How to Keep Your Brain Young

Elerly man dancing in street procession while wearing cap and gown

Credit:: Raoul van Wijk CC BY-SA 2.0

Optimism for Aging: 94-year-old Scientist a Role Model for an Alert Mind

If you don’t want to plan for being old, rickety, forgetful and sitting in your rocking chair as the sun sets on your life, look to robust elders like John Goodenough, a 94-year-old scientist at the University of Texas Austin.

Goodenough co-invented the lithium battery at age 57. In the decades since then, he’s kept challenging himself to improve upon his invention.

Now at 94, he’s stirred excitement in the scientific community by filing a patent for a lightweight battery that could finally bring electric cars into the mainstream. He keeps pushing his creativity forward.

“I’m old enough to know you can’t close your mind to new ideas,” Goodenough said in an article in The New York Times. “You have to test out every possibility if you want something new.”

Having a Purpose in Life Good for Brain Health

Goodenough worked in physics, chemistry, and materials science and rounded out scientific pursuits with an interest in social and political trends. The energy crisis of the 1970s inspired him to imagine storing power in tiny packages and we continue to use his lithium-ion technology in our laptops, phones and electric cars. But his determination to help push society off fossil fuels and use ‘greener’ energy led to his recent patent for the lightweight battery.

“One of the things that’s important in the society is to wean ourselves from our dependence on fossil fuels, and if we could make an electric car that would be as convenient and as cheap as an internal-combustion engine, we’d get CO2 emissions off the road,” said Goodenough.

Challenge Yourself to Keep Your Brain Young

The 94-year-old scientist who continues to push boundaries is a good example of what researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital have recently discovered. In a study of “superagers,” people over 65 who have the brain function of those in their 20s, scientists discovered one essential common habit – “superagers” continuously challenge themselves.

Mental and physical challenges create strong emotions and researchers found those emotions have a positive effect on brain function. The challenges shouldn’t be just crossword puzzles or brain games.

“In short, do stuff that’s difficult. Challenge yourself, and keep challenging yourself until you encounter enormous frustration. And then push on through that frustration and try some more,” the researchers said in an article in Business Insider.

Some Challenges to Keep Your Mind Alert

The key is to do something different – to stretch. Here are some suggestions.

  • Learn to play a musical instrument – try an instrument you haven’t played before or push to a higher level on one you do play. For an extra nudge, plan a time to play a piece for family or friends.
  • Study a language you don’t know – or set a personal challenge in a language you have been studying. For instance, read a book in that language or plan a trip to a country where they speak it, so you’ll be forced to use it.
  • Choose a physical challenge – with consideration of any health issues, of course, start swimming or hiking or learn a new style of dance. Make sure the challenge is a little harder than what you usually do.
  • Get on stage – If it’s outside your comfort level, try an acting or singing class or promise to give a speech to a local group.

Remember, whatever you choose has to be a challenge – that’s what helps keep your brain young.

References

Kennedy, Pagan, “To Be a Genius, Think Like A 94-year-old,” New York Times, April 7, 2017 

Zetlin,Minda, “Scientists Discovered a Simple Way to Keep Your Brain Young as You Age,” Business Insider, Feb. 13, 2017

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