Pumping Irony

Craig Cox, EL’s director of business operations and resident geezer, explores the joys and challenges of aging well.

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Experience Life Magazine

The Brain Game

It had been awhile since I’d been on the tennis court, so when The Baseline Machine called to schedule a match last week I was ready to do battle. There was a small problem, however: Her rotator cuff was injured and her tennis elbow was acting up.

“Um, so how are you going to play,” I asked.

“I’ll hit it left-handed,” she replied.

“You’re ambidextrous?”

“Not really, but I can write with my left hand.”

You might think that I would welcome this opportunity, given my recent run of futility against TBM, but I was already feeling the pressure when I pedaled over to the Nokomis courts Saturday morning. If I can’t beat her when she’s playing left-handed, I may have to hang up my racket. I do have some pride, after all.

So it was with some relief that TBM opted for a little light volleying rather than a full-on match. I happily discovered that she’d never actually tried to hit a tennis ball with her left hand holding the racket, but she was convinced that it would help her repair her basic stroke mechanics — using her legs and torso as much as her arm — which would no doubt help prevent future shoulder and elbow injuries. It’s all about building new neural pathways, she explained, as she took up her position across the net.

I’d heard this before from my yoga teacher, who often has her geezer class doing awkward movements with the same end in mind. It is, in fact, a great way to keep your brain healthy as you age. The late neurobiologist Lawrence Katz coined the term “neurobics” to define brain exercises that would test the brain and keep it sharp — and among these was using your non-dominant hand when doing familiar tasks, like brushing your teeth.

Fifty years ago, it was assumed that deteriorating brain function was simply a natural result of aging, but now it’s clear that the brain can adapt, based on experience, by creating new neural pathways, so TBM’s left-handed gambit wasn’t just a way to clean up her stroke; it could also keep her brain in shape into a ripe old age (which, I should note, is still a long way away for her).

But it sure looked funny when she tried to hit the ball. “I can feel my self-esteem rising already,” I told her a she knocked another one feebly into the net.

It wasn’t long, however, before she started returning my volleys with more confidence and actually placing a few winners in the corners. She couldn’t serve, of course, and her backhand was useless, and I was starting to wonder where this might lead. Maybe if I could get her back out on the court again while she was gaining confidence as a lefty — but before her right arm was back in business — I might end my long losing streak.

When we finally called it a day, TBM was smiling. “I think I’ll take beginner lessons as a left-hander,” she announced, the traffic evidently flowing smoothly along her freshly paved neural highway. It didn’t sound like a bad idea to me. It may make her even smarter than she already is (which is saying something), but I know this much: Even the sharpest brain can’t cure a lousy backhand.

Experience Life Magazine

The Heart of the Matter

My Lovely Wife and I last week attended our first French 1.5 community education class at a local high school. I think it’s our third attempt to pound a little française into our graying heads. I don’t mind, really, since small doses of public humiliation build character and if I am going to be publicly humiliated I’d rather it come in the form of a language I don’t understand. Besides, everything I’ve read in recent years tells us geezers to keep challenging our brains in order to avoid losing our marbles as we age.

In fact, the big health headline a couple of weeks ago suggested that the cost of caring for those suffering from various forms of dementia has risen to the top of the U.S. healthcare charts, eclipsing even the cost of heart disease and cancer treatment. The report, published in the venerable New England Journal of Medicine, found that the direct costs of treating dementia in the U.S. in 2010 rose to an estimated $109 billion, compared with $102 billion for heart disease and a mere $77 billion for cancer.

What that says to this geezer, who still happens to be in possession of all his meager faculties, is that we’ve got an epidemic on our hands. And it’s partly explained by the fact that folks are living longer and partly by the fact that my Baby Boomer generation is getting to that age when the old gray matter apparently begins to dry up and we start to forget where we put our car keys. Unless we do the Sudoku every day, muddle through the Times crossword on Sunday, and apprenez française or some other vexing way of speaking during the rest of our spare time.

So how do you explain a new study out of Stockholm, Sweden, that shows rates of dementia there actually declining over the past 20 years? It’s not because they speak Swedish.

