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Boosting your brain power

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Image by Pete Linforth from Pixabay

As we age, our bodies undergo changes, and so does our brain. However, just like our muscles, the brain can be strengthened and kept sharp through consistent effort. Engaging in challenging mental activities like learning a new language, playing music, and exercising can significantly improve cognitive function and overall well-being in later years.

Learning a new language pushes the brain to form new connections and pathways. It requires memorization, comprehension, and application of complex grammar rules, all of which stimulate brain cell growth and improve cognitive flexibility. Studies have shown that multilingual individuals have better focus, problem-solving skills, and even delayed memory decline compared to those who speak only one language.

Similarly, playing music activates a multitude of brain regions simultaneously. Reading sheet music, coordinating movements, and translating visual cues into sound all work together to create a cognitive workout. This not only enhances memory and focus but also strengthens motor skills and hand-eye coordination. The rhythmic and emotional aspects of music can also elevate mood and reduce stress, further contributing to brain health.

In the new book Mastery: How Learning Transforms Our Brains, Minds, and Bodies noted psychologist and author Arturo E. Hernandez, Ph.D., reveals how the skills we marvel at and yearn to possess are not born or built purely through discipline. Instead, as he makes clear, new skills bloom from combining, recombining and layering small parts that represent an amazing new whole. And in the process of mastering a new skill, one can spark new cell growth in the brain and fight off mental atrophy which can lead to dementia.

Exercise isn't just beneficial for the body; it's a boon for the brain as well. Physical activity increases blood flow, delivering vital oxygen and nutrients to the brain cells. This not only improves cognitive function but also promotes the growth of new brain cells, a process known as neurogenesis. Regular exercise has been linked to improved memory, sharper focus, and a reduced risk of age-related cognitive decline.

Engaging in these activities not only keeps the brain sharp but also fosters a sense of purpose and accomplishment. Learning a new language opens doors to new cultures and experiences. Playing music allows for self-expression and creativity. Exercise boosts energy levels and improves overall health. All these factors contribute to a better quality of life and a more fulfilling experience as we age.

Keeping our brains sharp as we age is not just about maintaining cognitive abilities; it's about embracing new challenges, fostering creativity, and living a more enriching life. By incorporating activities like learning a new language, playing music, and exercising into our routines, we can ensure that our minds stay sharp, and our spirits remain high throughout our golden years.


ARTURO E. HERNANDEZ, Ph.D., is a professor of psychology at the University of Houston and an expert in the brain bases of bilingualism, the foundation of his first book, The Bilingual Brain. He has won prestigious awards for his work, including the Wilhelm Bessel Research Award from the Humboldt Foundation in Germany and a Fulbright Global Scholar Award. Fluent in four languages—English and Spanish (both of which he learned as a child), Portuguese (which he mastered in early adulthood) and German (which he learned in his 30s). He is also an avid tennis player who has competed in tournaments and spent time coaching his children.

"The Source" is a live call-in program airing Mondays through Thursdays from 12-1 p.m. Leave a message before the program at (210) 615-8982. During the live show, call 833-877-8255, email thesource@tpr.org.

This interview will be recorded on Thursday, June 6, 2024.

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David Martin Davies can be reached at dmdavies@tpr.org and on Twitter at @DavidMartinDavi