Posted by: Lisa Pampuch | January 8, 2008

Sharp body, sharp mind

“Our prayers should be for a strong mind in a healthy body.” ~ Ancient Roman Poet Juvenal

Did you make any resolutions this year? Many of us start each new year by promising ourselves that we’ll get our bodies in better shape by exercising more, eating more nutritious food, eating less junk food, and consuming fewer calories overall.

If you’re promising yourself a more fit body, don’t overlook the three or so pounds of gray matter between your ears. Keeping your brain sharp is just as important as monitoring your BMI, increasing muscle mass, or lowering fat intake.

A great opportunity to exercise your brain is just around the corner: The second annual Silicon Valley Puzzle Day, which will be held on Sunday, Feb. 3, at the Morgan Hill Library.

Of course, there’s a lot of overlap between a strong body and a sharp mind. Studies show that exercise can improve not only your waistline and your heart rate, but also your brain function.

That’s why exercise, which improves blood flow and increases the amount of oxygen that reaches the brain, is important.

Researchers say that eating a diet that’s rich in antioxidants can also help both your brain and your body. Antioxidants can improve arterial health, which has a direct impact on keeping your brain sharp as well as in keeping your heart functioning smoothly.

A report in the journal Neurobiology of Aging described promising results on intellectual activity in rats who were fed diets high in antioxidant-rich berries.

Poker pro and 2006 World Series of Poker Main Event champion Jamie Gold is a berry believer. He’s well known for eating blueberries during tournaments and even credits them for his $12 million win.

But intellectual activity – think of it as mental exercise – is an often overlooked method of keeping a fit, agile brain.

A study called Advanced Cognitive Training for Independent and Vital Elderly (ACTIVE) suggested that exercising your brain has long-lasting effects on brain function.

“What we clearly show is that … short mental workouts improve performance, and that improvement is detectable as much as five years later,” University of Florida professor and ACTIVE study principal investigator Michael Marsiske told NPR. “The advice that I think people could comfortably take from this is that if they challenge themselves to learn new things, … many older adults will not only achieve benefits from those challenges but those benefits will be long lasting.”

While a trim body might be the motivation for exercising and eating right when you’re young, exercising your body and your brain can have long-lasting benefits for your golden years.

“People don’t care about whether they’re a size 4 or a size 6 as they get older. But they do care where their car keys are and whether they’ll have the ability to play their card games and enjoy life,” Henriette van Praag, a staff scientist at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in San Diego, told Los Angeles Times reporter Shari Roan.

Van Praag is not alone in her analysis.

“It [brain exercise] is one of the few things patients can do to be proactive about stopping or slowing down cognitive decline,” neurologist David Reynolds told reporter Scott Craven of The Arizona Republic. “It’s better than any pill we have.”

And that’s just what the upcoming Silicon Valley Puzzle Day offers you: A chance to exercise your brain with crossword and sudoku puzzles in a fun tournament setting.

For those who aren’t competitive about their puzzling, non-competitive activities will be offered all day, including workshops on crossword and sudoku puzzles, giant community puzzles to solve with your friends and neighbors, and other puzzles and games for all ages.

But if you’re up to the challenge, the centerpieces of Puzzle Day are the sudoku and crossword tournaments. Two divisions (youth age 8-15, adults 16 and older) are open to competitors who will participate in three rounds of puzzles of increasing difficulty. The top three finishers will compete in the final round.

Puzzle Day will take place on Sunday, Feb. 3, at the beautiful new Morgan Hill Library, 660 W. Main Avenue. Doors open at 11 a.m. The sudoku tournament starts at noon, and the crossword tournament starts at 2:30 p.m. Workshops, marketplace, and puzzle fun continue all day.

A donation of $5 is suggested for tournament participants. Full information is available online at the Silicon Valley Puzzle Day Web site.

“To keep the body in good health is a duty… otherwise we shall not be able to keep our mind strong and clear.” ~ Buddha


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