into the car's air vent. Since
neighborhood or walking to work.
some odors linger a long time, be cau-
tious about which ones to use in this way.
^ This exercise creates an olfactory "route map" in your brain, link-
ing the brain areas that help you navigate with the cortical regions
that interpret odors. Marrying olfactory associations to places, peo-
ple, events, or things is also a powerful way to enhance memory.
KEEP YOUR BRAIN ALIVE
7. THE SCENT OF Music
.During your drive use aromas to form novel associations be-
tween smells and sounds. Instead of using a visual stimulation,
this exercise associates auditory stimulationâ€”musicâ€”with a
specific odor. Start by choosing an odor canister (either deliber-
ately or at random) and a favorite song on a CD or tape. Open
the odor canister and take a good sniff every time you listen to
that song. Imagine pairing pine odor with a country-western
ballad, lavender with the first movement of Beethoven's Sixth
Symphony, or cloves with Muddy Waters singing the blues. Be
creative with your sound-smell combinations: Try some odd
pairings and see what kinds of new associations spring to mind.