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berries, blueberries, corn, or pumpkins. Make the "harvest" a
social event by taking along kids or friends.
Another variation is to shop without a list and plan a
meal from what looks good at the market that day.

^ Adult brains tend to use the simplest, fastest route to identify
objects, while infants and children more often use several senses.
Searching for food in the wild prevents the brain from using the easy
way out, and hones its ability to make fine discriminations. Is that
round green thing a fiddlehead fern (good) or a skunk cabbage sprout
(bad)? Without bins, packages, and labels, your brain is forced to pay
attention to every cue available in the natural environment.


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KEEP YOUR BRAIN ALIVE




7. No MORE ONE-STOP SHOPPING
6. TREASURE HUNT
J\.n old-fashioned hardware store (as opposed to a super-
JTlave your spouse or a friend make a list of foods to buy us-
store) is more apt to have employees who really know tools
ing only descriptors, not the name of the food. For example:
and can talk about how to use them. Instead of being shrink-
"It's about the size and shape of a soccer ball, tannish, heavily
wrapped, everything”from screws to nuts”can be touched
veined, dimpled on one end, should feel slightly soft and have
and held. Try stopping in for a Neurobic approach to home
a heavy aroma."
improvement.
Or explore a flea market, which ranks high on novelty
^ If one of you makes the list and the other shops for it, you'll both
and the possibilities for social interaction.
earn Neurobic benefits by tapping into all the sensory association
Similarly, shopping occasionally at a small bookstore offers
pathways linked to a particular food.
more opportunities for genuine social interactions with "book
people." You're more likely to encounter recommendations
from the staff related to your interests, opening up a whole new
reading adventure: "If you like this author, why not try..."




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VIII

AT MEALTIMES
I n A Natural History of the Senses, author Diane Ackerman
points out that taste is tightly linked to social activity”the
Power Breakfast, celebratory meals, state dinners, ice cream
and cake for birthdays, wine and drink for all types of occa-
sions. And since taste is such a sensitive, intimate sense, it is
closely linked to emotional memory”
think "comfort" food.
As we grew up, we usually shared
the day's events with our families at
an evening meal. Foods mark spe-
cial events in our lives or are as-
sociated with religious rituals
(the Jewish Seder), or a hol-
iday (Thanksgiving), or a
birthday or anniversary.
At meals, our visual,
olfactory, tactile, taste,
and even our emotional/
pleasure systems are in

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AT MEALTIMES
RAIN ALIVE
KEEP YOUR




1. MAKE MEALTIMES SOCIAL
high gear, feeding associations into our cortex and tapping
directly into the most primed memory circuits. Think about
it...the sight and feel of silverware, glasses, candlelight...the .Remove the morning paper and other distractions from the
tastes and textures of bread, finger foods, fried chicken...the breakfast table a few mornings a week and allow your attention
tapestry of smells...the sounds of sizzling steaks, clinking to focus on what and with whom you're eating and drinking.
glasses, conversation and laughter as well as the emotions that
• At dinnertime, turn off the radio or TV and have everyone
foods evoke...make mealtime potentially a gustatory free-for-
sit down together. Perhaps start the meal with a prayer or
all for the senses.
grace that binds people together and links words to food.
And yet, because it's easier, we tend to make mealtimes
predictable and repetitive: We eat the same cereal every
^ Remember how teachers used to say, "Let me have your undi-
morning, the same deli sandwich for lunch, and, if it's Tues-
vided attention"?Neuroscientists studying the brain mechanisms of
day, meatloaf for dinner. However, mealtimes, more than our
attention found that it is indeed a limited resource. The more atten-
other daily activities, offer us the chance to bring all our
tion you devote to reading a newspaper the less brainpower is avail-
senses to the table in a pleasurable and brain-healthy way.
able for noticing other things or people in your environment. Of
Every meal provides an ideal opportunity to engage with
course, keeping up on current events is not bad, but it's worth asking
spouses, children, friend, or coworkers, and these interactions
yourself whether you are reading for information or for isolation.
have demonstrable positive effects on brain health. By chang-
ing how you eat, without changing what you eat, you benefit
• At work, organize a brown-bag club where you eat with a
your brain. group, swap lunches.
• If you live alone, invite a friend for mealtime, even if it's
just takeout Chinese. Reinforcing social contacts pays off in
brain dividends.


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KEEP YOUR BRAIN ALIVE AT M K A I, T I M F, S




2. SHARE A MEAL IN SILENCE 3. MUSICAL CHAIRS
You'll be surprised at how the foods you taste and the things .A.t dinnertime, have everyone switch seats. In most families,
you hear are greatly enhanced. You'll automatically slow down, everyone has his or her "own" seat, and it's remarkable how per-
savor the food, feel its texture, smell its bouquet, and hear a manent these arrangements become. Switching seats changes
new ambience that conversation usually smothers. whose "position" you occupy, who you relate to, your view of
the room, and even how you reach for salt and pepper.
^ The absence of verbal communication forces you to use different
associative circuits to "speak" and to decipher what's being "said." ^ Like rearranging your desk (page 72), changing your seat at
the dinner table provokes "social rearrangements." Each seat has
associations attached to it”the kid's seat, the head of the house-
hold's seat. Simply by changing places you are challenging and re-
working these timeworn associations.