According to researchers at the Karolinski Institute and Stockholm University, the decline is tied to a general reduction in cardiovascular disease among Swedes since the early ’90s. “We know that cardiovascular disease is an important risk factor for dementia. The suggested decrease in dementia risk coincides with the general reduction in cardiovascular disease over recent decades,” lead researcher Chengxuan Qiu, an associate professor at the Aging Research Center, explained in a statement released by the university. “Health check-ups and cardiovascular disease prevention have improved significantly in Sweden, and we now see results of this improvement reflected in the risk of developing dementia.”

This is welcome news, not because I can ignore my French homework, but because it reinforces my own belief that if you want to retain what little lucidity you have, it won’t hurt to keep lifting weights and cranking up your cardio on a regular basis. And the Swedes don’t mention it, but we should all be including plenty of healthy fats in our diets. Your brain, after all, is mostly fat, even if your body isn’t.

I know what you’re thinking: Man, I’d rather study French than go to the gym! I don’t blame you. Exercise can be daunting. Eating right can seem complicated. But I’m here to tell you that you haven’t really suffered until you’ve tried to conjugate irregular verbs like a Parisian. Mon dieu!

Experience Life Magazine

To Stay Smart, Get Happy

Most mornings at the office my work is briefly interrupted by a guy I call “Mr. Perfect.” He’s there to pick up and deliver interoffice mail, but his real mission is to convince everyone he encounters that they have it in their power to create their own happiness. And he’s not kidding around.

Ask him, quite innocently, how he’s doing and he’ll tell you, “Perfect. And you’re perfect too!” The first few times this occurs, it feels rather awkward, to be honest, because most of us believe we are routinely saddled with some minor (or major) complaint. But he’ll have none of it. “You are absolutely perfect,” he will assert, and if prompted he’ll walk you through his theory — if you want to be bummed out, you’ll be bummed out; if you want to be joyful, you’ll be joyful. It’s all up to you.

I’m not sure he’s gained many converts among my coworkers, as journalists tend to be a rather cynical bunch, but he and I hit it off right away. The other day, he came into my office, hands outstretched. “I’m holding a divining rod that points only to perfect people,” he announced as he zeroed in on my desk. “That’s amazing,” I replied. “It’s also pointing straight back at you.”

Mr. Perfect, who I’m guessing is slightly older than me, may be a disciple of Norman Vincent Peale, whose Power of Positive Thinking was a bestseller back in the 1950s, but he’s also spreading the gospel of a more recent phenomenon — positive psychology.

Championed by, among others, University of Pennsylvania professor Martin Seligman, positive psychology has shown to be an effective approach to dealing with a wide range of psychological issues, but from a decidedly different angle than conventional psychology. Seligman and other advocates argue that offering people the tools to learn how to be happy may be more helpful than focusing on treating a specific disorder.

I bring all this up because of a study I stumbled upon the other day. Researchers at Ohio State University found that happiness actually boosted the brain power of old guys like me.

“There has been lots of research showing that younger adults are more creative and cognitively flexible when they are in a good mood. But because of the cognitive declines that come with aging, we weren’t sure that a good mood would be able to help older adults,” psychology professor Ellen Peters, coauthor of the study, said in a statement released by the university.

It was a small sample — 46 people ranging in age from 63 to 85 years — but Peters said the results clearly showed that those who were feeling happy easily outperformed their bummed-out counterparts on various cognitive tasks. And that’s good news for us geezers, she said. “Given the current concern about cognitive declines in the aged, our findings are important for showing how simple methods to improve mood can help improve cognitive functioning and decision performance in older adults, just like they do in younger people.”

I think I’ll pass this on to Mr. Perfect next time I see him. It’s sure to make him smile — as if he needed any encouragement.

Experience Life Magazine

This Is Your Brain on Exercise

Sometimes I wonder how well my brain is working. In the past week, for instance, I ran a 5K wearing bad shoes in sub-zero weather, strapped on some old skates and tempted fate on a bumpy sheet of local lake ice, and spent two hours running up and down a basketball court.

I am, as I think I have mentioned, 61 years old.

What’s particularly odd, to me, is how much pleasure I derive from this stuff. And now I know why: When I exercise — even recklessly — something in my brain kicks in that tells me I’m having a great time and to keep doing what I’m doing.

