315862_7267Bernard, our former, much-missed neighbor, learned how to use a computer and the Internet when he was 94 years old.

A couple of years ago I phoned one of my mentors, Dr. John Hoffman, to ask him a question. His wife calmly explained to me that he was away—on a skiing trip. (Yes, downhill skiing.)

Rebbe Nachman, the 18th century mystic sage, said, “A person must never be old… Being elderly is a vice; a person must always renew, start over and begin again.”

Dr. Helen Lavretsky, a professor in the department of psychiatry at UCLA, says, in a Psychiatric Times article, that “brains can be trained to function better as we age.”

Lavretzky, who according to Psychiatric Times “also directs the Late Life Mood, Stress, and Wellness Research Program at the Semel Institute at UCLA is coeditor of the newly published Late Life Mood Disorders—a comprehensive review of the current research advances in late life mood disorders,” says learning a new language or a musical instrument can help maintain brain health.

Learning something new—each day, if possible—is the key. How and what you learn, is your choice.

In our spiritual tradition, we’re taught that a person is “like a lion” when he’s 80. A lion is brave, powerful, strong in body. But a person who is committed to growing—spiritually, intellectually, morally, and emotionally—has a lion-like mind which just begins to show its strength at age 80. Many of our spiritual leaders live well into their hundreds, their minds and memory sharper than people half their age.

Yes, there are other measures you can take to support brain health: Eat right, take supplements if required, develop loving and supportive relationships, exercise, and so on.

But learning and exploring do indeed strengthen the mind. And they beat passive entertainment like TV, even educational shows.

There are simple ways to put this into practice. The Alzheimer’s Association suggests:

1. Stay curious and involved — commit to lifelong learning

2. Read, write, work crossword or other puzzles

3. Attend lectures and plays

4. Enroll in courses at your local adult education center, community college or other community group

5. Play games

6. Garden

7. Try memory exercises

Good advice. We’d like to add a few specifics:

8.  Try prayerful meditation or meditative prayer, individually or with a group.

9.  Volunteer. Help your community or other individuals.

10. Learn a text, one on one, with a friend or a small group. By being responsible to keep up with or meet with someone else, you may invest more in your learning experience. Another key is to memorize what you learn. A sentence. A paragraph. A page. If you memorize information that challenges and teaches you, you’ll benefit far more than memory games (although they can be loads of fun.)

11. Host a series of classes or lectures or workshops in your home. It doesn’t have to be “fancy.” You don’t need a big place. A couple of folding chairs in your living room will do. If you have a large table, even better. By having a class in your home, you invest more of yourself in it.

12. Try combining intellectual stimulation with physical exercise. For example, take a tree or bird identification guide along with you on walks, and note all the species you see.