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(alertness, calmness, etc.) in
you take for granted is explored in depth by children.
many people. In a Neurobic
• Walk the dog on a new route. (Yes, you can teach old dogs
bath, simply by pairing a spe-
new tricks.)
cific odor and/or music with
an enjoyable, relaxing ac-
^ Brain imaging studies show that novel tasks activate large ar-
tivity, you form a useful
eas of the cortex, indicating increased levels of brain activity in
stress-relieving association that
several distinct areas. This activity declined when the task had
can be tapped simply by
become routine and automatic. Much greater "brain power" is
smelling the aroma or hear-
exerted for novel verses automatic (rote) tasks.
ing the melody again.


rvead aloud with your partner. Alternate the roles of reader
and listener. It may be a slow way to get through a book, but JVlany of the techniques we've suggested in other sections of
it's a good way to spend quality time and gives you something this book, like shutting one's eyes to heighten sensation in
to discuss other than your day at work. other senses, are an intuitive part of sexual exploration. Nov-
elty”the thrill of the new”plays a central role in sexual
^ When we read aloud or listen to someone reading, we use very arousal. Especially in a long-term marriage, the challenge
different brain circuits than when we read silently. One of the ear- (and fun) of lovemaking is finding ways to make each time
liest demonstrations of brain imaging clearly showed three distinct with one's partner a fresh adventure.
brain regions lighting up when the same word was read, spoken, or Use your imagination and pull out all the sensory
heard. For example, listening to words activated two distinct areas stops.. .wear silk, strew the bed with rose petals, burn lavender
in the left and right hemispheres of the cortex, while speaking incense, have chilled champagne, massage with perfumed oils,
words activated the motor cortex on both sides of the brain as well put on a romantic CD.. .and whatever else turns you on.
as another part of the brain called the cerebellum. Just looking at
words activated only one area of the cortex in the left hemisphere. ^ To think that a good sexual encounter also helps keep the brain
alive is almost too good to be true. But it is; more than most "rou-
tine activities," sex uses every one of our senses and, of course, en-
gages our emotional brain circuits as well.

W e use mental maps to navigate through our daily lives.
By middle age, we've created hundreds of these maps
and can readily recall the layout of rooms in houses where
we've lived, street grids in towns, interstate highway net-
works, and the relationships of countries and continents to
each other. Because losing one's sense of place is confusing, or
even frightening, the brain devotes a lot of processing power
to forming and interpreting these mental maps.
Early Polynesian sailors didn't have AAA TripTiks or
global positioning systems. They navigated the Pacific by pay-
ing attention to multisensory cues”subtle changes in ocean
waves, the smell of the sea, the types of seaweed drifting by,
and the feel and direction of the wind. In short, these early ex-
plorers had available all the ingredients for Neurobic exercise:
an important task, the use of all their senses, and novel associ-
ations! Today, the opportunities to exercise our brain by ex-
ploring uncharted seas are limited. Most days, our visuospatial
abilities are called upon to do something much more ordi-
nary”the daily commute.


Unfortunately, the commute is
about as far from Neurobic exercise
as you can get. It's predictable, If you drive to work, enter and get ready to start the car with
routine, and brain-numbing. We've your eyes closed. Using only your sense of touch and spatial
all had the experience of getting to memory, find the correct key on your key chain, unlock the car
work and having almost no recol- door, slide into the seat, buckle your seatbelt, insert the key into
lection of how we got there. Most the ignition, and locate familiar controls like the radio and
of the ride is spent encased in a windshield wipers.
cocoonlike environment, shielding
us from the sights, sounds, and ^ Just as in the Jane example, on page 35, your tactile sense trig-
smells of the outside world, and gers a spatial memory of where things are via rarely used sets of
often from other people as well. brain pathways. Closing your eyes also opens up opportunities to
But with a little planning and rethinking, your commut- form additional associations”like the detailed feel of your keys or
ing time can be changed from a passive, mindless activity to the cold steel of the seat-belt buckle”that are suppressed when you
one that strengthens the brain. Here are some ideas on how rely solely on sight.
to transform your daily trip into a Neurobic workout.


lake a different route to work. If you're driving, open the win-
dows as in Exercise #4 to help construct a new mental map. If
you walk to work, the Neurobic possibilities are even greater.

