Aging is one of today’s biggest issues, both in society and for governments. Many studies and extensive research is being done on the topic. Everybody wants to age well. Certainly, merely living longer is not the meaning of successful aging. Successful aging is experiencing old age with cognitive, emotional, and physical health. To put it another way, it means health, happiness, and peace. To achieve this state, the key is the human brain. Health begins with the brain.
Studies based on the work of Columbia University neurologist Dr. Scott Small and Salk Institute neurobiologist Dr. Fred Gage suggest that regular cardiovascular exercise delivers more oxygen-rich blood to the brain, as well as a chemical called brain-derived neurotrophic factor, or BDNF. These factors and others appear to improve memory, learning, and other brain functions.
The first step to being healthy is getting regular exercise. Exercise has many benefits for us as we age, and they are not just benefits to our muscles, joints, bones, and the waistline. Regular physical activity can improve brain function, attitude, self-image, self-esteem, and confidence. When you exercise, you stimulate the release of brain chemicals such as endorphins, norepinephrine, dopamine, and serotonin, which produce feelings of joy and peace.
Here are some simple “brain education” exercise tips to get you started, whatever your age. It’s never too early — or too late — to take care of your body and brain.
A great deal of tension can be held in your face, and it often becomes habitual. Try this exercise, and you will find it very hard not to smile:
- Squeeze all your face muscles; close your eyes, nose and mouth tightly. Hold for about five seconds.
- Open your eyes, nostrils, and mouth as wide as you can.
- Breathe in, and as you return your face to normal, exhale.
- Repeat this sequence at least three times.
You already know that laughter is powerful medicine. Unfortunately, you can’t buy laughing pills at the pharmacy. You could go to a funny movie or go visit with a funny friend, but why wait? You can laugh anytime you want:
- Sit down on the floor and laugh to your heart’s content.
- Keep laughing as hard as you can.
- Flail your arms and pound the floor, busting up with laughter.
- Soon, you will feel like a kid again.
In Korean, the word jangsaeng, means “youthful longevity,” which is the goal of this walking style. Walking in general has been shown to add healthy years to people’s lives, but the benefits can be accentuated by paying careful attention to the way you walk.
If you walk in the jangsaeng style regularly, your energy will begin to calm down automatically, and your mind will stay clear and focused. Your body and brain will function better when you maintain this condition.
The basic posture of jangsaeng walking is simple. Walk while focusing on these basic principles:
- Tilt the lower part of your pelvis forward.
- Breathe with your lower abdomen.
- Let your heel tap the ground gently as you step forward, with a straight leg.
- Feel your weight transfer fully to the balls (yong-chun) and toes of your foot.
- Keep your feet parallel, stepping on either side of an imaginary line.
- Angle your body forward.
- Swing your arms freely.
How do you feel after doing these exercises? Do you feel positive sensations in your brain and more vitality in your body? These brain education exercises are simple and easy, aren’t they? You don’t need to spend many hours learning them. It’s good to find answers in the simple things that are always available to us. We just need to know how to use what we have.
When you find a healthy exercise that you enjoy, just do it! Do not waste your time and energy to think too much and analyze it. These exercises are simple. Just do them, wherever you are.
This article was originally published in Brain World Magazine.