Enjoy your brain exercise

Have fun while exercising your brain
I love playing bridge and take every opportunity that comes my way.
Every night after the house is quiet and my white dog, Phoebe, is tucked in her nest, I play a few games of bridge with the computer. Sometimes I win and sometimes the computer wins.
And sometimes I win by replaying the game to rectify my mistakes.
Often, the few games I allow myself to play get out of hand and before I know it, it’s already the next day.
In spite of what the experts are saying about needing plenty of rest, I justify my playing into the night because it’s fun and I’m exercising my brain—two things that can help delay aging.
And it turns out that playing bridge not only delays aging, but also can enhance your immune system.
According to Dr. Marian Diamond of the University of California, Berkeley, playing bridge may help you avoid or even recover from some of the world’s deadliest diseases, including heart disease, Alzheimer’s, and cancer.
Diamond presented this research at the Society for Neuroscience and said her study is the first evidence that the so-called “dorsolateral cortex”—the part of the brain associated with strategy and working memory—can improve your immune system.
After 15 years of research with rats and mice, Diamond was ready to study the connection between the brain and the immune system in human subjects. She selected players at a women’s bridge club in Orinda, Calif. as her subjects.
Diamond asked the women—all in their 70s and 80s—to play 90 minutes of bridge. Her assistant took blood samples before and after the bridge games.
Significantly, the women’s white cell counts were much higher after the games. Since white cells are known to fight diseases and keep the body well, the players’ immune systems indeed were enhanced by playing bridge.
The complex thought required to play contract bridge may increase the number of useful immune cells in the body, said Diamond. Bridge requires players to plan ahead, to use their memories, and to deal with sequencing—work that is done by the dorsolateral cortex.
“This part of the cortex deals with higher cognitive processing, possibly allowing the individual to have some voluntary control of his or her well-being,” Diamond remarked.
She began her search into a brain connection to the immune system because her sister died of an autoimmune disease when Diamond was 19 years old.
Now 75, the researcher still is searching for answers. “Someday I will find something that correlates with what killed her,” she said.
Since Diamond is a neuroscientist, not an immunologist, she had to get in touch with the immune system through the brain. And she hopes her findings help people learn how to exercise their brains in order to improve their immune systems.
And they probably will.
Robert Friedland, a neurology professor at Cleveland’s Case Western Reserve University, said, “The brain is an organ just like any other in the body, that ages in regard to how it’s used.”
So how about your brain? Does it get exercise enough to keep you healthy? And do you have fun while exercising it?
If you don’t play bridge, remember it’s never too late to learn. Or play other “brain” games like Scrabble, pinochle, and rook. Even doing crossword puzzles, reading, or taking a class can help stimulate your brain.
Just imagine—playing that extra hand of solitaire might be helping you fight heart disease. And think of all the fun you can have while you get healthy.
Marie Snider is an award-winning health care writer and syndicated columnist. Write her at thisside60@aol.com or visit www.visit-snider.com

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