Sunday, March 02, 2008

Thinking and Creating to Slow the Aging Process: Exercise for the Brain

In my previous post I mentioned the "Five Behaviors Linked to Healthy Life Past 90." They are non-smoking, weight management, blood pressure control, exercise, and avoiding diabetes. This came from an article in the Archives of Internal Medicine. Of course we should all do our best to heed this advice, difficult though it may be for some.

Speaking not as an expert, but as a person enduring the aging process, I want to emphasize the health of the mind. I'll call it the "Sixth Behavior Linked to Healthy Life." Past 90? Perhaps, but of course this process must begin much earlier. I'll call it "Excercise for the Brain."

I retired about nine years ago, and my husband died less than a year later. I've had a lot of time to think about aging, routine or the absence of it, and keeping active, both physically and mentally. Have I done everything right? No, but I'm now doing my best.

Retirement, and yes, my husband's passing, gave me nearly complete freedom. I had no real responsibilities, no regular schedule, no reason to do much of anything. I became an expert in relaxing. I read. I traveled. Life wasn't bad, but something was missing. I was depressed. I'm the kind of person who needs routines and challenges. I've been accused of a tendency to become a hermit. I've never been an especially friendly, outgoing person. I have no children, no family nearby, few friends.

I tried part-time teaching for a while, but being the "low woman" on a bureaucratic totem pole didn't suit me. I enjoyed teaching, but somehow, the generation gap was too large. My students' lack of motivation got to me.

As anyone who has read either of my books knows, what I finally found was writing, something I'd always enjoyed but seldom practiced. I am not and never expect to become a well-known, best-selling author, but the benefit is in the writing itself. That't what I'm leading up to. Finding a "passion" and keeping an active mind may be as important as any of the five behaviors listed in that article, and I've been trying to help others do as I've done.

I reaize that not everyone wants to write, but I wish that everyone would try it. That's why I come up with my crazy writing challenges. My other blog, "Write your Life!" is filled with writing prompts and assignments, the same ones included in my book Seniorwriting and more. I'm not sure how many people are following my advice; only a few have responded. However, I like to think that there are "closet writers" out there writing for their minds' sake, regardless of the quality or success of their writing.

My main conclusion about retirement so far is that exercise for the brain is the number one health requirement. Of course writing is not the only brain exercise. Take continuing education classes in new subjects that interest you. Art history? Oil painting? Digital photography? There are endless possibilities.

If you're willing to give writing a try, here are my two latest challlenges:

Write your Life story in Six Words
http://seniormemoirs.blogspot.com/2008/02/one-of-those-ideas-i-wish-id-thought-of.html

Write a short poem every day in March, 2008
http://seniormemoirs.blogspot.com/2008/03/seniorwriters-poem-day-in-march-writing.html

Most of ny writing efforts are on line for the world to see. So far, few people have been impressed, but that's all right. Right now I'm doing better at exercising my brain than at exercising my body, but spring is on the way! As has been said before, aging is not for the weak (in either mind or body).

Copyright 2008 by Marlys Marshall Styne
Phot0: Rodin's "The Thinker"

4 comments:

Happy Pappy said...

I have quit smoking after 45 years of abusing my lungs. As you said, spring is coming and my exercise periods will increase considerably. My blood pressure is good but I've lost the battle with weight. I blame the winter season for that loss. Better it than ME. I already have Type II Diabetes so that gives me two strikes.

I started writing more than 20 years ago and came to love it. Today I seem to have no inspiration when I need it most. I sit down to write and draw a blank and writing prompts don't seem to get me going either.

This morning I came across an entry on The Real Live Preacher's Blog that appears to apply to my problem. Please check it out and see what you think.

seniorwriter said...

Don't let writer's block get to you. If writing prompts don't work, just start journaling with whatever is on your mind. Anything, from the weather to a food diary to an exercise diary to summaries of activities to plans for the future can work. Remember that it's just for you anyway, at least at first. For me, a writing routine is very important, whether it's serious or just a funny poem (as on my other blog).

Magnolia said...

Me! Me! (waving hands wildly) I'm a closet writer!

You remind me of myself in many ways Marlys, though I do have children and of course you don't.

But, I to have a tendency to "hole up" and withdraw from the world.....must be that writer's spririt huh? Loving solitude because it inspires creativity?

Anyway, I can really relate to what you have been through though I'm not retired yet. Depression is something that has plagued me my entire life and to this day, I struggle with it. Almost entirely, I can trace it to periods of feeling out of a routine, or out of sync with staying busy.

I have always been a happier person when I keep my life busy and ordered. And with this new change happening in my life, I can see how important it will be to be diligent with that.

You "are" reaching people....maybe we're slow in finding you and your encouragment, but we are out here.

seniorwriter said...

Thanks again, M. I'm glad to find someone who is, at least in some senses, a "kindred spirit."