That something — or those somethings — according to a new study by researchers at the University of Bordeaux in France, are lipid molecules called endocannabinoids. And, yes, if you guessed that this has something to do with the active ingredient in a certain recreational substance, you would be correct. But even if, like Bill Clinton, you never inhaled, these endocannabinoids are hardwired in your brain and they spring into action whenever you do. But here’s the catch: Only those of us whose brains are carrying a high-functioning CB1 cannabinoid receptor feel those good vibes. And it’s a big reason why some folks just never take to exercising.

“The inability to experience pleasure during physical activity, which is often quoted as one explanation why people partially or completely drop out of physical exercise programs, is a clear sign that the biology of the nervous system is involved,” lead researcher Francis Chaouloff said in a statement released by the university.

If I knew how to improve your cannabinoid receptivity (and I’m pretty certain a little more ganja will not do the trick), I’d certainly clue you in. But I’m afraid I don’t, and Monsieur Chaouloff is not letting on either. My best guess is that the more you exercise, the better it will eventually feel. At least that’s what my brain is telling me.

Experience Life Magazine

Let’s Go Crazy!

Neurotics arise! Your various psychological warts may actually make you healthier. That’s the news from University of Rochester Medical Center researchers, who found that folks displaying average to high levels of neuroticism — plus some level of conscientiousness — tend to have lower levels of interleukin 6, a reliable indicator of inflammation and chronic disease.

“Speculation is that healthy neurotics may be hyper-vigilant about their lifestyle and about seeking treatment when a problem arises,” explained the study’s author, Nicholas Turiano, a post-doctoral fellow at URMC, in a statement released by the university. “It’s their conscientiousness that guides their decisions to prevent disease or quickly get treatment when they don’t feel well.”

I think I’m a pretty conscientious guy, and I suppose I’m a bit more vigilant about my health than the average Joe, but I’m not sure I’m ready to embrace my neuroses in a way that would explain my own reasonably decent health. Isn’t it enough to just work out regularly and eat right? Do you also have to be just a little bit crazy to maintain your vitality into your golden years?

Actually, maybe you do. I mean, I have to admit that it always feels a little weird to get up most mornings and spend 20 minutes or so swinging a kettlebell around, hoisting a dumbbell, and cranking out 100 pushups before breakfast. (I wouldn’t want to see that video on YouTube.) I’ve been commuting to work on my bicycle for most of my adult life, and it still feels slightly loopy (especially yesterday morning during our first snowfall of the season). And how many 61-year-olds in full possession of their faculties are still playing basketball?

So maybe Turiano and his colleagues are on to something. Maybe we all need to get a little bit crazy if we’re going to solve our nation’s health crisis. It might just be the only sane approach.

Experience Life Magazine

Maintain Your Brain

Every night before she heads to bed, My Lovely Wife brews a cup of tea, settles into her living room chair (usually with a cat on her lap) and attempts to solve the day’s Sudoku puzzle. It’s a ritual often recommended by experts as a way of promoting good brain health and avoiding dementia and Alzheimer’s in your later years.

Before Sudoku arrived on these shores, she cranked through the crossword each day, and before she discovered crosswords, I suspect she was staying up late solving those annoying hidden-word puzzles they used to print in our grade-school Scholastic magazines. She’s always enjoyed using her brain.

I’ll be the first to admit that MLW is brighter than I am, so it’s likely that all her late-night puzzling probably has had some impact on her mental acuity. But there’s good news for those of us whose brains aren’t always fully engaged: There’s still time to get your noggin into top shape.

According to a recent article inTrends in Cognitive Science, researchers at Umea University in Sweden suggest that what we do to promote brain health in old age has a larger impact than what we did earlier in life. “Although some memory functions do tend to decline as we get older, several elderly show well preserved functioning and this is related to a well-preserved, youth-like brain,” explains lead researcher Lars Nyberg.

The study counters the conventional approach to cognitive decline, which is to focus on understanding how the brain compensates for memory loss and the like. Nyberg and his colleagues suggest that elderly people can actually prevent such decline from occurring. “Some older adults show little or no brain changes relative to younger adults, along with intact cognitive performance, which supports the notion of brain maintenance,” he explains. “In other words, maintaining a youthful brain, rather than responding to and compensating for changes, may be the key to successful memory aging.”

And the best way to keep your brain firing on all cylinders as you age, says Nyberg, is to remain engaged in the world — socially, mentally and physically. “There is quite solid evidence that staying physically and mentally active is a way towards brain maintenance,” he says.

