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You Must Remember This

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By Dan Gordon '85

Published Jul 1, 2006 12:00 AM


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Copyright © Illustration: Clifford Alejandro


Exercise your brain. Cross-train your mind. And you, too, can have a memory that misses nothing. UCLA's unforgettable memory expert tell you how.

Aging's physical toll is hard to miss: wrinkling skin, a growing list of ailments and an older body's inability to perform or recover the way it once did. That's bad enough, but the toll time takes on the brain is just as rough — and, for most of us, far more frightening.

Fortunately, UCLA has a memory master whose books, classes and lectures help thinking folks of all ages stay mentally fit: Gary Small '73, director of the UCLA Center on Aging and author of the new book The Longevity Bible: 8 Essential Strategies for Keeping Your Mind Sharp and Your Body Young. His prescription for snappy synapses? The same regime we all use for our bodies: exercise. Regular brain workouts, says Small, are the secret to keeping your mind in good shape.

Small, whose previous books include The Memory Bible and The Memory Prescription, is finding a growing audience for his counsel on ways to give the brain regular workouts. His center's memory training course — a five-week session adapted from Small's research and taught by volunteers — was originally intended for seniors but was quickly crashed by baby boomers, younger adults and even teens.

"This speaks to the fact that memory is an issue for all ages," Small says. "It's not just the 70-year-old grandmother who forgets her lunch date, but it's also the soccer mom who forgets to pick up her kids and the student who needs to remember what's going to be on the test."

To audiences of all ages, Small's message is the same: Lifestyle factors — most notably mental activity, diet, exercise and stress levels — are often more important than genes in determining how well our brains age.

The evidence is mounting that keeping the mind active will keep it sharp, Small says. Those exercises can include crossword and Sudoku puzzles, learning a foreign language, taking up a musical instrument or exploring new genres in leisure reading.

"You can cross-train your brain," adds Small: Do jigsaw puzzles one day for the more visual right brain, crosswords the next to strengthen the verbal abilities on the left side. To stay with the analogy, don't try going from weekend warrior to marathon runner overnight. "You want to train your brain, not strain it," says Small. "It's important to find things that are both fun and challenging, so that you'll keep going back to them and not create stress, without being so easy that they're not interesting."

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