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Chuck, it’s been said that “we are what we eat.” But I think that “we are what we think” is even more powerful. So is health a case of mind over matter? – Josh C. in Alaska
When it comes to a case of “either … or,” the best option is almost always a case of “both … and.” We are what we eat and think, for indeed consumption includes brain food. But there’s no doubt that the most powerful material resource and tool in the human body is our mind.
In fact, the largest study ever done on cognitive thinking was just completed, and it showed that even a minimal amount of brain exercise performed by older adults significantly helped their mind’s agility and performance for 10 years, according to the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, in which the findings were published.
Nearly 3,000 adults with an average age of 74 engaged in brain training that involved only 10 to 12 sessions lasting 60 to 75 minutes each. The results were remarkable. Five years later, researchers discovered that these individuals outperformed untrained counterparts in reasoning skills, processing speed and memory – though the latter waned a bit in the following five years.
Johns Hopkins University Professor George Rebok, who led the study and is also an expert on aging, explained: “What we found was pretty astounding. Ten years after the training, there was evidence the effects were durable for the reasoning and the speed training.”
Fox News reported, “Participants in all three training groups also reported that they had an easier time with daily activities such as managing their medications, cooking meals or handling their finances than did participants who did not get the training.”
This study has shown one more angle of what we know is evident through human observation and behavior: The mind plays a colossal part in our health and fitness. Use it or lose it!
Consider some of the benefits of positive thinking and optimism alone, according to the Mayo Clinic:
- “Increased life span.
- “Lower rates of depression.
- “Lower levels of distress.
- “Greater resistance to the common cold.
- “Better psychological and physical well-being.
- “Reduced risk of death from cardiovascular disease.
- “Better coping skills during hardships and times of stress.”
In the August edition of the Canadian Medical Association Journal, researchers reviewed 16 studies spanning 30 years that examined patients’ attitudes toward health. They collectively pointed to the conclusion that an optimistic attitude can do wonders for healing and recovery, too, according to ABC News.
Regarding this latest study, a version of the trial’s speed training program is commercially available through the brain fitness company Posit Science, but there are brain exercises that are available to most of us right now and that don’t require our purchasing any mind games.
Neurologist and neuropsychologist Bernard Croisile, who pioneered a brain training concept and mental fitness games available at Happy-Neuron.com, told AskMen that he recommends five daily brain exercises, which are good for both genders and nearly all ages.
Based upon the five main cognitive functions – memory, attention, language, visual-spatial skills and executive function – Croisile recommends stimulating and challenging each area to stay mentally sharp as we and our brains age:
- By choosing a song you don’t know and memorizing its lyrics, you boost the level of the brain-building chemical acetylcholine (You can also memorize Scripture or poetry).
- Change your routine or combine activities – such as listening to an audiobook while jogging or doing math in your head while driving – to increase your attention span.
- Increase your vocabulary by reading something of a greater intellectual caliber than what you typically read or know. Understanding the new words in context will build your language skills.
- Enhance your visual-spatial abilities by picking out five things in any setting in our great, colorful three-dimensional world, and then recall those things and their locations a few times later in the day.
- Engage in some strategy and problem-solving situations (real or imaginary – yes, even through video games); your intellectual performance will expand your executive function.
We often speak about the power that our thinking has on our physical health. But let’s not forget the influence of the slightest exercise on our mental health, too. Any aerobics help the neural pathways and other connections in our brain.
John J. Ratey, an associate clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and author of “A User’s Guide to the Brain,” explained to WebMD: “I like to say that exercise is like taking a little Prozac or a little Ritalin at just the right moment. Exercise is really for the brain, not the body. It affects mood, vitality, alertness and feelings of well-being.”
And then there’s the example of Stephen C. Putnam, who took up canoeing to fight the symptoms of adult attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and ended up writing a book about the benefits of exercise for brain disorders, “Nature’s Ritalin for the Marathon Mind.”
Bottom line – as NBC News’ chief medical editor, Nancy Snyderman, explained: “This mind-body connection that we have been toying with for the past couple of decades really does have hard science behind it.”
With 76 million baby boomers in the U.S. going into retirement and advancing into old age, this is a timely reminder about the muscle in mental health. It’s what the writer of Proverbs wrote more than two millenniums ago: “As a person thinks, so he or she is.”
Write to Chuck Norris with your questions about health and fitness. Follow Chuck Norris through his official social media sites, on Twitter @chucknorris and Facebook’s “Official Chuck Norris Page.” He blogs at ChuckNorrisNews.blogspot.com.