Give your brain a workout
Nobody expects a perfect body without regular gym visits, so why expect a sharp mind without doing mental exercise? Get yours in shape with a little brain training. By Ruth Tierney
When we're children, our brains are like sponges, soaking up every available nugget of information. Fast forward a few decades and our brains seem about as responsive as a dried-out flannel!
We may put our poor memories and lack of mental agility down to dying brain cells, but the reason is more likely lack of use. ‘It used to be assumed we started losing brain cells from an early age and those stocks couldn't be replenished,' says psychologist Danielle Heffernan, from The Mind Gym. ‘But scientists have now discovered that our brain actually reaches its peak between the ages of 40 and 60. The brain changes, adapts and is sharpened according to the experience it has. You may not be able to remember stuff you studied for exams, but you're in a better place to use the information you have got. You're more able to comprehend information, draw key points from a conversation and make reasoned personality judgements.'
So, if your brain is in its prime, how come you still can't remember where you left your glasses? ‘The memory is like a muscle, so it's a case of use it or lose it,' explains Danielle. ‘When our brain is stuck in the routine of daily life, it becomes lazy. You need to challenge it. Learning a musical instrument is a good way to protect it against ageing, as is reading the newspaper every day then discussing current affairs.'
There's also evidence to suggest that stretching the mind with brain teasers and puzzles helps to keep it young. Neuropsychologist Ian Robertson, from Trinity College Dublin, recently found that doing crosswords and Sudoku can knock 14 years off your brain's age.
Test your mental agility
Challenge your mind with these brain-teasers - you have three minutes from start to finish... The answers are at the bottom of the page.
Complete the next two letters in this sequence:
O T T F F S S E
Can you replace the missing vowels to complete these trees?
1. _ _K
3. T_ _K
9. L_ _R_L
10. M_PL _
Three people check into a hostel. They pay £30 to the manager and go to their room. The manager suddenly remembers that the room rate is £25 and gives £5 to the bellboy to return to the people. The bellboy reasons that £5 would be difficult to share among three people, so he pockets £2 and gives £1 to each person. Each person paid £10 and got back £1. So they paid £9 each, totalling £27. The bellboy has £2, totalling £29. Where's the missing £1?
Your daily brain-training regime
If you didn't do well in our mental agility section, practise these mental exercises from neuropsychologist Ian Roberston, for at least five minutes a day...
Spend two minutes memorising this list of 30 words, then see how many of them you can recall on a separate piece of paper in another two minutes.
Learn a poem
At school, we had to learn a poem off by heart every week. It was a challenge, especially as we often didn't understand a lot of them,' says Ian. ‘Give it a go again. Visit the library and borrow a volume of poetry. Pick one poem to learn off by heart and then try it out. It may take ten minutes a day, but a handy tip is to recite it to yourself last thing at night, and in the morning before you get out of bed. This "fixes" if firmly in your mind.'
Don't state the obvious
There are obvious responses to these questions:
● Name an animal beginning with E
● Name a colour beginning with O
● Name a flower beginning with T
● Name a country beginning with J
Most people will answer elephant, orange, tulip and Japan. See if you can come up with a less common answer to each. Then create five questions of your own along these lines.
For more exercises, read Ian Robertson's 'Puzzler Brain Trainer 90 Day Workout' (Carlton Books, £9.99).
ANSWERS: TEST 1 NT (these are the first letters of the sequence one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, and so on). TEST 2: Oak, yew, teak, aspen, balsa, cedar, ebony, olive, laurel, maple. TEST 3: There's no missing £1. Originally, they paid £30, they each got back £1, thus they now have only paid £27. Of this £27, £25 went to the manager for the room and £2 went to the bellboy.
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