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Posted: May 04, 2005

Professional Caregiving

Brain Strain -- An Exercise in Brain Aerobics

Have you ever seen your brain sweat? Don't you think this is possible after heavy mental exercise -- brain aerobics, if you will? 

 A few columns ago I mentioned the brain exercise software developed by Posit Sciences. Since then, I have been bumping into books, articles and interviews, all stressing this new brain health activity.  Posit Science, the Alzheimer's Association Brain Health agenda, and AARP's articles on mind aerobics have all joined in the fun. 

I just returned from a presentation in Akron, Ohio, in which dementia care was the topic.  Last week you read about Ann Morrison's Alzheimer's research. She stressed the residual improvement one gets from staying active, learning new skills, languages and activities.

Here I have developed a menu of brain aerobic exercises.  Consider which you might want to implement with your clients and their families, your staff and yourself included!

Stretch and Kvetch

This is an exercise in learning a new skill. It involves stretching beyond the comfort zone. Maybe it's a new language, or new skill, but the point is that the learning should be a challenge, which is what the scientists say strengthens the synapses, wiring and connections in the brain. Remember my IPOD column? Well, when I got home from Akron, I sat myself down, read the handbook (Ugh!) and followed the instructions for downloading music.  Yes, I kvetched (groaned and complained, for those of you not familiar with the term), but this mind stretch will prepare me for the next techno challenge that is coming around the corner.


Not ready for Super Jeopardy or the Millionaire?  Warm up your brain with cognisthenics, just like its companion, calisthenics, you work on strengthening those muscles in your head through short, but intense memory tasks. For example, list as many vegetables as you can in two minutes, write a 10-line poem that rhymes with the words "wine" and "roses," sing your college football anthem from start to finish, recite songs you learned in the school choir and haven't sung aloud in decades, do a math sequence of adding 5 to a beginning number, subtract three, add five, subtract three and keep going for a few minutes. There! Now, you are warmed up!

Memory Jogging in Place

This is also known as "Sweating to the Oldies -- Memories, That Is." Here are some exercises for memory jogging in place.  Have your exercise partner name countries, and then you shoot back the capitals. Or list the planets in order, then backwards. Even try reciting the alphabet backwards. Memorize a short poem (Shel Silverstein is a good start) and sing the theme songs from Gilligan's Island, Green Acres, the Jetsons, and wrap it up with the Flintstones. Are you sweating yet?

You are working yourself up to the intensive now. 

Try Mathelon

This exercise will keep you on your toes so you can easily compute the tip when dining out, calculate room dimensions when ordering carpet, compute kilometers walked and many more life situations demanding math skills.  Compute the square footage of each of your rooms (hint -- length times width) in your head, add the ages of everyone in your family, now calculate everyone's ages in dog years (last time I heard, it was 7 years for every one human year), and finally think of the last five purchases you made and figure out what they would have cost had they been on 30% sale.

Isn't this fun? Let's keep going! You should be sweating by now. 

Pumping Iron-y 

This fun exercise requires you to search for examples of irony. For example, isn't it ironic that after developing all these brain exercises for you and your clients, I can't come up with one thing that is ironic to use here as an example. That is a perfect example of Pumping Iron-y. (Pumping Puns, anyone?) 

Finally, you have reached ultimate brain fitness, and you are ready for: 

Marathon Funning

This regimen requires that you memorize three jokes each day and tell them to three people.  OK, for beginners in this category, memorize one and tell it to yourself three times a day. You are ready for the City Marathon Fun when you can maintain consistent three joke/three person/day intensity. This may force you to find new friends as your present victims might start hiding from you; but expanding your social networks is also part of good brain health. 


Cool down. Lie on a mat. Focus on your core with cog-yoga. You have worked your mind hard, so it's time for relaxing, for better focus. This exercise is done by closing your eyes, breathing deeply, bringing your navel to you spine, tightening all muscles, then releasing, and when any thought comes to mind, release it into the atmosphere. Just let it go. Try this for 10 minutes every day!

Like a true athlete, you may want to cross-train, so choose a different exercise to do daily with a partner, which makes it more fun and keeps you accountable.  Keep those synapses popping!


Sylvia Nissenboim is a licensed clinical social worker and who has been working in the field of adult day services in the St. Louis area. She is the director of four adult care and enrichment centers for the American Red Cross and also operates a personal and professional coaching firm, LifeWork Transitions, specializing in caregiving concerns, adult day care management and other aging services, such as virtual coaching and family care giving support groups. She co-authored The Positive Interactions Program, is a national speaker, and has served as president of the Missouri Adult Day Care Association and as a member of the Missouri Governor's Advisory Council on Aging..

© 2005 Pederson Publishing, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Commercial use, redistribution or other forms of reuse of this information is strictly prohibited without the prior written permission of Pederson Publishing.

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