It is hard to admit to yourself that as you pass middle age, your brain power may start to decline. This isn’t dementia; it’s a normal part of life. In fact, there’s even a name for the condition: ARCD, or ‘Age Related Cognitive Decline.’
A slew of commercials and advertisements have recently begun to offer products that promise to improve memory or increase brain power. Fitness experts claim that brain decline can be delayed or prevented by physical activity, and there exists a plethora of studies showing this to be true.
However, little recognition is given to what may be the actual cause of ARCD: putting your life on automatic pilot. This happens when certain habits become so ingrained that you don’t have to think about them. You can carry out actions without ever having to pass them through your brain. You drive to work or home, or take public transportation automatically, without having to think about it. You eat the same easy-to-prepare breakfasts or dinners without going outside your realm of regular food to prepare something different.
As actions become more and more automatic, the brain retreats and becomes less involved in your daily thinking process. To keep your mind sharp, you will need to break free of the tether of living on automatic pilot. Here’s a test: without looking down, think about what socks you are wearing. Can you remember which pair of pants or jeans you put on when you got dressed, without looking to see? If you can’t remember, or if you have to concentrate to think about it for a bit, you may have started to put dressing for the day on automatic pilot.
Remember, the mind is like a muscle. With use, it gets stronger.
Look for areas of your life in which you can increase the participation of your mind. A good example is dinnertime. If you’ve become accustomed to dinners that consist of either prepared food, or the easy cooking of a burger or other piece of meat along with the opening of a can of vegetables, or even if someone else prepares dinner food for you, take the initiative to push that comfort zone.
Look online or in a newspaper for a recipe that sounds appetizing. Purchase the ingredients, an action that requires thought. Put the recipe near your stove and begin following its instructions, which will require several different categories of thought. If you live alone and the recipe serves four people, either do the math to divide it in half, or prepare it as is and freeze the leftovers to eat later.
Closets are another place where the automatic pilot syndrome often sets in. If you can reach for a certain shirt or a pair of shoes without thinking about it, rearrange everything. Sort things differently. Put jackets where shirts now hang. Whatever way you may store your shoes, switch them up. Don’t store them by color or dressiness. Store them without a system so that you have to at all of them and search for the shoes you want.
In fact, if you’ve gone on automatic pilot where clothing is concerned, you are probably hanging on to things you haven’t worn in years and will never wear again. Donate or give these items away, which will also require your brain to think about which items need to be gone.
Above all, enhance your brain power by analyzing where you have allowed areas of your life to go on automatic pilot, and let your brain start taking control instead.
Wina Sturgeon is an active 55+ based in Salt Lake City, who offers news on the science of anti-aging and staying youthful at: adventuresportsweekly.com. She skates, bikes and lifts weights to stay in shape.