We all know that as the body gets older it tends to become less supple. Muscles, joints and bones become creaky and brittle. But with a good diet and smart exercise you can delay this process by decades.
Did you know that your brain also becomes less supple and flexible with each passing year?
Thoughts seem ephemeral, but the process of thinking is quite physical. Electrochemical signals flicker through your neural network all day long, with synapses sparking between each other thousands of times a second. Just like a well used hiking trail, frequent thoughts have less unobstructed synaptic pathways. Novel ideas have to hack out a new trail. In other words, it’s physically easier to think an old thought than a new one.
When we’re young, we have no problem spinning off new ideas and holding contrary opinions in our head at the same time.
The brain is fresh and supple. But as you've no doubt noticed, older people can get set in their ways. They lose the ability to see the world from different viewpoints or accept unfamiliar ideas. They give up on new challenges more easily and stick with what they know.
The solution to get a supple brain is the same as getting a supple body. Exercise! In the case of the brain, the exercise is about having new experiences, exposing yourself to new ways of thinking, and putting in the hard work of wrestling with new concepts, even though it’s very uncomfortable at the time. So just as you schedule a few hours a week for physical exercise, allow some time for mental workouts as well. This could be something like learning a new language, taking up a new hobby, or attending a workshop on an unfamiliar topic.
It doesn't have to be a huge commitment. Just try to do something this week that you’ve never done before, even if it’s a small, simple activity. It's interesting to note that doing crosswords, sudoku, or brain training games has not been shown to increase overall mental sharpness. It just makes you really good at crosswords, sudoku, or brain training games. New activities and staying social are much more important for maintaining brain suppleness.
Keep stretching that beautiful brain you have. Be the old person who's having fun and keeping up with the kids, not yelling at them to get off your lawn!