When the West Auckland Old Farts soccer team takes the field, you might assume from their name that they’re not very serious about winning. But you’d be wrong. The members of that football club in northern Australian have effectively cleared out the cobwebs (they actually trounced the rival Glenfield Cobwebs twice one season) that can come from sitting around and not doing much of anything.
If you want to clear out the cobwebs from your playing field, here’s how: Put yourself in situations where you have to deal with complex, new circumstances (the ever-changing demands of playing soccer certainly qualifies). That’s what researchers from Johns Hopkins discovered when they examined the brains of participants in Baltimore’s Experience Corps — a program that brings retired people (65 and older) into public schools to serve as mentors to young children.
The scientists used MRIs to track what happened to the memory centers in the volunteers’ brains. They were surprised that the brain volume of the participants stayed the same or grew (up to 1.6 percent over 24 months). That’s contrary to what happens to the aging brain if it’s not stimulated with changing situations and challenges; it loses from 0.4 percent to 2 percent of its volume annually.
The takeaway? Your enduring brain health is given a real boost when you challenge yourself by learning new things in new situations. Volunteers (and soccer players) meet different people in different situations every day. (One more tip: Eat six to 12 walnut halves daily. Studies show that regularly eating walnuts can protect you from dementia!)
Mehmet Oz, M.D. is host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Mike Roizen, M.D. is Chief Wellness Officer and Chair of Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic. To live your healthiest, tune into “The Dr. Oz Show” or visit sharecare.com.