I’m not going to start puzzling over the Sudoku, and I never had the patience — or the vocabulary — for crossword puzzles, but it’s good to know that my daily workout, my challenging job, and even conversations with my brilliant wife might just be enough to keep my synapses firing a while longer.

Experience Life Magazine

Can You Say ‘Healthy Brain’ in French?

Last spring, My Lovely Wife persuaded me to attend a community education class so we could learn to speak French together. The idea, as it was presented to me, was that it would be helpful for the next time we visit her sister, who lives in Brussels. With a bit of French, she reasoned, I wouldn’t have to always shrug and mumble “Je suis désolé; je suis Américain.” whenever someone asks us a question. Besides, we could treat it like a weekly date night.

I know that when MLW has her heart set on something it does nobody any good to debate the pros and cons (such as the fact that half of Belgium speaks Dutch), so I signed on and a few weeks later we bicycled over to Theodore Roosevelt High School for our first class.

My high school years, I should note, were not a particularly constructive chapter of my life, so I was not entirely comfortable as I took a seat toward the rear of the classroom. But our teacher, who was young enough to be our daughter, quickly put us all at ease. Slowly and methodically, we worked our way through the basics over the course of several weeks, and I found the entire process to be quite invigorating, so much so that we signed up again in the fall.

I’d like to say je parle Francais trés bien, but that would be a lie. At a party last winter, I found myself trapped in a tiny kitchen with a friend of a friend who, upon learning that MLW and I were taking French, smiled and rattled off a series of unintelligible questions in what I assumed was perfect French while I stood there, dumbfounded, unable even to spit out a feeble parlez plus lentement, s’il vouz plait.

But fluency is not really the point; it’s the effort that counts. The aging brain, like any other part of your body, needs regular exercise in order to stay healthy. And learning a new language is quite a workout. Researchers aren’t ready to say that such activities will necessarily delay the onset of dementia and Alzheimer’s, but it can’t hurt.

According to William Jagust, a professor of public health and neuroscience at the University of California, Berkeley, people who are more “cognitively active” throughout their life build more efficient brains. And these more efficient brains may generate fewer of the amyloid deposits that are associated with Alzheimer’s. “Older people seem to activate or bring on line brain areas that young people don’t use,” Jagust told the New York Times in a recent article. “They have to work their brains harder. So people who stay cognitively active may use their brains more efficiently.”

And learning a new language, while not easy for the aging brain, is one of the best-preserved skills as we grow older — especially if we’d learned a second language earlier in life. That’s because our brain tends to retain its ability to grasp new rules of syntax and grammar.

So I guess I should continue to slog through my French lessons as best I can — whether or not they will someday allow me to carry on a conversation. It’s like Monday night basketball: I’m never going to play as well as Kobe Bryant (who, coincidentally, speaks Italian and Spanish), but at least I’m getting a good workout. Oui?

Experience Life Magazine

Sitting to Get Smarter

I’ve never pretended to be the smartest guy in the room, but it’s possible that I won’t get a whole lot dumber if I just keep sitting still for a half hour every morning.

That’s the conclusion of new research out of UCLA measuring the effects of a long-term meditation practice on the brain. The study, published in a recent edition of the journal NeuroImage, suggests that these meditators have stronger connections between brain regions and less evidence of brain atrophy as they age. Those stronger connections mean that you’re more capable of relaying electrical signals from one region of your aging brain to another, allowing even slow thinkers like myself to stay sharp into our twilight years.

“Our results suggest that long-term meditators have white-matter fibers that are either more numerous, more dense or more insulated throughout the brain,” Eileen Luders, one of the lead researchers, explained in a statement released by UCLA. “We also found that the normal age-related decline of white-matter tissue is considerably reduced in active meditation practitioners.”

Plenty of other studies have shown that people who meditate regularly tend to have more gray matter in their brains, but Luders and her colleagues are now suggesting that a long-term meditation practice can, as she puts it, “induce changes on a micro-anatomical level.”

I won’t go into the details here — how researchers used diffusion tensor imaging to show that activity within the corticospinal tract, the superior longitudinal fasciculus, and the uncinate fasciculus differed markedly between the meditators participating in the study and the control group — because, well, that would just be showing off.

Actually, I don’t know my hippocampus from my amygdala, but it’s nice to know that all those mornings I’ve sat on my butt wrestling silently with my monkey mind might actually keep me lucid — if not any brighter — long into my crusty old age.