102 103
KEEP YOUR BRAIN ALIVE AT MEALTIMES




4. HOLD YOUR NOSE 5. PLAN A DEMOCRATIC MEAL
AS You TRY DIFFERENT FOODS
.Let each person in the family (even the youngest) decide one
item on the menu. Peanut butter and steak may not sound
JVLost of what we call taste actually depends on smell. By
appetizing, but it is not going to hurt you, and it may provide
closing your nose, you bring basic taste information and tac-
material for some bizarre associations.
tile cues to the fore and experience the texture and consis-
tency of food using your mouth and tongue.

^ Taste buds sense sweet, salt, sour or bitter, astringent, and
metallic tastes. Your experience of a food based on these qualities,
compared to flavor from olfactory stimulation, utilizes different
brain pathways.




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KEEP YOUR BRAIN ALIVE AT M EA LT I M E S




6. A TASTE DOWN MEMORY LANE • Childhood Revisited.
Look for foods that might rekindle "'" •
childhood memories”a baseball- 'C
Certain foods reactivate and exercise the memory or emo-
park hotdog with that neon-yellow t' '
tional circuits that were associated with them in the first
mustard, birthday cake and ice V
place. In a memorable passage from Remembrance of Things
cream, Popsicles, s'mores, maca-
Past, Marcel Proust describes the overwhelming pleasure of
roni and cheese”or any ethnic or I /
childhood memories and associations unleashed by the taste
regional foods you used to eat as a •-.-.-.
of a madeleine cookie dipped in tea:
child and no longer do.
V/
At once I had recognized the taste of the crumb of madeleine soaked • The First Bite.
in her decoction of lime-flowers which my aunt used to give Re-create your first meal with a spouse or lover. Foods you
me... immediately the old grey house upon the street, where her had on a first date or at your wedding can bring back to life
room was, rose up like the scenery of a theatre...and with the long-dormant synapses and provide you with a new route for
house the town, from morning to night and in all weathers; the enhancing past and future memories.
square where I was sent before luncheon, the street along which I
• Don't Forget the Stuffing.
used to run errands, the country roads we took when it was
The foods of Thanksgiving, Passover, Christmas, and the
fine. ..so that in that moment all the flowers in our garden and in
Fourth of July can conjure up all the feelings and memories
M. Swann's park, and the water-lilies on the Vivonne and the
of holidays past. One taste and, like Proust, you'll be recalling
good folk of the village and their little dwellings and the parish
the smell of your grandfather's pipe and your Aunt Rosie
church and the whole of Combray and of its surroundings, taking
telling you not to play under the table. Try creating one of
their proper shapes and growing solid, sprang into being, town
these meals again on a day that's not a holiday.
and gardens alike, from my cup of tea.



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KEEP YOUR BRAIN ALIVE
AT M E A LT I M E S




7. INTRODUCE NOVELTY • Change the order in which you eat your food. Try starting
with the dessert and ending with the chips. This may seem
frivolous but your brain won't think so. It's primed to han-
Eat waffles or cereal for dinner. The Norwegians eat their
dle this unexpected strategy.
main meal for breakfast. You could try that too.
• Change where you eat your meal”a different room, out-
side, on the porch, on the floor (have an indoor picnic!).
• Puree in a blender one fruit and one vegetable that you
have never combined before. Taste it and make up a catchy
name for the new concoction. This could be a fun taste
game for a group of food lovers.
• Eat your food using your "wrong" hand. A small change like
this makes even the most routine acts of eating challenging.




108 109
AT M E A I. T I M E S
RAIN ALIVE
KEEP YOUR




9. FOOD FOR THOUGHT
8. SPICE UP YOUR SETTING
IVlealtimes are also an excellent opportunity to introduce
.Lnhance your sensory environment. As we've said, meals are
Neurobic stimuli from exotic foods, tastes, and smells:
not just about food. Candlelight, visually pleasing china and
Once a month try a cuisine that's novel to you. When you
flowers, beautiful tablecloths, and music provide multisensory
eat the same thing at the same time of day, the associative ca-
stimulation to link with the smells and flavors of food. When
pacity of your smell and taste systems is blunted. So:
you don't have the time or money to indulge, try a new set of
place mats or a vase of flowers, or use the good china once in
• Prepare a breakfast from another country. Here are some
a while”even when you're alone. typical ones. (The ingredients are generally available at eth-
nic markets, restaurants, or supermarkets, and finding them
^ Enriching the sensory, social, and emotional environment sur-
can be a Neurobic experience.)
rounding meals feeds your brain, even though you may not be Japan: seaweed, rice, fish, tea
aware of it at the time. Conversely, when you strip life down to its
France: croissants, cheese, coffee
basics, you deprive your senses. While eating a frozen dinner at a
Mexico: tortillas and beans
bare table with the TV on satisfies basic caloric needs, it doesn't do
Brazil: coffee, milk, bread and jam, cheese and
much for your olfactory or taste systems, and certainly the emo-
ham with papaya
tional impact and novelty factors are low.
Bulgaria: Hot platter of eggs or cold platter of eggs,
meats, yogurt, honey, bread, and jam
Try the same thing at dinner. (In cities you can "take out"
something.)
Chinese (and eat with chopsticks!)
Japanese (chopsticks again)

