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A handy way to keep your mind sharp

(ARA) " When most people think of woodworking they see flannel shirts and sawdust, not brain cells and neural networks. And while that may never change, more people are recognizing the craft as a way to keep the mind sharp. As we get older, our minds change. Brain mass shrinks, the number of neurotransmitters " chemicals carrying messages between brain cells " tends to decrease and most people s ability to process information gradually slows. That doesn t make us powerless to act, however. A hobby like woodworking, which stimulates the mind through complex measurements, visualization and creative problem solving, can have significant positive effects on the aging brain. In fact, according to Dr. Paul Gilbert, a psychology professor at San Diego State University, most brain researchers now agree that regular mental exercise can help maintain cognitive ability in old age. The more you use your brain, the more activities you engage in, the better off you re going to be with aging, he said. Gilbert added that woodworking, in particular, challenges the mind in a number of helpful ways. Problem solving and planning, visual and spatial functioning, rotating an object in your mind to figure out how parts might fit together; all those cognitive functions are involved in woodworking and could be beneficial to the brain, he explained. And while other popular brain-healthy activities " doing crossword puzzles, playing games and reading, for example " also provide mental stimulation, Gilbert says that woodworking and similar hands-on tasks have a uniquely positive effect on the brain. Doing procedural-based tasks " learning how to do something " engages different learning circuits than more cognitive-based tasks, he said. Any time you can engage the mind in something different and novel, it s especially beneficial. Woodworkers themselves seem well aware of the brain-boosting effects. A recent customer survey conducted by Rockler Woodworking and Hardware, a national woodworking retailer, polled nearly 700 woodworkers and found that over 89 percent saw the craft as a way to stay sharp. It s definitely a good mental workout, said John Kelliher, an art director from Excelsior, Minn. You have to concentrate, focus and be aware of what you re doing " but that s all part of what makes it fun. So what are the first steps for someone looking to get into woodworking? Community education classes can help beginners learn fundamental skills and will usually provide the necessary tools, equipment and workspace at a reasonable cost. For the aging brain, hobbies can be a great way to remain mentally sharp, but some are better than others. Gilbert recommends looking for activities that satisfy three basic criteria. Something that is cognitively stimulating, something that is emotionally stimulating " something you enjoy doing " and something that gets you up and moving around. With high marks in each area, woodworking is proving to be an excellent choice. Courtesy of ARAcontent

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