Why you need to exercise your brain | Community

First, we would like to thank veteran Roy Nivens and the Etowah Fire Department for getting our flags back up after the ropes broke. We are so proud that we are able to show respect to our country and its veterans by displaying our American and POW flags.

Recently, Stephanie Shanahan, Etowah Community Center Manager, and Assistant Manager Jennifer Chamlee visited the senior center. They told our seniors all about their facility and the programs they offer. The purpose of the Community Center is to encourage good health and to bring families closer through fitness, sports, fun, and shared interests.

One program at the Etowah Community Center is Silver Sneakers. It is a health and fitness program that provides exercise classes for older adults. The cost of the program is covered by most Medicare Advantage plans. Once you are in the silver sneakers program, you are able to take advantage of other things the center offers. Silver Sneakers meets on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9-10 a.m. Even if your Medicare plan does not cover Silver Sneakers, you are invited to participate. Call for more information.

The Etowah Community Center also offers Zumba classes Mondays and Thursdays from 6:30-7:30 and on Saturdays from 10-11. They also have a weight and cardio room, recreation room, dance and aerobics room, meeting and party rooms, and a gymnasium. They have a pool table, ping-pong table and pickleball. They offer individual rates as well as family rates. They have monthly, quarterly, and yearly plans available. You can even pay by the day. For more information about the community center and what programs they offer, call 423-263-6575.

We have several different exercise programs each year at the center. We host the arthritis exercise program conducted by the UT Extension Agency. We just completed an exercise program with Tonya Phenix, fitness instructor and owner of the Sweetwater Fitness Center. We have our own exercise classes regularly. We try to vary the types of exercises. We do chair exercises, band exercises, yoga, strength training, and many others. When you think about exercising, you don’t really think you are doing something good for your brain, but you are. Many of us experience brain fog as we age. Exercise changes the brain in ways that protect memory and thinking skills.

When your heart rate increases, more oxygen is pumped to your brain. This aids in the release of a hormone which provides an excellent environment for the growth of new brain cells. New brain cells are something we all could use.

Physical exercise is not the only type of exercise good for your brain. There are many other activities that will stimulate the brain. Below are some reasons why it is so important to exercise your brain as well as some other activities that will help keep your mind sharp.

Have you ever heard someone say, “use it or lose it?” When someone says that, they usually are talking about your muscles. But the saying could also refer to your brain.

Most of us don’t think of our brain as an organ that needs care and attention, like we do our heart, lungs, and skin. We may think our brain is beyond our control or influence. In fact, we probably don’t think about it at all until something goes wrong, like an injury or disease such as dementia. But in reality, your brain needs just as much, if not more, exercise and attention than the rest of your body to keep it sharp, healthy, and functioning at its very best. Brain exercises can even delay the onset of dementia and Alzheimer’s. When you keep your mind active, your thinking skills are less likely to decline. Your brain is the most vital organ in your body, controlling every bodily function.

Many people don’t understand why your brain needs exercise. And even fewer understand how to do it. If you are over the age of 18, some of your cognitive skills have already headed south, according to a study from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The following are some of the cognitive abilities that change as you age:

• Processing Speed. This is how fast you take in new information and respond to it. It’s basically thinking on your feet. This ability peaks in your late teens.

• Working Memory. This is your ability to hold multiple pieces of information in your brain. This is also called short-term memory. This peaks in your late 20s and 30s.

• Social Cognition. This is your ability to perceive and interpret social information, like body language or facial expressions and respond accordingly. This peaks in your 40s.

• Vocabulary. Learning the meaning of new words peaks in the 60s. Broader vocabulary helps you communicate more effectively and better understand the world around you.

Now that you know what happens to your brain as you age, we will learn what to do about it. There are numerous brain exercises that will help. The following will give you some suggestions of what you can do to stimulate your brain:

• Work your memory. The simplest way to remember things is by repetition. When you meet someone new, repeat their name back to them. When you hear a song you like, try to memorize the lyrics. Memorize Bible verses, your grocery list, or a poem.

• Learn something new. Learn to play an instrument, game, language or sport.

• Work your body. Physical exercise is great for your brain.

• Eat the right foods. Foods like fish, fruits and vegetables help your brain perform optimally. Even dark chocolate gives your brain a boost.

• Do math in your head. Figure out simple math problems in your head.

• Take a cooking class or cook at home. Cooking uses a number of senses: Smell, touch, sight and taste. These all can improve certain areas in your brain.

• Draw a map from memory. When you visit a certain place, when you go home, try to draw a map of where you were at. Repeat this every time you visit a new location.

• Challenge your taste buds. When eating, try to identify individual ingredients in your meal. Try to pick out certain herbs and spices. Eat new foods.

• Take up a hobby that involves hand/eye coordination. Do an activity that involves fine motor skills such as knitting, drawing, painting, working puzzles and playing bingo.

• Get enough sleep. Sleep is critical to rejuvenate your brain.

• Take a different route on your way to work or home. This forces your brain to pay attention to details rather than what it has been programmed to do.

• Take a good look at things. One of the most dominate jobs of your brain is your visual sense. Being able to visually analyze your environment gives you cognitive clues about how to behave in it. Developing this part of your brain can be done by picking out three items and their location. When you leave the setting, close your eyes and see if you can accurately remember each item and its location. If you do this when you park somewhere, you will remember where you park. We have all come out of a store and forgot where we parked. Doing this exercise will help with that. You can also notice things in your surroundings and then write it all down from recall.

• Do simple tasks with your non-dominant hand. Try eating, brushing your teeth and writing with the other hand.

• Start the morning off with your newspaper. You will find word puzzles such as crosswords and Sudoku. The Daily Post-Athenian in the weekend paper has a great selection of puzzles.

• If you always sit in a certain chair at your table, switch seats. Even change the place where you usually reach for the salt and pepper.

• Have more social interaction. Pay a real person for your gas. Buy a drink from a person rather than a machine.

• Read. Almost anything you read helps your brain. For an even better effect, change up the way your read. Read out loud for a change. Read to someone else.

• Pick out an object and think of 10 different ways to use it. For instance, a fly swatter could be used as a tennis racket, golf club, fan, baton, drumstick, violin, shovel, microphone, baseball bat or a canoe paddle.

Holding off the aging process of your brain is kind of like buying a gym membership and never using it. To have a sharp functioning brain means incorporating these activities into your everyday routine. Doing brain exercises will give you a good head start to good brain health.

Here at the center, you will find many ways to stimulate your brain. Playing bingo, working puzzles, playing games, socializing, painting, and doing arts and crafts are just a few brain activities we do here. You are more than welcome to come see what we do. You just might even make a new friend.

Below are some activities we will offer in the next few days:

• May 13: 9 a.m. — Games; 10 a.m. — Brain Games; 11 a.m. — Crafts

• May 16: 9 a.m. — Games 10 a.m. — Bingo with Hospice of Chattanooga; 11 a.m. — Icebreakers

• May 17: 9 a.m. — Games; 10 a.m. — Bingo with Cameron Medical Supply

• May 18: 9 a.m. — Games; 10 a.m. — Bingo; 11 a.m. — Group Singing

• May 20: 9 a.m. — Games; 10 a.m. — Bean Auction with Hospice of Chattanooga; 11 a.m. — Etowah Senior Bird Watchers

Sue Walker is the executive director of the Etowah Area Senior Citizens Center. She may be reached by calling 423-781-7632.

Sue Walker is the executive director of the Etowah Area Senior Citizens Center. She may be reached by calling 423-781-7632.