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on smell alone.) cial interactions themselves have positive effects on overall
brain health.6
THE SIXTH SENSE: EMOTION The pace and structure of modern life has reduced the
number and intensity of our ordinary, day-to-day social inter-
Researchers are finding that brain circuits for emotions are
actions, just as modern conveniences have deprived us of
just as tangible as circuits for the senses, and advanced imag-
the richness of many sensory stimulations. Remember when
ing techniques can now observe this.4 It is also clear from a
buying gas meant talking with an attendant instead of
number of studies that one's ability to remember something is
swiping a card at a gas pump? Or getting cash involved deal-
largely dependent on its emotional context.5 As we discussed
ing with a bank teller instead of pushing buttons on an ATM
earlier, the hippocampus is more apt to tag information for
machine? Or a night out involved going to the movies with a
long-term memory if it has emotional significance. That's why
crowd rather than renting a video and sitting alone in front of
engaging emotions through social interactions is a key strat-
your VCR? And the computer and the Internet have isolated
egy of Neurobics. us even further from any number of personal transactions.
Interactions with other people are an important trigger of
There's ample evidence today that being out in the real
emotional responses. Also, since social situations are generally
world, where you're engaging all the senses, including the im-
unpredictable, they are more likely to result in nonroutine ac-
portant emotional and social "senses," is essential to a healthy
tivities. Most people have a strong, built-in need for these in-
brain and an active memory”especially as you age.
teractions, and in their absence, mental performance declines.


The aim of Neurobics and the exercises that follow is to pro-

vide you with a balanced, comfortable, and enjoyable way to
stimulate your brain.

As we have shown, Neurobics is a scientifically based
program that helps you modify your behavior by introducing
the unexpected to your brain and enlisting the aid of all your
senses as you go through your day. An active brain is a

healthy brain, while inaction leads to reduced brain fitness. here is nothing magic about Neurobics. The magic lies in
Or, in simpler words”"Use it or lose it." the brain's remarkable ability to convert certain kinds of
mental activity into self-help. Happily for everyone with busy
lives, there is no need to find a special
time or place to do Neurobic exercises. 'lr\'
Everyday life is the Neurobic Brain
Gym. Neurobics requires you to
do two simple things you may ^
have neglected in your lifestyle: )
Experience the unexpected and
enlist the aid of a!! your senses in the course of the day.
No exercise program is going to help if you aren't moti-
vated and can't find time to do it. That's why Neurobic exer-
cises are designed to fit into what you do on an ordinary

30 31

aren't these Neurobic activities? What is it about the specific
day”getting up, commuting, working, shopping, eating, or
things we suggest that make them Neurobic?
relaxing. Just as weight-loss experts advise against fad diets in
To begin with, not everything that's novel provides the
favor of changing your overall eating habits, Neurobics is rec-
kind of nerve cell stimulation necessary to activate new brain
ommended as a lifestyle choice, not a crash course or a quick fix.
circuits and enhance neurotrophin production. For example,
Simply by making small changes in your daily habits, you can
if you normally write with a pen and one day choose to write
turn everyday routines into "mind-building" exercises. It's like
everything in pencil, you've broken your routine and are do-
improving your physical state by using the stairs instead of the
ing something new. But such a small change wouldn't register
elevator or walking to the store instead of driving. Neurobics
as an important new sensory association. It would not be
won't give you back the brain of a twenty-year-old, but it can
enough to engage the circuitry required to really give your
help you to access the vault of memories and experience that a
brain a workout.
twenty-year-old simply doesn't own. And it can help you keep
Contrast this with deciding one day to change the hand
your brain alive, stronger, and in better shape as you grow older.
you normally write with. If you are right-handed, controlling
Many Neurobic exercises challenge the brain by reducing
a pen is normally the responsibility of the cortex on the left
its reliance on sight and hearing and encouraging the less fre-
side of your brain. When you change to writing left-handed,
quently used senses of smell, touch, and taste to play a more
the large network of connections, circuits, and brain areas in-
prominent role in everyday activities. By doing so, rarely acti-
volved in writing with your left hand, which are normally
vated pathways in your brain's associative network are stimu-
rarely used, are now activated on the right side of your brain.
lated, increasing your range of mental flexibility.
Suddenly your brain is confronted with a new task that's en-
WHAT MAKES AN EXERCISE NEUROBIC? gaging, challenging, and potentially frustrating.
So, what are the conditions that make an exercise Neuro-
Throughout the course of every day, your brain is activated by
bic? It should do one or more of the following:
your senses, and you encounter new stimuli all the time. Why