^ On your routine commute, the brain goes on automatic pilot and
gets little stimulation or exercise. An unfamiliar route activates the
cortex and hippocampus to integrate the novel sights, smells, and
sounds you encounter into a new brain map.
In one Seinfeld episode, Kramer is asked how to get to Coney Is-
land from Manhattan. He launches into an elaborate description of
subways and buses involving numerous changes scattered through-
out the city, various alternatives at each point, and the consequences
of each choice. Elaine pipes up and says, "Couldn't you just take the D
train straight there?" Well, of course you can. But in this case Kramer
was thinking and living "Neurobically," looking for alternative
pathways, new possibilities, and engaging his brains associative
powers and navigational abilities to engage in flexible, spatial
thinking. Elaine, alas, remains trapped by routine.

56 57

3. FEEL IN CONTROL ^ Different textures produce patterns of activity in the so-
matosensory cortex of your brain (that's why you can tell them
apart). But after repeated exposure to the same texture, your brain
utimulate the tactile pathways involved in the routines of
barely pays attention. When you change these textures, drivingfeels
steering, shifting, and signaling by prodding your brain with
different”and your brain can no longer use familiar assumptions
new materials. (It's important that the new textures be on the
for controlling the car. In addition, using different textures during
controls, because that gives the new sensory input impor-
an activity like driving can activate other association networks in
tance”you need to drive accurately and skillfully, so you pay
a new context. You might end up describing the morning commute
attention to anything involved in that process.) Improvise by
as "rough," not because the traffic was bad, but because that was the
attaching (with double-stick tape or Velcro) different textures
tactile stimulus you experienced during the drive.
(various grades of sandpaper, for example) to the steering
wheel or gear shift. Or buy a few inexpensive steering wheel
covers with unusual textures”raised grips, terry cloth, tex-
tured vinyl”and use a different one each week.
• Consider swapping cars with a friend who has a very differ-
ent kind of car (a stick-shift, van, or sport utility vehicle, for
• If you're usually the driver, switch and ride in the backseat.
Your perspective on the drive will be totally different.


Wear work gloves (or heavy mittens) while driving. Blunting
Oimply opening the windows as you drive will let in a tapes-
your sense of fine touch forces you to rely on other cues to
try of smells”fresh rain on a macadam road, a street vendor's
steer the car or change stations on the radio. Caution: Do this
cart, leaves burning in autumn”and sounds”birds singing,
only when weather conditions and traffic permit.
kids yelling in a school playground, sirens”that mark your
route. Like an ancient navigator, your brain will begin to
^ In addition to fine touch, the skin has receptors for heat, cold,
make and recall associations between the sights, sounds, and
and deep pressure. By blunting fine touch you enhance the role of
odors that you encounter.
information coming from pressure receptors and activate different
brain pathways involved in driving.
^ Remember that the hippocam-
pus is especially involved in asso-
ciating odors, sounds, and sights to
construct mental maps. Opening
the windows provides these cir-
cuits with more raw material.


Use odors to form a specific association with a place. Prepare
Cut an ordinary household sponge into 'A-inch cubes.
five scent canisters labeled 1 to 5 (see opposite page). At some
Assemble a variety of different-smelling liquids: for ex-
specific point in your commute”when you pass a certain
ample, vanilla, lemon oil, lavender, cloves, vinegar, or ex-
building, exit, or landmark”open and smell canister #1 for a
tracts of different flowers or herbs from your own garden
few seconds to give the place an olfactory "tag." Having created
or from a health food store. Put a drop or two of liquid
an association between a specific odor and a place, the presence
on each sponge and place it in a 35 mm film canister. Try
of either the odor or the place will thereafter activate that asso-
to make at least five different canisters.
ciation. For example, the smell of cloves may call up a mental
Leave a canister loosely covered in
image or verbal reference of the "big red house" you tagged.
your car door pocket or cup holder, and
On another day, use another scent canister to "tag" a dif-
open it occasionally for a direct sniff. For
ferent place on your route, and so on.
a stronger, longer-lasting stimulus, wedge
You can do this same exercise while strolling around your
the sponge into the car's air vent. Since
neighborhood or walking to work.
some odors linger a long time, be cau-
tious about which ones to use in this way.
^ This exercise creates an olfactory "route map" in your brain, link-
ing the brain areas that help you navigate with the cortical regions
that interpret odors. Marrying olfactory associations to places, peo-
ple, events, or things is also a powerful way to enhance memory.


.During your drive use aromas to form novel associations be-
tween smells and sounds. Instead of using a visual stimulation,
this exercise associates auditory stimulation”music”with a
specific odor. Start by choosing an odor canister (either deliber-
ately or at random) and a favorite song on a CD or tape. Open
the odor canister and take a good sniff every time you listen to
that song. Imagine pairing pine odor with a country-western
ballad, lavender with the first movement of Beethoven's Sixth
Symphony, or cloves with Muddy Waters singing the blues. Be
creative with your sound-smell combinations: Try some odd
pairings and see what kinds of new associations spring to mind.