In Other News…
For those of you keeping score out there, I finally managed to extract the last four concrete-encrusted fence posts from the space in our backyard where we someday hope to create a vegetable garden. One of those posts had been confounding me for almost a year, but I grabbed my sledgehammer the other day and gave it a few good whacks and, much to my surprise and delight, all the concrete fell away. I’d like to say I enjoyed complete vindication, except that I tweaked something in my lower back pulling the dang thing out of the hole. So it goes…. The forecast this coming week calls for temps in the 90s with humidity not far behind, so I’m thinking it’s time to get back into the gym. My Handyman Workouts offer plenty of resistance training (see aching back above and sore elbow in previous post), but not much in the way of cardio. The good news is that my knee feels great, so maybe it’s time to hit the dreadmill again. I’ll report back…

Experience Life Magazine

Don’t Forget the Beer

We’re getting our annual
January thaw in February this year. The weekend brought balmy temps in the 30s,
and I took advantage of the nice weather to take the dog for a walk on Saturday
and Sunday. The dog in question is
our 13-year-old German shepherd-golden retriever-chow-collie mix, Brigit. She
is usually escorted in public by My Lovely Wife — even though when we moved into this
neighborhood last summer, our two former children/housemates and I enthused over the
opportunity to wander along the river or down by Minnehaha Falls, dog in tow. That
didn’t exactly pan out, which is generally OK with MLW, who likes to wander the
neighborhood with Brigit most mornings after she has her tea.


I bring this up because,
like getting to the gym on a regular basis, walking the dog requires that I
overcome some inertia. After a busy week at the office, there’s nothing I like
better than kicking back with a good book (or writing another inspired blog
post!) and gradually decompressing before I hit the entry ramp leading to
Monday morning. This is an easier decision when it’s 20 below zero. When the
weather is glorious, a little voice in my head tends to pound away at me until
I give in. It says something like, “What are you doing in the house, you miserable
slacker? How many days like this do you think you’re going to get before your
time on this earthly plane expires? Now, get your butt up out of that chair and
get out there!!”


It’s a persuasive argument.
But sometimes I need an objective, a practical reason for pulling on my jacket
and boots and heading into the public sphere — no matter what the weather is.
On Saturday I noticed I was down to my last bottle of beer in the fridge, so I
figured that was a pretty good reason to venture out. I could trek across the bridge to Village
Liquors — maybe three-quarters of a mile away — and restock. And, if I’m heading out anyway, why not take the dog?


I pause here to draw your
attention to a recent study, published in The
Proceedings of the National Academy of
, that suggests walking regularly may expand your hippocampus, the
region in your brain associated with memory. I was thinking of this when Brigit
and I set out for the liquor store, and it made me stride a bit more
purposefully than normal. Brigit, on the other hand, has no interest in
expanding her hippocampus. Walking for her is all about sniffing and peeing.
So, I was reduced to shuffling and stopping at irregular intervals, and I could vaguely picture
my hippocampus inflating and deflating at unpredictable moments. Still, by the
time we reached the bridge, the pavement was clear and the mysterious canine
signposts that so enthrall Brigit were nowhere to be smelled, so
we picked up the pace. While we walked, I remembered we were headed to buy
beer, so I figured my longer strides were having a good effect.


Brigit, I should mention
here, is not the most sociable of dogs. At the dog park over by the river,
she’s just as likely to frolic with a strange dog as chomp down on their
jugular. So, I’m always a bit nervous going out with her in public. If we meet
another dog on the sidewalk, you never know what’s going to transpire. That
makes it risky to tie her up outside of a liquor store, or any other retail
establishment, so as we approached Liquor Village I decided I’d just shorten up
on the leash, dash in with her in tow, grab a six-pack, and hope for the best.


Thankfully, the joint was
empty. I grabbed my beer, paid the clerk (who handed me a dog treat), and got
out of there in no time flat. We headed back over the bridge leaving no
casualties behind and feeling generally upbeat about the state of my hippocampus.