1. Involve one or more of your senses in a novel context.
By blunting the sense you normally use, force yourself to WITH NEUROBICS
rely on other senses to do an ordinary task. For instance:
Let's look again at the example on page x of Jane returning
Get dressed for work with your eyes closed. home from work and entering her apartment, but now let's
Eat a meal with your family in silence. consider what is actually happening in her brain that makes
these few minutes of her day a Neurobic exercise.
Or combine two or more senses in

unexpected ways: "''/• Jane reached into her pocketbook and fished inside for the keys to her
apartment. Usually they were in the outside flap
Listen to a specific piece of music while
but not today. "Did I forget them ?! No... here
smelling a particular aroma.
they are." She felt their shapes to figure out
2. Engage your attention. To stand out from the back- which one would open the top lock.
ground of everyday events and make your brain go into
Jane's keys are in the depths of
alert mode, an activity has to be unusual, fun, surprising,
her handbag, which is filled with
engage your emotions, or have meaning for you.
dozens of different objects”eyeglass
Turn the pictures on your desktop upside down. case, lipstick, tissues”each with
Take your child, spouse, or parent to your office for the day. a different texture and
shape. Instead of using
3. Break a routine activity in an unexpected, nontrivial way.
vision to quickly find
(Novelty just for its own sake is not highly Neurobic.)
the keys, as she might
Take a completely new route to work. routinely do, she relies
Shop at a farmers market instead of a supermarket. now on her sense of touch.


nerve connections between her sense of touch and her pro-
Because getting into her apartment is important to her,
prioceptive sense.
her brain's attentional and emotional circuits are active as she
touches the hard, smooth exterior of her lipstick case, moves Touching the wall lightly with her fingertips, she moved to the
past the soft feel of tissues, and eventually identifies the keys. closet on the right, found it, and hung up her coat. She turned
In her brain, long-dormant associations are being reactivated slowly and visualized in her mind the location of the table holding
between the areas of her cortex that process touch, areas in the her telephone and answering machine
visual part of her cortex that hold the mental "pictures" of ob-
On most days, and in most situations, Jane, like the rest
jects, and areas of the brain that store the names of objects.
of us, makes her way through the world using sight as a
This reactivation causes specific groups of nerve cells to
guide. Over time, her visual system has constructed a spatial
become more active in an unusual pattern for Jane. This in turn
"map" of her apartment in various parts of the brain. Her
can activate the cells' neurotrophin production and strengthen
other senses of touch and hearing have also been tied into
or build another set of connections in her brain's "safety net."
these maps, but these nonvisual connections are rarely called
It took her two tries until she heard the welcome click of the lock upon. Today, however, Jane is using her sense of touch to trig-
opening. ger a spatial memory of the room in order to navigate
through it. The touch pathways that access her spatial maps,
Normally, placing a key in a lock uses vision and "motor
usually dormant, are now critically important for accomplish-
memory"”an unconscious "map" in the parts of our brain
ing this simple task and unexpectedly get exercised. And the
that control movement”which provides an ongoing feed-
same holds true for her other senses.
back that allows us to sense where parts of our body are in
Carefully she headed in that direction, guided by the feel of the
space. (This is called the proprioceptive sense.) But this time
leather armchair and the scent of a vase of birthday roses, anxious
Jane is trying to fit a key into a lock by using the motor map
to avoid the sharp edge of the coffee table and hoping to have some
in conjunction with her tactile, not visual, sense. And this
messages from her family waiting.
nonroutine action is activating and reactivating seldom-used


Here, Jane's olfactory system is kicking into high gear to Furthermore, as a result of the exercise, a small but signifi-
do something it rarely does”help her smell her way through cant change has occurred in Jane's brain. New sensory associa-
the world. The olfactory system has a direct line into the tions, such as the feel of the leather armchair, had become part
hippocampus, the area of the brain that constructs spatial of her brain's vocabulary when she entered the room the next day.
maps of the world. The odor of the roses is working at several
brain levels. The emotional association of roses with her
birthday, combined with an important emotional goal of
getting to her answering machine and retrieving messages
from her family, makes them a strong, meaningful stimulus.
In addition, Jane is constructing a powerful new association”
Like the body, the brain needs a balance of activities. Fortu-
not only are flowers something that smell good and make you
nately, the ordinary routines present hundreds of opportunities
feel good, but they can show you where you are in part
to activate your senses in extraor-
of your world.
dinary ways. To demonstrate how
Today was different... to incorporate Neurobics into your
life, we've taken some "snapshots"
Yes, it was. By spending just a few minutes doing all the
things she normally would do when coming home in a novel of a variety of daily activities. For
way, Jane had engaged literally dozens of new or rarely used most of the exercises that follow,
brain pathways. Synapses between nerve cells were strength- we give an explanation (in italics)
ened by these unusual and challenging activities. And in re- of what's going on in your brain
that makes the exercise work.
sponse to their enhanced activity, some of Jane's brain cells
were beginning to produce more brain growth molecules, Don't try to use Neurobic ex-
ercises for every activity all day
such as neurotrophins.

