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backgrounds and outlooks on the world.
^ There's probably no more di-
Volunteer as a counselor for a school or
rect way to experience the unex-
scout trip. Volunteer to work for a charity.
pected than camping. Not only are
you responsible for constructing
your shelter, you have to navigate Go on an Earthwatch or similar environmental vacation.
trails with a compass, make food,
and deal firsthand with the chal- If you're a sit-on-the-beach type, consider an active trip”a
lenges of weather and terrain. bicycle tour or a hike on the Appalachian Trail. If you're the
hyperactive type, consider a leisurely cruise.

Go to a farm or a dude ranch where vacationers work the farm.
^ The main point is to do something that challenges and engages
With your neighbors, get involved in a community project,
your mind not because it's difficult but because it's different from
such as sprucing up a local park. Not only will you interact
what you normally do on vacation.
with kids, neighbors, and the local authorities, but you'll
probably use your hands (and brain) in unexpected ways.

120 121

Take a creative workshop. Lots of places both in the U.S. and
abroad offer week- or month-long courses in writing, paint-
ing, photography, sculpting, music, acting, archaeology, or
whatever you've always wanted to try your hand at.

Try a sports camp. There are "camps" galore, including tennis,
golf, scuba diving, riding, baseball, and rock climbing.

Vacation at a cooking school. Your eyes, nose, tongue, sense
of touch, and emotions will get an extra workout, and you'll
develop mental skills planning, timing, and executing com-
plex tasks.

^ Novelty is the backbone of any good vacation. Increase the Neu-
robicpotential by adding a learning experience to it.

122 123

6. THE JOY OF JOY RIDING ^ Most of the time you're in a car, you have specific destinations
in mind (and usually a routine way to get there). Not being sure of
what comes next, where you're going to end up, or even how you'll
llead out without a plan and with family or friends for a
get back turns up your attentional circuits to notice all the new
"Random Drive." Each passenger gets a turn to suggest where
sensory stimuli around you. You (and your passengers) are also ex-
to go or what to do”"Stop here" or "Turn left now" or "Let's
ercising spatial navigation skills. And while you can play these
wade in that stream!" Or try "Map Toss": Put a map of your re-
games by yourself, by including family and friends you provide op-
gion on the floor and have everyone throw a coin on it. Then
portunities for shared experiences, shared memories, shared meals,
go to a randomly determined place that strikes your collective
and shared associations.
fancy. En route, use some of the exercises in the "Commuting"
chapter to enhance your social and sensory experiences.


1 he visual arts are just one example of using creative expres-
Do a group art project. Get out drawing paper and crayons or sion as a brain exercise.
paints and have each person draw something associated with a
Dub a segment of a TV show with your own script. Record the
specific theme (a season, an emotion, or a current event, for
show, then play it back without sound. Have each player pick a
role and make up dialogue for the part. When everyone is ready,
run the tape silently again to your voice-overs. Try the same
Create a mural together on the same paper. For added stim-
thing with an animal show like a National Geographic special.
ulation, try holding the crayon or paintbrush with your feet
It's bound to elicit belly laughs.
instead of your hands.

Play a family video with different kinds of background music
^ Art is a medium for activating the nonverbal and emotional
(scary, romantic, etc.) on a CD or tape player. Notice how it
parts of the cerebral cortex. When you create art, you draw on parts
transforms what you're watching and creates new associations
of your brain interested informs, colors, and textures, as well as
with the event.
thought processes very different from the logical, linear thinking
that occupies most of your waking hours.
Make a video about whatever strikes your fancy. Invent a
story, conduct "man-in-the-street" interviews, or film the
commonplace”your pet in the backyard, or a family meal
from preparation to eating and cleaning up.

126 127

Play "smell and tell." Each participant closes his eyes, sniffs
an aroma that is held under his nose, and tells what associa-
tions come to mind.
Learn sign language. Learning any foreign language is Neu-
robically stimulating, but learning American Sign Language
Form a band using real or made-up instruments such as pots,
(ASL) is especially so. Signing requires your hands (and the
pans, a bottle, comb, coffee can, etc.
parts of the cortex that control them) to do something com-
pletely new: be responsible for communication. And your vi-
Assign parts and read a play aloud. Or choose a monologue,
sual cortex must learn to associate particular hand positions
and then memorize, prepare, and stage it as an actor would.
with meaning, forming links to the parts of the cortex re-
sponsible for language and communication. Sign language is
^ Singing or reading aloud promotes interaction of the right and challenging, complex, and rich, and requires integrating new
left brain and activates normally unused pathways. types of sensory information to take the place of the usual au-
ditory associations. If you do learn some sign language, you
Listen to a piece of music and try to identify the instruments
will also be able to communicate with the hearing impaired
playing. Jazz and blues are good for this exercise. Go to a con-
in a much richer way than when they are reading your lips.
cert or watch a music video, and then listen to the same piece
again on a CD. It's a novel way to "see" with your ears.
Communicate a thought or idea to someone without using
your voice. Playing charades is one fun way to do this, and
both actor and guesser benefit.