Maybe that explained why I
reprised the dog walk on Sunday. I remembered that I had already laid in a
supply of beer, but I also recalled that it wasn’t such a bad idea to get
outside with the dog. Besides, MLW had gone off on her bicycle for the first
time this winter, braving the narrowed thoroughfares, gutter puddles, and ice
patches. I couldn’t really come up with a satisfying excuse for staying in. So
Brigit and I sloshed around Minnehaha Park for bit, watching young people
climbing around among the ice formations below the falls. No dogs here, either,
which made the journey, on the whole, almost tranquil.


I was on a roll at that
point, so when we arrived back home, I grabbed the ladder from the garage and
climbed up to the roof to inspect our ice dams, which were thawing so nicely
that I resisted the temptation to go at them with my hatchet. I did scrape away
at them a bit with my roof rake — a great core and upper-body workout in any


My rather convoluted point
here is that, once you overcome your inertia, exercise occurs rather easily. And
if it involves grabbing a six-pack on the way, even better — a cold beer tastes
mighty good when you’re ready to relax.

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Experience Life Magazine

I May Be Crazy, but . . .

I’m not a guy
who visits the doctor very often (if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it), but I do
enjoy reading about the Big Medical Breakthroughs that seem to surface in the
newspaper every week or so. It’s comforting somehow to know that there are
folks out there working 24/7 to cure the various horrific diseases that afflict
the populace.


Last week’s Big
Medical Breakthrough was a story about researchers who have discovered a more
reliable method to diagnose Alzheimer’s. In case you missed it, you can read
about it here
. It seems that every pharmaceutical company is experimenting with
a new drug to cure what everyone agrees is a terrible disease (I’ve seen it up
close in my late father in law, and it’s not pretty), but the key is to
diagnose it and treat it in its early stages. Trouble is, doctors aren’t very
good at diagnosing it (which validates my view above, thank you very much).


So now comes Dr.
Daniel Skovronsky and his company, Arvid Radiopharmaceuticals, with what
everyone seems to agree is a promising new process to identify Alzheimer’s.
Here’s how The New York Times
described it:


Dr. Skovronsky thought he had a way to make scans
work. He and his team had developed a dye that could get into the brain and
stick to plaque. They labeled the dye with a commonly used radioactive tracer
and used a PET scanner to directly see plaque in a living person’s brain. But
the technology and the dye itself were so new they had to be rigorously


So, just to review: If your
doctor thinks you may be displaying symptoms of Alzheimer’s — which doctors
admit they really can’t identify with any reliability — they would just inject radioactive dye into your
(emphasis is mine) to see if just maybe their hunch was correct.


Now I don’t know about you,
but I grew up at a time when radioactivity was considered kind of a dangerous
thing. We didn’t stock Geiger counters in our kitchens or anything like that,
but even as a schoolchild I knew that if I ran into a stranger on the street
corner who asked me if he could inject radioactive dye into my brain I
should run home right away and tell my mom.


I searched the Times story to see if maybe the reporter
might have raised the tiniest bit of concern over a process that involves injecting radioactive dye into my brain
(emphasis mine again — sorry) but found no such reservations. After all,
Skovronsky had tested his dye:


“Hospice patients were going
to die soon and so, he reasoned, why not ask them to have scans and then brain
autopsies afterward to see if the scans showed just what a pathologist would
see. Some patients would be demented, others not.”


The dye worked, much to
Skovronsky’s delight. And I’m happy for him — I really am. He was able to show plaque on the brains of those (now
dead) patients who had Alzheimer’s. But, unlike the doctor and his co-workers,
I’m not breaking out the champagne just yet. In fact, I think it would be fair
to argue that if you really wanted a reliable indicator of whether someone was
not quite playing with a full deck, you’d just ask him if you can inject some
radioactive dye into his brain. Those who politely decline, I would venture,
still have all their marbles.


But what do I know about
modern science? Maybe injecting radioactive dye into someone’s brain is not as
big a deal as I think it is. Maybe I’m just kind of wimping out on the whole
radioactivity thing. You know: Man up,
dude! Take your radioactive dye in the brain like the rest of us, ya big baby!!
It could just save you and your loved ones from the heartbreak of Alzheimer’s
in your old age. Or not.


All that may be true, but
while I’m still relatively lucid, I think I’m going to steer away from Dr.
Skovronsky’s approach and keep going to the gym (had a great workout last
night, BTW; still sticking to my post-it note plan described earlier). As noted
in our “Build a Better Brain” piece from a few years back, that seems to be
the most reliable way to stay sharp.

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