I attended a seminar last week entitled “Memory, Forgetfulness and the Brain.” It seems many of us, as we age, become fixated on losing our memories. It so happened that last week I overheard a couple of guys in the gym debating whether or not they were on the path of Alzheimer’s. Of course if they were debating it, chances are pretty good they did not have an issue. At diagnosis, people have lost 50% of the functioning capacity of their hippocampus, a brain structure associated with factual memory. A 50% loss is huge and it would affect their lives significantly!!
Some good news about aging and memory, if people keep active physically, psychologically, nutritionally and socially…their odds of having significant memory impairment decline. There are at least two areas in the brain that through the lifespan continue to access stem cells to create new neurons (nerve cells) in the brain. What triggers the production of new neurons is new learning.
Engaging in a new hobby, cooking, music, one of my favorites…travel…stimulates the brain to increase production of new nerve cells. It used to be thought that after we reach the age of 20 or so, it is just a decline in memory until the end of the lifespan. Newer research is debunking those beliefs!
Travel in so many ways nudges us out of set routines, which are nice to have, but do not challenge the brain. Travel is all about seeing new places, experiencing new cultures, food, history, people and new ways of looking at things.
I am reminded of a trip my wife and I took over a year ago seeing parts of Patagonia by land and then sailing the Patagonian Fiords. It was my first time on a boat as a means of travel. It was spectacularly beautiful! Going ashore each day to see the local flora and fauna and learning from our guides the nuances of glaciers was exhilarating in Nature’s classroom. I could almost feel those brain cells multiplying and dividing.
Seeking new adventures, getting off the couch, whether it be through travel or other means brings a new zest, energy and works as good brain food to keep that memory system functioning at a higher octane level. We are really not much more than our memories!