As the New Year approaches, I’ve started making my list of resolutions. Work for democratic regime change at home. Build a more peaceful and just world. Make it to all of my daughter’s basketball games. For the sake of my sanity, I vow to break my e-mail addiction and build some boundaries between my work and personal life. And to stave off memory loss, I vow to stop multitasking.
Yes, multitasking. According to a growing body of scientific research, juggling three or four tasks at once as I do too often can actually scramble your brain and lead to short-term memory loss. And chronic, intense multitasking has been shown to induce a stress response–an adrenaline rush that when prolonged can damage cells that form new memory. Other warning signs for inveterate multitaskers–and ones I’ve experienced–include changes in the ability to concentrate and gaps in attentiveness.
So, in this new year without multitasking, I resolve to take up mental aerobics–or active memory training. It seems that scientists have discovered that training and stimulation may tone and firm the brain just as the nautilus equipment at the gym does the abs. The concept is catching on. UCLA offers a five-week memory training course; the Memory Training Institute in Connecticut teaches mnemonic devices and other recall tricks. And at Florida Atlantic University, there’s a class that includes “brain games,” checkers, bridge, computational puzzles and even flash cards for adults.
Premised on a “use it or lose it” theory, mental aerobics build on research that suggests stimulating your mind actually causes the rewiring of the brain, even the sprouting new synapses. Of course there are simpler ways to help halt memory decline–getting enough sleep, exercising regularly, reducing stress and eating a diet rich in antioxidants such as berries and vitamins A and E. But if I think I’m going to get more sleep or cut back on stress, while editing a political weekly in 2004, then I’m really losing my mind!