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The Real Key To Improving Brain Function

08/10/2014 08:07 am ET | Updated Oct 10, 2014

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An alert reader has directed Life in the Boomer Lane to information that will allow her to immediately stop doing what she doesn't do anyway. But now she doesn't have to feel guilty about not doing it.

Nicholas Spitzer, professor or neuroscience at the University of California and editor-in-chief of brainfacts.org, has a message for all of you out there who are listening to classical music and doing crossword puzzles as a way of improving your brain functioning: Stop it right now.

Life in the Boomer Lane doesn't have to be convinced of either. Classical music sends her into in deep sleep, where she has disturbing dreams of being chased by men in crimson pelisses and gold-laced bicorne hats. And the only crossword puzzles she is successful at are the ones found on the kiddie placemats in family restaurants.

The fact is that doing puzzles and listening to classical music might improve one's concentration momentarily, but they don't actually make one any smarter. That is, they don't improve one's long-term brain function, allowing one to use impressive words like pelisse and bicorne. Crossword puzzles, especially, will force one to learn a lot of seriously random words that normal people will never use, like words with no vowels or synonyms for toenail.

Spitzer stomps all over our beliefs about improving brain unction: "Many people think classical music is going to enhance brain function (the Mozart effect) or playing particular games sharpens one's cognitive function. These theories have been looked at in detail and they don't stand up," he said.

So, what does stand up? Spitzer has the answer: "What we have learned is that exercise is the key thing for brain function." Another key is exposure to sunlight. In a recent study rats produced different brain-altering chemicals based on environmental factors. Rats who preferred to stay in bed under the covers with their iPads and post on Facebook, even when they had classical music playing in the background, had no increase in brain functioning. But those rats who were allowed to frolic on a popular local beach, not only produced hordes of screaming and fleeing beachgoers, they improved their brain functioning.

Spitzer thinks that our brains change their behavior (like "a railway switching yard") based on environmental factors to help us conserve energy during winter. We give our brain a further signal that it's time to use as little energy as possible. This feedback loop, he says, is what causes Seasonal Affective Disorder, a type of depression that affects otherwise healthy people during the dark winter months and gives Now Husband an excuse to flee to his manufactured mobile home (previously known as "mobile home" and even more previously known as "trailer") in Florida.

The bottom line is that in order to keep your brain at tip-top shape, you should stay active. That gives your body cues to devote lots of resources to cognitive function.

But what if you are a woman and don't like to be outside and you have an aversion to the sun? This may mean that you are part of the population of the undead, and you may have issues that go beyond the scope of this post. But if you know for a fact that you are fully alive, you are in luck. There is something else you can do. A recent study found that female orgasms trigger an increase in blood flow to all regions of the brain, improving overall cognitive performance.

This news will either have a lot of older women surprising their partners for requests of constant sex, or will have them rushing to stores to buy swimsuits for the first time since the Carter administration. Others will convince their partners to frolic on the beach and then shed their newly-purchased swimsuits in favor of beach sex. This will not only increase their brain function, it will most likely produce hordes of screaming and fleeing beachgoers.

Earlier on Huff/Post50:

Healthy Food Habits For Optimum Brain Health