Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Speaking science: train your aging brain

Did you come late to wanting to learn public speaking? Worry not--picking up speaking as a new skill could be among the ways you can keep your aging brain in shape. Even better if public speaking is beyond your normal range of behaviors and skill sets. In "How to Train the Aging Brain," New York Times reporter Barbara Strauch talks to scientists who suggest that you need to challenge your tried-and-true knowledge base in middle age and beyond to boost your brain power and create new neural connections. From the article:
Such stretching is exactly what scientists say best keeps a brain in tune: get out of the comfort zone to push and nourish your brain. Do anything from learning a foreign language to taking a different route to work. “As adults we have these well-trodden paths in our synapses,” Dr. Taylor says. “We have to crack the cognitive egg and scramble it up. And if you learn something this way, when you think of it again you’ll have an overlay of complexity you didn’t have before — and help your brain keep developing as well.”

I've found this to be true in my own experience, having just taken up guitar lessons at age 50--it's an experience that really pushes me into new and unfamiliar territory, and had led me to more creative thinking. (I even find it helps me with training, as it's a situation in which the roles are reversed and I'm a beginner student.) If public speaking is a skill you've avoided until now, or put off trying to learn, you've now got a new reason to try. The article busts a few myths, like the thought that you lose brain cells as you age, and offers some insights into how your brain works when you're trying to remember something on the tip of your tongue, another useful insight for speakers.

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