Oomeone hands you an ordinary object. You must use it to \Jn an old radio show, contestants would try to identify
demonstrate ten different "things" that the object might be. sounds the host would play for them. You can make up your
Example: A fly swatter might be a tennis racket, a golf club, a own after-dinner version of this game. During the week,
fan, a baton, a drumstick, a violin, a shovel, a microphone, a record sounds on your Walkman from around the house or
baseball bat, or a canoe paddle. In some ways, this game is park or work. Play them back for the family and have each
similar to punning, whereby you reach into your mental person try to "name that sound." Or buy a sound-effects CD
sound database and associate a sound/word with something or cassette (there are lots available) and play the game.
else like it in a humorous way.

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If you already exercise to stay fit, why not give your brain a xarks are designed for leisure activity, especially for exercise
workout at the same time? Running on a treadmill is not the of all types.
same as running through a park or your neighborhood. The
predictable program of a machine in a gym demands almost Try something new like bird-watching or identifying flow-
ers or trees. Fly a kite or go sledding.
nothing of your brain. Walking, jogging, or cycling on a trail
or sidewalk opens you up to multisensory experiences with
unpredictiblility at every corner.. .Which way do I go at this Feed the ducks or squirrels (by yourself or with a child). The
intersection? Will that dog come after me? Look out for that advantage of Neurobics is that even something small, if un-
kid on the tricycle! So vary your exercise routine by doing it predictable, is enough to get your brain moving.
outdoors periodically.
Sail a model boat or make one with a simple piece of wood, a
stick, and a piece of paper for a sail. Have races!

Settle on a bench, close your eyes, and take in what happens
around you. Let your mind free-associate by using the sounds
and smells you experience.


14. START A NEW HOBBY Build a small model airplane or car while wearing a patch
over one eye. Because you lose depth perception, your brain
has to rely on new cues. Your sense of touch and spatial skills
llobbies that are most Neurobically stimulating require you
are required to fit small pieces together.
to use several different senses in nonroutine ways and to make
fine distinctions within one sensory system.

Fly fishing, for example, puts you in a novel sensory environ-
ment (a river), requires you to think like a fish and to pay at-
tention to the time of day, the feel of the water, and the types
of insects around you. Other examples are archery, photogra-
phy, woodworking, and cooking.

Master a new gadget such as a computer, video or still cam-
era, telescope, ham radio, musical instrument, Windsurfer, or

Learn touch typing. If you still hunt and peck, it slows down
your enjoyment of the computer. Practicing touch typing en-
gages the brain in a different way. It offers all the Neurobic
benefits of integrating your tactile, spatial, and visual senses
without having to be blindfolded.

134 135

Whether it's a rooftop flower garden in the middle of a city
or a half-acre vegetable plot out in the country, gardening is
a good example of a richly Neurobic exercise.
Why? Because you use all your senses in the process: feel-
ing the earth, smelling the fruits and plants, tasting sprigs of
herbs. And your brain's planning and spatial abilities are
called into action as you decide which plants to put where,
the direction of the sun, and how much water is needed. At
the end there are potent rewards: fresh, homegrown fruits
and vegetables, flowers, or a beautiful yard.

136 137

Chapter I

1. Dr. Fred Gage of The Salk Institute and researchers at Sahlgrenska
University Hospital in Sweden discovered new cell growth in the hip-
pocampus, an area of the brain closely tied to learning and memory, in five
patients ages fifty-five to seventy. See the November 1998 issue of Nature
Medicine for a full report. Using similar techniques, Elizabeth Gould of
Princeton University and Bruce S. McEwen at Rockefeller University re-
ported that new cells are constantly being generated in the hippocampus of
adult monkeys. (See Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, Vol. 95.)

2. Over the past ten years, the issue of whether brain cells die with normal
aging has been reexamined by a number of scientists, using much more
accurate methods than previously available. The conclusions are clear.
Studies such as those by Stephen Buell, Dorothy Flood, and Paul Cole-
man at the University of Rochester have found that in normal people,
even very late in life, the actual number of nerve cells really doesn't change
much. So it's likely that most of the nerve cells you had when you were
twenty are still very much alive when you're seventy. Even the magnitude
of mental decline in normal aging has been overstated: At least 90 percent
of the population will age without having to deal with the severe impair-
ments brought about by diseases or strokes.


