Five Ways to Keep Your Brain Active this Winter

12/1/2021

Your brain may weigh only three pounds, but as your one and only mission control center, it’s well worth taking care of. Start with these five strategies, sure to keep the gray matter engaged, even during a long New England winter.


1 | Go back to school.
Maine Senior College is proof that you’re never too old to learn — and makes it easy for anyone over age 50. No pop quizzes. No report cards. But loads of interesting topics to explore. There are 17 senior colleges to choose from, so it’s easy to find one near you. And with classes online, you can choose any location, regardless of where you live (though it’s best to register with the one nearest you, so you can easily go to in-person events when they resume). And never fear, online classes have been so popular, they’re here to stay, says program director Anne Cardale.

What could you learn? At USM’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute — the Portland area senior college — you could explore the Arab Spring or a Shakespeare tragedy. Learn how to draw. Or survey the best detective movies. Registration for winter classes opens December 2; classes start January 12 and meet once a week for eight weeks. There’s an annual fee of $25 to $35 for membership. Unfamiliar with Zoom? No problem. Training is available.


2 | Explore art to frame up fresh thoughts. To get the wheels turning, avoid the pressure to examine every piece of art in every gallery. Start by scanning a room and see what catches your eye. From there, try to look without judgement, recommends art historian Nancy Langham-Hooper, who has lectured in the U.S., the U.K., France and Australia. Then go deeper. For abstract works, identify textures, colors, cracks, and shapes. For portraits, ask yourself, what could the subject be thinking?

Where to go? In Maine, The Portland Museum of Art offers free admission, every Friday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. In New Hampshire, check out the Currier Museum of Art in Manchester, with free Art After Work sessions on Thursdays from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. (register online).

 

3 | Book it. Joining a book club is a great way to nudge yourself into reading regularly. What’s more, joining group discussions will get you thinking about themes, characters, plot twists, and story lines in ways you might not have by reading independently. It’s like squeezing more out of every page you pass over.

How to join? There are lots of options. You can start your own club with friends. Or check with your local library — many have clubs that welcome all members. Some of Maine Senior college’s 17 regional branches offer book clubs, including SAGE, which meets once a month for an hour on Wednesday mornings.

You can even join a book club through Maine Public Radio. It’s called All Books Considered, and it’s free. The club focuses on books by Maine authors.


4 | Tune in. Since anything your brain sees as new can be stimulating, why not make it fun? Choose an instrument and learn to make music. Beginners will make the quickest progress with bongos, a harmonica, or a ukulele.  

If that’s not appealing, you might explore classical music – and really use your ears. As you listen to a piece of music, identify the emotion in it. Is it melancholy? Joyous? Vengeful? Another strategy is to translate what you hear into something visual. Close your eyes and let your imagination wander. What images, colors, or stories come to mind?

Where to listen and learn? YouTube has countless videos to help you learn to play an instrument, or at least get started. You can find classical music through Maine Public and New Hampshire Public Radio, as well as through many channels on Classical Webcast.

 

5 | Treat your brain right. Following healthy practices isn’t just good for your heart, bones, and other body systems. It also helps keep the brain functioning at maximum capacity.

  • Fill your plate with minimally processed foods that are low in sugar and rich in vitamins and antioxidants. Fish that’s high in omega-3s, whole grains, nuts and seeds, and berries pack lots of punch.
  • Keep active. When you heart starts to work harder, more blood and oxygen flow to the brain. Exercise also gets brain-friendly hormones flowing, and can encourage brain cells to make new connections.
  • Sleep. Research shows good sleep helps your brain reset from a day’s work, wiping away toxins and giving nerve cells a chance to regroup for the day ahead.

Remember the old saying, “use it or lose it,” and take some time to keep your brain engaged this season.