2017-12-01 / Health & Fitness

Students flex their mental muscles in brain fitness classes

ANN MARINA

Neuroplasticity is a buzzword for those wanting to enhance productivity, stay sharp and focused, and remember where they parked the car. Plasticity describes the brain’s ability to generate new cells and neural pathways. It was scientifically proven in 1998 by Professor Fred Gage at the Salk Institute in California.

“Learning new things literally reshapes your brain,” said Cindi Ryerson, a registered nurse in Fort Myers who leads brain fitness classes.

“It builds new brain circuits and thereby can improve your memory.”

Ryerson founded

Millennium House, an adult day care facility in Bonita Springs, and owned it from 2000 to 2015. Now a geriatric case manager, she has a passion for working with the elderly. “I like to see people learning and staying active for their entire lives,” she said.

With a toolkit of mind-twisters, puzzles, and brain-stimulating games, Ryerson challenges class participants to flex their mental muscles.

“We found it fun, challenging, and engaging,” said Fort Myers resident Betty Hughes after she and her husband, Ed, attended a recent class in Naples.

“I like that feedback,” Ryerson said. “Brain fitness activities must be unique, interesting, and somewhat difficult to be effective.”

Through their love for the arts, Hughes and her husband are building brain power. “Ed is learning to do pencil sketches and I’m working on a new approach to piano playing. Both are a challenge for us,” she said.

“We enjoy being physically active,” Hughes added. “Every week we golf nine holes and attend two exercise classes involving strength, balance and flexibility. We usually walk one to two hours per week.”

Exercise is essential for brain fitness, according to Dr. John Ratey, a Harvard Medical School professor and author of “Spark, the Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain.” Elevating your heart rate produces protein molecules called neurotrophins, which feed your neurons. These molecules flourish only in active neurons.

Ratey recommends 30 minutes of moderate aerobic activity per day. “If you get your body in shape, your mind will follow,” he wrote.

Ryerson emphasizes the value of social connections for brain health. “We use language, our memory of faces and names, and communication skills when we socialize,” she said. “We were never meant to be in isolation, which can lead to depression and dementia.”

There are helpful brain training apps for smartphones and iPads, Ryerson said. She’s been using Elevate for about two years. “PEAK is another excellent program. They all help with memory, problem solving, attention and processing speed,” she said.

Ryerson teaches at FGCU Renaissance Academy, Lee and Collier County libraries, and Lely Palms Independent Living. She makes presentations for social clubs and church groups.

To learn more about the classes, call 239-671-6343 or email cryerson@embarqmail.com.

Ann Marina may be reached at marina@swspotlight.com

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