Did I Say That? Running from brain shrinkage

Color Pisani 08.25.16What keeps you awake at night? We all have something — or two things or 30 things — that make us toss and turn and perspire.

For my part, I’m worried that my brain is shrinking. Sometimes I think I can hear it contracting. As we age, our brains shrink. I read that in either Popular Mechanics or Vogue. And it makes you wonder: If your brain shrinks, what fills that extra space in your head? Air? Is that where the term “airhead” comes from?

My anxiety got worse after my coworker sent me a terrifying email that had nothing to do with the presidential election, which until now has been the most horrifying topic imaginable, except for that story about Mick Jagger having his eighth kid.

Her email said, “Stress literally shrinks your brain,” and it mentioned research done by Yale University, which is an institution where they’re supposed to know what they’re talking about. You may have read that Yale’s English majors started a petition to kick Shakespeare off the literature curriculum because he was a white male. The real reason is they can’t understand him because their brains are shrinking.

Anyway, I did my own scientific research and discovered there’s a growing body of thinking that claims endurance exercise, especially running, can lead to changes in the brains of monkeys and mice and help them develop new neurons through a process called “neurogenesis,” thereby preventing shrinking.
This is a wakeup call for anyone who owns a hamster or monkey. If you want to keep them active and alert and stop brain shrinkage, you should sign them up for the New York City marathon. Their gray matter will increase so much that by next tax season, they’ll be able to do your income taxes and reimburse you for the cost of registering them in the race.

Physical exercise, I learned, is important for anyone who has senior moments, especially former hippies who smoked too much weed, not to mention the entire state of Colorado, where marijuana is legal and there are more pot smokers than registered Republicans. Occasionally, the registered Republicans are also pot smokers, but I suspect it’s usually the Democrats.

Sometimes I have moments when my brain isn’t firing on all cylinders, so I’ll order a triple espresso from Starbucks, and pretty soon my hippocampus goes into overdrive and I start having mystical experiences. In the old days, I had an eight-cylinder brain and could read Plato while I ate my Lucky Charms for breakfast, but now I make do with the 4-cylinder model and read the New York Post instead.

I also believe that our addiction to technology — from smartphones to iPads — is dumbing us down and harming our brains. Those Yale students probably don’t have time to read Shakespeare because they’re too busy tweeting and chasing Pokemon around New Haven, through study halls and topless bars.
We all have forgetful moments when we can’t remember important things, like where we parked the car or why we’re not talking to our spouse, which is something my wife suffers from. After several days of the silent treatment, I’ll ask her, “Why aren’t you talking to me?” and she has this look on her face that seems to suggest, “Don’t you know?” I can’t remember … but neither can she.

More exercise will help both of us because exercise influences the hormone production in your body and – let me see if I get this right – there’s this brain-shrinking hormone that damages your hippocampus, which is responsible for memory, learning and marital disputes.

Then, there’s another hormone that helps your body create a protein you need for neuron growth. We have a lot of hormones, some necessary and some unnecessary, and they can do weird stuff to your body. I read that in Scientific American.

The best thing to do is work up a sweat and get your heart pumping every morning. Before you know it, you’ll be able to understand Shakespeare, even if you’re a Yalie. You’ll even remember the Shakespeare you forgot.

In fact, you’ll be lying in bed next to your wife or husband and suddenly at 2 a.m., you’ll start reciting lines from “Hamlet” like that famous line, “Who says that my dreams have to stay just my dreams?”

Wait … Hamlet didn’t say that. The Little Mermaid did. See! My memory is improving already! A little jogging works miracles.  

 

Contact Joe Pisani at [email protected]

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