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Brain Fitness

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After attending a recent staff training session offered by the library's Office of Staff Development, I decided to return to a habit of my childhood--eating sardines.

The training, entitled Use It or Lose It: The Science and Practice of Brain Fitness, was presented by Alvaro Fernandez of the company SharpBrains. He filled us in on cutting-edge research in the field of brain fitness, covering an impressive amount in less than two hours, making it fun, interesting and memorable. This last in the most literal sense, that is, making the scientific details vivid enough that we can remember them.

In discussing foods and supplements that may help the brain, I was pleased that he mentioned one of my childhood favorites--sardines--as a food that has been shown to improve brain health, along with other fish that have Omega-3 fatty acids. How do they do this? Find out here. Now, what kind of unusual child was I who craved sardine sandwiches for lunch? That's another question. I think I was fascinated by the cans, with the tiny keys...

One of the main things I took away from the session was the importance of variety--we have to do things we're not used to, be it writing haiku, tap dancing, juggling, or skydiving (O.K. he didn't suggest the last one, but why not?). Fernandez compared a good workout for the brain to a circuit workout for the body at a gym. We can't just exercise one brain "muscle," doing crossword puzzles or Wii. No, we must exercise the whole thing doing a range of exercises, including mental and physical exercises. We can even exercise our senses, and we learned a delightful way to do that. Take a small piece of truly good chocolate, go somewhere where you won't be disturbed for at least a few minutes, close your eyes, put it in your mouth, and just let it melt with no help from the rest of your mouth. Be sure to feel no guilt: remember, it's good for your brain!

The four pillars of brain health, according to Alvaro Fernandez, are: 1) A balanced diet; 2) Cardiovascular physical exercise; 3) Stress management; and 4) Brain exercise: Novelty, Variety, Challenge (as long as it doesn't stress us out).

A couple of books Mr. Fernandez recommended:

The Wisdom Paradox by Elkhonon Goldberg; and The Brain That Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science, by Norman Doidge.

So, check them out at the library. And forget the apples--eat your sardines. Or chocolate, as you prefer.

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Brain Health

The description of the brain health staff development is a good read. I would love to see similar public programs in the branch libraries. The "secret" to healthy aging is staying young at heart. Best wishes.

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