^ The goal here is not to remember anything specific, but to pro-
vide more raw material to provoke your brain into weaving more
associative networks. Both music and smells are powerful stimuli
that evoke different emotions. Normally we don't listen to music in
the context of odors or vice versa. In this exercise, the repeated
pairing of these two stimuli makes your brain create powerful
links between the two, increasing the number of pathways avail-
able for storing or accessing memories.


Don't pass up the many opportunities to enhance the social
r lace a cup filled with different coins in your cup holder.
nature of your commute. Buy the morning or evening paper
While at a stoplight, try to determine different denominations
from a person rather than a vending machine. Need gas? Pay
by feel alone. If your car is equipped with a change holder, place
the clerk at the counter rather than just swiping your credit
coins into the correct slots, using only your sense of touch.
card at the pump.
You can also do this exercise with other small objects of
Wave back and smile or play funny-face games with the
subtly different sizes or textures (various sizes and types of
kids in the backseat of the car in front of you. Stop at a new
screws, nuts, earrings, or paper clips, 1-inch squares of mater-
place for coffee and a muffin, or a different dry cleaner or
ial such as leather, satin, velour, cotton, or grades of sandpaper).
flower stand.
Try to match up a pair of earrings or cuff links, for example.

^ Scientific research has repeatedly proved that social deprivation
^ Because we normally discriminate between objects by looking at
has severe negative effects on overall cognitive abilities. The ongo-
them, our tactile discrimination abilities are flabby, like underused
ing MacArthur Foundation projects validate keeping active so-
muscles. Using touch to distinguish subtly different objects increases
cially and mentally as critical factors for mental health.
activation in cortical areas that process tactile information and
leads to stronger synapses. This is the same process that occurs with
adults who lose their sight. They learn to distinguish Braille letters
because their cortex devotes more pathways to processing fine touch.


You can adapt many of the preceding strategies to commut-
Along with environmental benefits, car pooling provides op-
ing by bus, train, or even on foot. If you walk to work, take a
portunities for intimate personal interaction”a form of Neu-
few different turns. Or get off the bus before or after your
robic exercise. Four people reading their newspapers in a car
usual stop and walk the rest of the way. Take a scent canister
pool isn't Neurobic, but using the time to engage with others
and your Walkman and try Exercise #7 on your walk.
in lively discussion is. For example, we know of a four-person
On a train or bus, close your eyes and use other cues, such
car pool where each day a different person introduces a sub-
as the speed of the train or bus, or turns in the road, the
ject for discussion”either a controversial topic or provocative
sound of brakes, or people getting on and off, to visualize
story. The rest of the group then reacts.
where you are and what it looks like outside.
Interact with people around you.
• Take a still or video camera, or a small sketch pad. There's
a whole world outside the window to record when you're
leaving the driving to others.
• Read something completely different from your normal
commuting fare. Choose a magazine you've never heard of
from a newsstand. Read the newspaper classifieds and imag-
ine what you might do with one of the opportunities you see.

M ost of us spend about half our waking hours at work.
It's also the place where we most fear an obvious loss
of cognitive abilities. Our jobs can consume a lot of brain
power, but most of that is directed toward specific tasks”
generating the next report, fixing a spreadsheet”that don't
normally use your brain's associative potential.
While you're busy at work, you don't need logic puzzles or
other traditional mental "exercises" to
further strain your brain. But you can
use Neurobics to give yourself
"brain breaks" that stretch and
flex your mind throughout the
We'll use the example of a
desk job and look for the Neuro-
bic opportunities that don't dis-
rupt work efforts or ethics. You
may have to tailor these exercises
to suit your own work situation.


1. SHAKE THINGS UP A BIT ^ If you want to see the immediate result of rearranging familiar
things, simply move your wastebasket from its long-standing posi-
Jjy using daily exposure and routine, your cortex and hip- tion. You'll notice that each time you have something to throw
pocampus have constructed a spatial "map" of your desktop so away, you aim at the old spot. The sensory and motor pathways in
that very little mental effort is required to locate your com- your brain have been programmed by repeated experience to throw
puter mouse, telephone, stapler, wastebasket, and other office apiece of paper in a certain direction. That moment when you catch
tools. Arbitrarily reposition everything. While you're at it, yourself and redirect your actions reflects your brains increased
switch your watch to your other wrist. alertness to a novel situation and the beginnings of a new series of
instructions being entered into your mental program.
^ Scrambling the location of familiar objects you normally reach
for without thinking reactivates spatial learning networks and
gets your visual and somatosensory brain areas back to work, ad-
justing your internal maps.

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