I started becoming worried about my brain when I forgot how old I was. I had to do some quick math in my head before I said, “33. No, 32.” A few weeks later, I met someone who didn't know what band played “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and I dropped into a cold panic. Were there signs of hair loss? Wrinkles around the eyes? Was I waking up in strange places, wondering how I'd gotten there?
Turns out, your brains don't just automatically turn into jelly. Risk of dementia can actually be lowered just by keeping your mind and body fit. A study from McMaster University in Ontario, Canada published last year in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience found a strong link between a sedentary lifestyle and dementia. In a group of young adults, six weeks of high-intensity exercise was linked to improvements in memory. According to the study, those with an increased level of activity also experienced a rise in brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a protein that supports the growth and function of brain cells.
But staying in shape physically is only part of the battle. Keeping the mind limber seems to be just as important. Prevailing wisdom finds today's physician encouraging older patients to keep their brains stimulated as a way of fending off Alzheimer disease and other forms of dementia. A report published in PLOS Medicine says the risk of Alzheimer disease is two to four times higher for those who have fewer years of education. According to the report, there's reason to believe that regular mental stimulation and memory exercise can actually slow cognitive decline in older adults who don't already suffer from dementia.
Poor Grandpa watching television from the same chair in the same apartment, year after year—inviting his brain cells to melt and wash away. It's a poor habit many of us have: We get to a certain age, look around and say, “Dude. I'm an adult. I've got a car. I can buy beer. I've basically figured out all there is to figure out.” And we turn all the lights off, stretch out on the La-Z-Boy and watch another episode of “Big Bang Theory” before dozing off.
It's enough evidence that it made me nervous when I started catching the small signs of idiocy in my own behavior. A quick inventory and I realized I was still listening to the same music I did when I was in high school and rewatching the same movies.
Starting to learn again is harder than you'd think. Not only do you have to shake the aforementioned “know-it-all” attitude, you have to re-learn how to learn, as stupid as that sounds.
There's always school, of course. The University of New Mexico has a strong catalog for their Continuing Education program that doesn't stop at cooking classes and “Small Business Management.” They have plenty of affordable courses you can take just for shits and grins—practical shits and impractical grins, like: “Complete Financial Planning Primer” or “The Art of Writing Erotica.”
But if the thought of going back to school makes you squirm, but you've caught the transmission slipping here and there and know it's time for a tune-up, then you're in luck. The adult education business is alive and kicking in ABQ.
Kicking and grappling, too. As with every other city in the country, it seems jiu jitsu and mixed martial arts have become a preferred method of sharpening the body for Burqueños. One local favorite is the Lutrell/Yee MMA & Fitness gym (2820 Richmond Dr. NE) which holds classes in Muay Thai, boxing, MMA, jiu jitsu and more. We're also lucky enough to host three of the illustrious Gracie Barra Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu schools across town.
If treating your body like a punching bag doesn't sound like a fun way to get things moving, a solid yoga class is probably the way to go. Even the most relaxing and easy yoga will wake the muscles up and enliven the gray matter, but if you want to really crank it up, drop in on a hot yoga class at Hot Yoga Downtown (724 Central Ave. SE). You'd never guess it, but turning up the heat a little can make a simple session of shaking out the kinks become a true test of your mettle.
Yes. Learning can be painful sometimes. No one ever said it was going to be easy. But it can also be freeing. Discovering latent passions you never knew you had can be extremely rewarding, and the New Mexico Art League (3409 Juan Tabo Blvd. NE) is a great place to do it. On top of their many drawing and painting courses for adults, they also have workshops covering a variety of aspects of the arts, including business and technique.
Another place to unearth unknown talents is the New Mexico Jazz Workshop (5500 Lomas Blvd. NE), where students of all skill levels can get their chops blowing with some of the city's finest jazz instructors. Or if you're too cool for that (sigh) you can try your hand at the badass lifestyle utilizing the School of Rock's adult program and embarrass your children (6409 Candelaria Rd. NE).
Oh! And don't forget to spend some time stretching your lower half's brain, too. Self Serve doesn't just sell adult toys to stimulate the nether regions, it also offers courses in sexual education to stimulate your brain. Coming up is a class called “Mastering the BJ: Interactive Skills.” Education is so great.
For the 50-plus crowd looking for non-sexual instruction (at least for the moment), a useful program found at UNM Continuing Education is the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI), which serves students who really want to bite the bone by offering serious courses taught by current and emeritus UNM faculty members and experts from the community. And in case you still have those anxiety nightmares about forgetting your locker combination and realizing you aren't wearing pants on the day of the test you didn't study for: You can relax. There are no grades or tests or any of that junk.
Another good place for those over 50 and looking to keep things rolling is the Oasis learning center in the American Square shopping center (3301 Menaul Blvd. NE, Ste. 18). Oasis is geared toward keeping their students engaged and stimulated mentally and physically by offering classes on nutrition and physical fitness alongside classes on culture and current events.
The most important thing here isn't what you study, but that you study something new. Sometimes you have to really beat the grass to find what spurs your mind and body, but keeping everything in order is crucial for a long and healthy life. The hardest thing about learning again is making the initial push. The easiest thing is wearing one of those caps with the propeller on top. It's required, actually.