Question of the Week

March 15, 2004


Have you heard the expression, "Use it or lose it"? When it comes to your brain, scientists seem to think that may be the case.

"'The observation is this: if individuals engage in mental activities such as solving crossword puzzles, solving mathematical problems, writing creatively. And if you do that on a regular basis, that kind of activity appears to have a protective effect against Alzheimer's disease. The specific kind of mental activity that‚s associated with that protection has not been worked out and is the subject of further research.'"

Since playing math games may not be your first choice for fun, there are other ways to keep your brain active.

"US researchers claim taking part in a lot of leisure activities, such as visiting friends or relatives can reduce a person's risk of developing [Alzheimer's disease] by as much as 38%. Reading a book or magazine, seeing a movie or going for a walk are also activities which may help, they say....The US study backs up previous research which suggested mental and physical activity may help prevent Alzheimer's disease....Over seven years, researchers looked at how often they participated in 13 common leisure activities which were classed as intellectual, physical or social....Comparing those who developed dementia with those who did not showed that those people who had high leisure activities were 38% less likely to develop dementia....And each activity people participated in was linked to an additional 8% reduction in risk."

If Alzheimer's seems like something in the distant future that you'll never have to worry about, then think of some ways this knowledge can help you--or someone you love--right now. Could you encourage your parents or grandparents to take time for a hobby they have always enjoyed--or maybe help them find a new one? Do they have skills that you would like to learn? Do you have any skills that you could share with them? Planning for the future is important, and it's good to think about the health of others, but what about your health and life right now. Does any of this brain stretching help people under the age of forty?

"Researchers from Hong Kong have found children who are given musical training have better verbal memories than those who have not had lessons....All the children were given verbal memory tests, to see how many words they recalled from a list, and a visual memory test for images. Those students who had been given music lessons recalled significantly more words than the untrained students, and generally learned more words with each subsequent test....And the longer the boys had been receiving music lessons, the better their verbal memory was as well. However, no differences were found in visual memory between the groups. The researchers suggest music lessons stimulate the left side of the brain, which also controls verbal learning."

Have you always wanted to join a band? Do you need reason to socialize? Maybe you've always wanted to learn to carve, paint, knit, or even juggle...

"Street performers, circus entertainers and clowns: they can all juggle. Neuroscientists are now getting into the juggling act. Brain researchers at the University of Regensburg (Germany) have found that learning to juggle can change brain structure....These data suggest that learning new skills can alter brain structure. However, it is unclear what exactly caused the brain changes. The expansion in the two brain areas may have been caused by an increase in the number of nerve cells, glial cells or synapses. Further research may provide therapies for people who have brain damage. For example, it may be possible to design an exercise program to target a specific area of the brain to repair damage and restore function."

Even if you aren't recovering from a brain injury, your brain can still benefit from an exercise program. While some people enjoy crossword puzzles, and others like calculus, neither of these may be your first choice. What's fun for you?

Questions of the Week:
When was the last time you did something fun that was good for you? Is there a new skill you've been wanting to learn? Is there a craft or hobby you keep meaning to start? Stretch you brain; think about it: what do you enjoy? In what ways can you encourage your friends, siblings, parents and/or grandparents to explore their interests and exercise their brains, as well?


***Please don't forget: I want to hear from you!***
Students (and teachers), now is your chance to share your ideas, hints, tips, suggestions, and even lesson plans. For more details, you can access a copy of the Question of the Week from March 1, 2004, at:
Please note: While the deadline to send in ideas was originally Tuesday, March 16, 2004, I understand that this has conflicted with the Spring Break schedules of several schools. If you (or your students) need a couple extra days to get things sent, please email me. Thank you!


Please email me with any ideas or suggestions.
Note: Due to increasing amounts of SPAM sent to this account, please include "QOW" in the subject line when sending me email.

I look forward to reading what you have to say.

Health Community Coordinator
Access Excellence @ the National Health Museum

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