Well being Requires a Highly Fit Brain

Load up on brain attitudinal and activity workouts, for mental acumen is the foundation for thriving and flourishing in later life.

Your perspectives, beliefs, values and other elements of personality represent who you are, how you behave and how you’re perceived. All brains are initially filled with impressions from the perspectives, beliefs, values and other elements of the personalities of family and others. An adult brain that is truly fit almost certainly requires personal modifications, over time. The fine-tuning or major overhauls, depending on your early circumstances, must be based upon your own observations, investigations, experiments and demonstrations. A highly fit brain is one that you must ultimately shape for yourself. At least as much as the physical fitness that you achieve and maintain daily, the fitness of your brain will determine the extent to which you live well and enjoy the years ahead.

Varied mind games provide mental challenges that nourish the brain, the central processing unit for who you are. They can boost your problem solving, communication and social skills. Staying sharp provides multiple benefits. Skill building takes place with games such as bridge and chess, two favorites that tend to keep your wits and mental states in top working order.

As important as vigorous physical training is for Jack Welber (he works out six to seven days a week and would surely train on additional days if more were available), he recognizes that a highly fit brain also takes work. He knows the benefits are at least as dramatic as the physical returns.

Ten years of playing bridge, writing papers and listening to podcasts have led Jack to believe that his brain is still in fine working order, and most of us who know him agree. Among his favorite podcasts are Sam Harris’ Making Sense and Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History. He realizes it’s not enough to learn the fundamentals of bridge, chess, writing and so on; mental discipline exerted in order to get better at them is invaluable. For one thing, others enjoy the game more if all play well; for another, you have more fun if your game is well regarded. Mental workouts of all kinds require time and energy to derive the most from them.

Roger Brockenbrough also noted the value of brain workouts. He mentioned staying sharp with crossword puzzles—stretching to find that special word benefits mental flexibility and agility. Roger extols the merits of deep thinking, regularly going beyond the routine application of knowledge. The stimulating effects of engaging with colleagues in search of a solution to a technical problem is as beneficial as physical exercise.

Sports involve multiple challenges requiring a clear head. An example well known to the champion participants in this book is the sport of triathlon. In this multiple-activity endeavor, the athlete must juggle disparate requirements. These include remembering to bring a variety of equipment to the race site, getting in and out of the playing field (i.e., the transition areas) as expeditiously as possible and knowing when to hold and when to fold them. By that we mean when to make strategic moves to advance under dramatically different circumstances.

Triathlons commence with a scrum when the starter’s signal sends competitors off on the initial swim leg of the race. Space gets tight as the first turn-buoy nears, as swimmers seek to be as close as possible to the buoy. The entire swim requires moving forward in deep, sometimes troubled waters, frequently jostling for position. With the swim ordeal complete, a run to transition and quick change into biker mode follows. Again, the start is tricky and hazardous, as many frantic cyclists hurriedly attempt to mount their steeds and set off without hitting others attempting to do likewise.

The bike portion of a triathlon offers some degree of serenity, especially when the course is relatively flat or rolling and hairpin turns, suicidal descents and/or reckless competitors are not present. Next comes the run. This is the safest but most exhausting of the three legs, especially if you are seeking podium glory or for other reasons are determined to leave your last bit of oxygen on the course at the finish line. By the time you depart transition for the final run segment, your energy resources are in serious decline, diminishing with each stride. Mental acuity is essential: The serious competitor wants to reach the finish line nearly exhausted. Hold back too much and you could lose a place or two; spend too much before you reach the Promised Land (i.e., the finish line) and you might drop dead, or at least abandon ship (i.e., quit the race). In other words, while bodily fitness matters, so too does mental acuity.

However, the satisfaction in doing all of this safely and well over the course of one to several hours is considerable, self-confidence is strengthened and you feel that all’s right with the world.

Everything’s relative, and some endeavors make triathlon competitions seem like the proverbial walk in the park.

Would you like an example? Here’s one to think about – climbing the near-vertical 3,000-foot El Capitan wall in Yosemite National Park – without a harness or other safety equipment. Choosing not to consider such a thing does not, however, inhibit us to a point where we can’t be dazzled by and appreciative of the skills and fortitude of someone like American climber Alex Honnold who, in 2017, ascended this exact El Capitan wall – without ropes or a parachute! National Geographic magazine described Mr. Honnold’s free solo climb on June 3 as perhaps the greatest feat of pure rock climbing in the history of the sport.

We old guys and gals think it’s more like the greatest feat of anything, ever, in the whole wide world. But, who knows? Maybe we’re just easily impressed!

Lest you think that brain nourishment requires heroic feats or just plain strenuous physical exertions, know that using your mind qualifies, too. Writing, for example, is another quite different but still nutrient-rich way to nourish the brain. It is valuable for self-understanding and for creating a record for others to appreciate who you are – and later, who you were. Otherwise, special times, events and experiences known only to and felt only by you might go unrecorded, forevermore.