New Book Says Cross-Train Your Brain To Increase Mental Function

DURHAM, N.C. -- Shower with your eyes closed. Take a different route to work. Learn the braille numbers in the elevator for the floors. Hold your nose as you try different foods to explore how the taste changes.

These are among 83 "neurobic" exercises advocated by Duke Medical Center neurobiologist Lawrence Katz and co-author Manning Rubin in their new book Keep Your Brain Alive (1999, Workman Publishing Co., New York).

In the book, Katz, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator at Duke Medical Center, takes out of the laboratory and into everyday life the latest insights into how the brain can rewire itself to adjust to new experience. And, indeed, new scientific evidence shows that the brain can rewire itself, even in adults, Katz said in an interview.

"It was not appreciated for a long time how, even quite late in life, the brain has quite a lot of residual capacity for reorganization."

Basically, brain cells learn by making new connections with one another, growing tendril-like connections called dendrites, said Katz and Rubin, senior creative supervisor at K2 Design in New York City and the author of 60 Ways to Relieve Stress in 60 Seconds. These dendrites connect with neighboring cells through linkages called synapses. As brains age, these dendritic connections may thin out, but Katz and Rubin advocate mental exercise as a way to enrich those connections.

"It's long been clear that during critical periods early in life, people's brains set up some of their very basic circuits," he said. "But the long-held idea that after that, brain connections were frozen is probably not true. And, in fact, it's obvious that people learn things throughout our lives; even if they're 80 years old they can learn new things."

Katz emphasizes that "neurobics" is not about doing puzzles or brain-teasers, but about using the full range of the senses to help forge new connections among the differe

Contact: Dennis Meredith
Duke University

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