Exercise for the Brain

When writing the recent post on learning new things, I was reminded of several conversations I had with Dr. Frances Kinne about brain exercises. She did many things to keep her brain active, mainly due to her incredibly active schedule. It made me tired sometimes hearing about it. But, one seemingly small thing she did stuck with me. This conversation was probably 10 or 15 years ago and, at the time, she was still driving. She had 2 primary destinations where she traveled from her home, Jacksonville University and the Mayo Clinic (where she attended board meetings). But, she had multiple ways to drive to get to each place, or sometimes, from one to the other. She told me she made a conscious effort to chose different paths when driving to these places or back home. She sometimes took one route to, say, JU, and another when driving home. This forced her mind to think about the path and to see different things along the way. I thought this was simple, and brilliant. On the occasions I drove her places, out to dinner, for example, she navigated for me this way as well and we saw different things as a result. I have a strong memory of the evening we went to dinner at one of her favorite Italian restaurants. We returned to her home by a different path than we went and it was a path that involved a bridge over a marsh. As we drove to the top of the bridge a wonderfully full moon was rising over the ocean and we gasped. It was spectacular and both of us were captivated by the image (no, I didn’t get to take a photo). Had we returned to her house via the same route we went to the restaurant, we would never have seen that moon. I decided to emulate her in this way and try not to get into a rut, a fixed pattern when driving from home to work or to/from frequent destinations. This keeps my mind active while doing what, sometimes, becomes a rote task. I get to see parts of town that I might not otherwise see and it keeps me aware of what is being built or developed along the way. One can never prove the degree to which such mental exercises make a difference in the long run, but I think I can feel the neurons firing when pondering a different route and observing something new. It sure can’t hurt!

David is a proponent of taking varying routes to and from familiar places, while I often prefer taking “the long way home.”  Similar to the 1979 song by Supertramp, “The Long Way Home,” I often select the scenic route, instead of the faster, more direct, route when I am driving.  For example, I have lots of fun driving to and from boring errands on A1A , with its view of the Atlantic Ocean, or on neighborhood streets, even though driving on I-95 or U. S. 1 would be faster.  If it’s a nice day, I put down the convertible top on my groovy Mini Cooper Roadster and wait for people to wave and yell “Cool car!” at me as I motor through their neighborhood.  I have an excellent sense of direction and I don’t recall ever getting lost, including when I lived in a rural area and spent a lot of my free time driving down unmarked dirt roads in the north Florida backwoods.  (I have gotten stuck in the soft sand during several of these off road drives, but getting stuck isn’t the same as getting lost.)  I agree with David that it is a good idea to vary one’s driving routes, as well as other things in life, both to keep one’s brain sharp and to avoid the boredom that comes with doing things in the same way, over and over.  We have written about this concept before, in terms of going to new/unfamiliar places, ordering food we have never tasted, and generally speaking, keeping an open mind about novel experiences, but driving different routes is another example of how David and I are rather different from many people we know, who prefer the “same old, same old” in every aspect of their lives.  I speed down I-95 when necessary, but if I really want to enjoy the ride, I’ll look for a new way to get where I am going.

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