38 39

long. Instead, pick one or two things from our Neurobic
menu: Try "Starting and Ending the Day" today and "Com-

muting" tomorrow. Mix and match from the various cate-
gories so your Neurobic exercises themselves don't become

routine. And don't give up those crossword puzzles, reading,
learning a new language, travel, engaging with stimulating
people, and other kinds of challenging activities that exercise
brain circuits in different ways. Once you get the hang of it,

we hope you'll begin inventing your own exercises ” which is, ll of us have our morn-
ing rituals to get us
in itself, Neurobic.
Of course, as with any exercise program, you should be quickly and "mindlessly" out
aware of your own physical limitations. And if you have seri- the door. These set routines
ous concerns about your mental abilities, you should consult a allow the brain to go on au-
tomatic pilot and be more
qualified health care professional.
efficient. And at bedtime,
when we need to wind down
from a day of mental and
physical exertion, routines
are similarly comforting.
Because routines are so
ingrained in our mornings and evenings, they're ideal times
to inject a bit of novelty to awaken new brain circuits.


1 o change your usual morning olfactory association”wak- .Locate the taps and adjust the temperature and flow using
ing to the smell of freshly brewed coffee”wake up to some- just your tactile senses. (Make sure your balance is good be-
thing different”vanilla, citrus, peppermint, or rosemary. fore you try this and use common sense to avoid burning or
Keep an extract of your favorite aroma in an airtight con- injury.) In the shower locate all necessary props by feel, then
tainer on your bedside table for a week and release it when wash, shave, and so on, with your eyes shut. Your hands will
you first awaken, and then again as you bathe and dress. probably notice varied textures of your own body you aren't
aware of when you are "looking."
^ Odds are you can't remember specifically when you "learned" to
associate the smell of coffee with the start of a day. By consistently ^ Even though it is probably the least intrusive or time-consum-
linking a new odor with your morning routine, you are activating ing Neurobic suggestion, this shower exercise will wake up the
new neural pathways. brain as described in "How Neurobics Works, "pages 35-38.

• Variation: Combine Exercises #2 and #4 by laying out your
wardrobe the night before (or have someone lay it out for
you). Then with your eyes closed, use only tactile associa-
tions to distinguish and put on pants, dress, socks, or panty
hose, etc.

42 43

3. BRUSHING ROULETTE which they usually don tparticipate. Research has shown that this
type of exercise can result in a rapid and substantial expansion of
JJrush your teeth with your nondominant hand (including circuits in the parts of the cortex that control and process tactile in-
opening the tube and applying toothpaste). You can substi-
formation from the hand.
tute any morning activity”styling your hair, shaving, apply-
ing makeup, buttoning clothes, putting in cuff links, eating, Variation: Use only one hand to do tasks like buttoning a
or using the TV remote. shirt, tying a shoe, or getting dressed. For a real workout, try
using just your nondominant hand.
^ This exercise requires you to use the opposite side of your brain Another exercise that associates unusual sensory and mo-
instead of the side you normally use. Consequently, all those cir- tor pathways in your cortex with a routine activity is to use
cuits, connections, and brain areas involved in using your domi- your feet to put your socks and underwear in the laundry bas-
nant hand are inactive, while their counterparts on the other side ket or pick out your shoes for the day.
of your brain are suddenly required to direct a set of behaviors in


Without looking, choose clothing, shoes, and so on, with Wear earplugs when you join the family for breakfast and
experience the world without sound.
matching or contrasting textures. For example, make it a silky,
smooth day or a rough, nubby day. Use not only your fingers but
^ Has your spouse ever complained that you are only "half-
also your cheeks, lips, and even your feet”they're all packed
listening"? If you're in the middle of a morning routine, it's proba-
with receptors for fine touch.
bly true. By virtue of ingrained routines, your brain has a pretty
good idea of what to expect each morning, so only a few words are
^ Extensive practice using
enough for you to follow a sentence. And, engrossed in a newspaper
the fingers to make fine dis-
or listening to the radio, you "tune out" most other sensory inputs.
tinctions between objects or
Blocking a major sensory route by wearing earplugs forces you to
textures causes expansion and
use other cues to accomplish even simple tasks like knowing when
rewiring of the brain areas in-
the toast is done or passing the sugar bowl.
volved in touch. This has been
observed in monkeys trained
to use their fingers to get food
and in brain imaging exper-
iments in blind human
Braille readers.

46 47

We wouldn't recommend trying all these things on the same
J\X the end of the day, when you want to wind down, try some-
morning, but do incorporate one or two of the following:
thing relaxing and Neurobic, such as a warm bath. Use a vari-
• Vary the order in which you do your normal routine (e.g.,
ety of sensory stimuli”aromatic bath oils and soaps, sponges,
get dressed after breakfast).
loofah, body scrubs, candlelight, champagne or tea, music,
• If a bagel and coffee is your daily fare, try something else plush towels, and moisturizer. Luxuriate in a cavalcade of
like hot oatmeal and herbal tea. scents, textures, and lighting to create link-
ages between old and new associations.
• Change the setting on your radio alarm or tune into a
morning TV program you never watch. Sesame Street, for
^ Certain odors evoke distinct moods
example, may arouse the brain to notice how much of what

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