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RAIN ALIVE
KEEP YOUR AT MEALTIMES




10. CLOSE YOUR EYES
Southern fried chicken (eat with your hands)
Moroccan (eat everything with your fingers)
AND OPEN WIDE
Hispanic”Mexican, Brazilian, Spanish (just eat!)
Accompany the meal with appropriate ethnic music to add Identify food on your plate only by smell, taste, and touch. A
an auditory dimension to taste sensations. food's flavor includes its texture, aroma, temperature, spici-
ness”even sound.

^ Smell and taste, of course, are intimately involved in one's re-
sponse to foods. But texture plays a role in enjoyment, too, and by
isolating your tactile appreciation you create a different neural
route. The tongue and lips are among the most sensitive parts of
the body (even more sensitive than the fingertips).




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AT MEALTIMES
K f. f- P YOUR BRAIN A L I V F.




12. Now YOU'RE COOKIN'
11. HOLD A "BLIND" WINE TASTING
something from scratch. It doesn't have to be a five-
Invite family and/or friends to bring a bottle of a particular
course gourmet meal. Making a simple Italian pasta sauce gives
kind so that you'll be comparing similar wines. The ritual of a
all your senses a good workout. As you chop and saute onions,
wine tasting involves at least three of your senses. Wine experts
herbs, and spices, aromas permeate the kitchen and flood you
judge the color, the aroma, and the taste (sweet, sour, sharp,
with memories. You're engaging your tactile senses when chop-
soft, fruity, heavy, light, complex, oaky, and how it will taste in
ping and peeling, and then in testing the consistency and tex-
conjunction with spe-
ture of the sauce as it reduces. A good cook constantly tastes for
cific foods). Of course,
flavor, adding and adjusting spices a little at a time.
too much tasting can
also bring your emotions
and sense of balance into
play, so be moderate.
13. HAVE A SEXY MEAL
1 here was a famous eating scene in the film Tom Jones, where
the starring couple turn each other on by making each bite
highly sensual and suggestive. Stage your own erotic meal with
someone you care about and include other sensory enhance-
ments like candles, flowers, music, and incense.




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AT LEISURE
W hether it's the end of a long day, a hard week, or a busy
month, we all need time to relax and refresh our mind.
But not all relaxations are necessarily good for the brain.
Watching hours of TV is the most obvious example. Research
has shown that watching television literally numbs the mind:
The brain is less active during TV-viewing than during sleep!
And a constant diet of television
is linked to fewer social interac-
tions, which in turn has long-
term negative consequences.
In contrast, there are many
enjoyable, relaxing activities
that incorporate the principles
of Neurobics. Some of your ex-
isting leisure-time activities are
probably more Neurobic and
better for your brain than oth-
ers. So the first step is to take
stock of how you spend free

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KEEP YOUR BRAIN A I. I V E




1. NEW PLACES, NEW FACES
time and evaluate whether it includes a good proportion of
Neurobics. The key is striking a balance between brain-stim-
ulating Neurobic activity and those times when you simply 1 hroughout this book we've emphasized the importance of
need to put your mind in idle. breaking routines, and vacation time opens up rich possibili-
We've grouped exercises into three categories: vacations, ties. Go where you've never been before. Travel broadens, but
leisure time, and hobbies. not if you seek out the McDonald's in Paris or the shopping
mall in Santa Fe. Make it a point to explore the visual, audi-
tory, and olfactory differences a new place offers. Sample the
local food and entertainment, and shop and travel the way
the locals do. Try to avoid traveling in large tour groups, and
really get to meet people in different cultures.

^ At every turn, traveling involves something novel for the
senses. Spatial maps used for everyday navigation are suddenly
unusable and new ones must be constructed. The stress you may
feel taking in new sights, sounds, foods, and a foreign language is
actually your brain moving into high gear! An afternoon spent
talking with the owner of a small shop in a new place may be
more memorable (and better for your memory) than going to yet
another "must see" sight.




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KEEP YOUR BRAIN ALIVE AT LEISURE




2. Go CAMP 4. A DIFFERENT SLANT ON THINGS
A camping trip is definitely different from a week by the If you choose one of these vacations, you'll
pool at a resort! have contact with people of very different

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