Monday, March 17, 2008

Mental Fitness

As one ages it is often perceived that the mind becomes less sharp. Concentration is not as good and reaction times have reduced. I suspect that we become a little hard on ourselves, interpreting a momentary lapse in memory as early onset Alzheimer’s or dementia. What good would a fine body be if the brain was totally shot? So we fear the breakdown of mental faculties more than we fear the aging of our bodies. Yet I remember making an awful lot of dumb mistakes when I was younger – the most spectacular being while on a first date, thinking that the play, Fiddler on the Roof, was finished when it was only half time. Needless to say that was the first and only date with that particular young lady. I saw her a few years later and she had put on a spectacular amount of weight on her thighs making her look extremely odd. It was a super dumb mistake but then maybe it was for the best - I am just sooo shallow. Yet I didn’t put this faux pas down to mental illness or even think it was that bad a mistake at the time – I remember thinking for a short time that I still had a chance with her – how retarded is that? I’m sure I would not make this mistake today so people probably improve with age. The older brain does have some advantages over the younger one. It might not be as quick but it is generally wiser and mellower. It is not so susceptible to boredom as it doesn’t perceive the passing of time quite the same. In some ways this is an advantage because it makes tedious cardio workouts quite a bit more bearable. I remember when I first started jogging when I was in my early twenties that the first mile was almost unbearably long yet now it seems very little and is over in no time. These days I have to think about reducing my cardio workouts.

Nevertheless it seems that the brain should be exercised along with the body. It makes sense that mental faculties could diminish with lack of use much like every other part of our bodies. When I started studying for exams again a good fifteen years after having sat the last one it seemed impossible. My mind was just useless for any sort of learning. Yet after a bit of perseverance and especially after a successful exam pass I soon got back into it and succeeded spectacularly. I noticed that my alertness improved. I could remember things a lot more easily and found study to be a useful exercise for many other aspects of my life.

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