You may not be able to teach an old dog new tricks, but that does not mean that human beings are unable to learn new skills throughout their lifespan.

The Science of Building New Nerve Connections

When I was younger, I could never understand why employers tended to view people in their middle years as unsuitable for learning a new job.

Today we know about Neuroscience, the field that studies the structure and function of the nervous system. It was about 15 years ago that I started to come across the research from this new discipline and have been fascinated with it ever since.  

Apparently, neural pathways grow throughout the lifespan thanks to both physical activity and cognitive challenges.

Some of My Challenges

At the age of 81 I sometimes become frustrated when a new version of my favourite software comes out. It is indeed a challenge for me to keep up to date with the necessary changes I need to negotiate in order to manage my own financial affairs.

And yes, it is hard work to remain fit enough to play tennis with people less than half my age. However, I will share with you some of my routines which assist me in these endeavours.

Physical Fitness

It is only with hindsight that I realise how an accident on the tennis court 30 years ago has indirectly resulted in my enhanced level of physical fitness which is unusual for octogenarians!

In running for a ball, which had some lethal backspin applied by my opponent, I lunged and fell on my right knee breaking my anterior cruciate ligament. Being in my early 50s at the time, the doctor was reluctant to offer me surgery.

Strenuous post-surgical exercise was necessary for the operation to be successful, and there was some doubt in the surgeon’s mind about my ability to pursue this challenging route.

Since that surgery nearly 30 years ago, I have continued to ride the stationary bicycle at the local gym twice a week.

This ritual not only ensures that I have free membership of the gym (offered by my medical aid because of my consistent use of the facility) but my ability to run around on the tennis court with women far younger than myself.

Cognitive Fitness

About 13 years ago, I met Dana Stenova of the Czech School of Memory Training and Brain Jogging. Amongst other things, she taught me how to remember the digits of pi up to 100 decimal places as well as the 42 U.S. Presidents.

I followed up this early training with researching various online skills as well as MOOC’s (Massive Open Online Courses). And, in order to ensure I exercise my attention span, I have been practicing Mindsparke for the past 10 years.

My intention is to perform a daily practice of 10 minutes. While this ambitious schedule is not always fulfilled, I do perform this task on a regular basis ensuring my nerve paths for concentration and attention are regularly exercised!

Another lovely exercises are offered on a daily basis by the New York Times and other sources.

Mindfulness and Meditation

Some time ago, the merits of mindfulness and meditation started to appear regularly in the local press. When I heard how the esteemed monk Matthieu Ricard had meditated on compassion whilst being scanned by an MRI machine, I was motivated to study Buddhism and practice mindfulness on a daily basis.

Ricard, who had thousands of hours of meditation under his belt, allowed himself to be studied in one of the earliest scientific endeavours to quantify the effects of meditation on the working of the brain. His compassion was so profound that the needle recording his activity ran out of space on the paper!

So now, the first thing I do when I wake in the morning is 20 minutes of meditation. That is followed by a 10-minute walk with my dogs in the village where I live.

Croquet as a Game for Seniors

I was fortunate to discover the game of Croquet about four years ago, and now this pastime has proved to be a wonderful outlet for my energy and passion for the outdoors.

Not only does this sport get you out in the open and onto a beautiful green lawn: it offers gentle physical exercise. In addition, it ensures you learn some mental strategy to enhance your cognitive skills and gives players an opportunity to socialise at the same time.

Maybe you would like to further look into the many ways to enhance your physical and cognitive well-being. I do believe that my disciplined lifestyle has allowed me to maintain a level of fitness which would not have been possible without the effort I make to maintain a health enhancing routine. Most certainly, you can do it too.

What is your fitness level? What do you do to maintain and enhance it? How do you work on your mental fitness? Which games/exercises are your favorite? Please share with our community!

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