of a brain cell is determined by the complexity of its pattern of dendritic
3. In an influential study published in Science (Vol. 206) and expanded in
branches, this doubling of growth suggests that neurotrophins can literally
Brain Research (Vol. 214), Stephen Buell and Paul Coleman found that
add more mental horsepower. We were also quite surprised to find that sim-
neurons in the aging human hippocampus (a brain structure critical in
ply adding neurotrophins was not enough. The nerve cells had to be send-
learning and memory) actually grew longer dendrites. Interestingly, in the
ing or receiving impulses in order to respond to them. The message was
brains of individuals afflicted with Alzheimer's Disease, this growth did
clear”adding neurotrophins to active neurons made dendrites grow. Con-
not occur. It appears, therefore, that many neurons retain the capacity to
versely, we found that removing neurotrophins made dendrites atrophy
grow even late in life.
(which suggests one reason that brain inacitivity leads to mental decline).
4. A long series of investigations by Dr. Michael Merzenich at the Univer-
6. The first neurotrophin was discovered almost fifty years ago, when two
sity of California, San Francisco, has shown the adaptability of connections
scientists, Rita Levi-Montalcini and Victor Hamburger, working at
in the adult brain. For example, in the brains of adult monkeys trained to
Washington University in St. Louis, discovered a substance that not only
use certain fingers to get food, the areas of the brain responsible for pro-
kept certain types of nerve cells alive but also caused them to sprout many
cessing the sense of touch from those fingers gradually took over much
new branches. Levi-Montalcini and another scientist, Stanley Cohen, pu-
larger regions. This means that the brain was able to "rewire" to accomplish
rified this substance, which they named Nerve Growth Factor, or NGF.
something important like getting food, and devoted more "brain horse-
It turned out that NGF occurred naturally throughout the body but was
power" to the skills required, in this case the sense of touch in certain fin-
scarce in the cerebral cortex. NGF was the first member of what became a
gers. Recent findings by Dr. Jon Kaas at Vanderbilt University and Dr.
family of neurotrophins (from the Greek word trofhe, which, loosely
Charles Gilbert at Rockefeller University have shown directly that neurons
translated, means "to nourish").
in the adult brain can actually grow new "wires" to connect to one another.
In the early 1980s Yves Barde at the Max Planck Institute in Mu-
5. The beneficial effects of neurotrophins have been documented in hun- nich, Germany, finally succeeded in purifying a molecule from the brain
dreds of experiments at leading universities throughout the world. In our that behaved just like NGF. Called Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor,
own experiments at Duke University Medical Center, we (Lawrence C. or BDNF, it was found almost everywhere in the brain, including the
Katz, A. Kimberley McAllister, and Donald C. Lo) found that adding ex- cerebral cortex. Neurotrophins have powerful effects on the machinery of
tra neurotrophins to a neuron almost doubled the size and complexity of the brain. Research by Bai Lu at the National Institutes of Health, Erin
the dendrites that branch off the neuron. And since the computing power Schumann at Caltech, and Tobias Bonhoeffer at the Max Planck Institute


Chapter II
in Munich has shown that neurotrophins help increase the strength of
connections in the hippocampus, a part of the brain that is critical for
learning and memory. Experiments by O. Lindvall and P. Ernfors of Uni-
1. About fifty years ago, a scientist named Karl Lashley trained rats to run
versity Hospital in Sweden, using animals, suggest that the neurotrophins
a maze for a food reward, and then removed ever larger parts of their cor-
may protect neurons from damage when parts of the brain undergo a
tex to determine when they could no longer "remember" the maze. To his
stroke or are damaged by other trauma.
surprise, he found that he could remove about 90 percent of the cortex,
and the animals could still find their way! By concluding (wrongly) that
7. Hans Thoenen of the Max Planck Institute in Munich and Christine
only 10 percent of the brain was required for memory to function he
Gall of the University of California, Irvine, revealed the direct correlation
missed the more important fact that there are many different forms (rep-
between the production of growth factors and nerve cell activity. Experi-
resentations) of the same memory stored in many different places. When
ments by Anirvan Ghosh and Michael Greenberg at Harvard and Ben
the rats were learning to run the maze, they formed associations among
Barres at Stanford further showed that this activity-dependent neu-
all their senses”they felt, heard, saw, smelled their way through the
rotrophin production formed more neural branches and connections, act-
maze. They had built a net of associations. When one set of associations
ing, in effect, like a self-fertilizing garden.
was destroyed”like those based on vision, for example”they could still
rely on their auditory or tactile memories to find their way to the food.
8. One example of this kind of stimulation is the patterns of brain activity
required to produce a phenomenon called long-term potentiation, or
2. And TV viewing is passive. Your sensory systems are involved in only a
LTP. LTP is a long-lasting change in the strength of synapses between
very limited way, and you are watching someone else perform interesting
neurons and it has been clearly linked to learning and memory. The same
or exciting activities. But in the brain, watching another person doing
kinds of stimulation that produce LTP also cause increases in the levels of
something is no substitute for doing it yourself. Indeed, there is direct ev-
neurotrophins like BDNF.
idence from animal experiments done by Marion Diamond at University
of California, Berkeley, that rats who simply watched other rats playing in
an enriched environment derived no brain benefits, while the animals
who were actually playing grew larger nerve cells.

3. Michael I. Posner, Marcus E. Raichle, and Steve E. Peterson at Washing-


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