There are many good features in United HealthCare’s Medicare Select program that both Cedar, my wife, and I have. One that we have used for nearly 14 years is free membership in our local YMCA. (Actually, this feature enables us to use Y’s all over the country.) Apparently, the federal government’s research concluded that seniors on Medicare who work out regularly are less likely to cost the government money for medical treatment. That enabled the program to negotiate free memberships at health clubs nationally, the YMCA being one of them...
For a while I was working out using the machines—stationary bike, rowing machine, treadmill, and weights. Early on, I hurt myself with the weights, so I switched to the water-fitness class. Three times a week Cedar and I attend this in-pool hour of warm-water aerobics and have been doing so 13 ½ years. Our instructor for the last number of years, Roxanne B., is the retired chief judge of the Boulder court. At 73 she is fit and knowledgeable. She makes sure to exercise all our muscle groups. First, we have ten minutes of warm-up. Then for the next 20-25 minutes we undergo something called H.I.I.T., or High-Intensity Interval Training. This discipline, for which we use either a Styrofoam floatation noodle or a set of swimming dumbbells, consists of a series of exercises which we do three times as fast as possible for, say, 25 seconds each followed by 15 seconds of rest. Next, we have 10-15 minutes of slow, muscle-strengthening exercises, assisted by dumbbells or noodles, the opposite floatation device from what we used for H.I.I.T. Finally, the 20 of us go to one side of the pool or the other for the last 10-15 minutes to do wall-assisted stretches, including things like writing our names in capital letters with our pool-side legs. We always end with shoulder rolls back and forward. Then it’s home-free-all to the showers.
So, what do these sorts of exercises have to do with brain gym? Well, for one thing, aerobic exercise of any kind seems to build a dike against memory loss, dementia, and Alzheimer’s, while aiding in general health maintenance for the regular practitioner. And at nearly 84 and as a former university dean, I remember the saying that “old deans never die; they just lose their faculties.” As an erstwhile literature professor, moreover, as well as the child of a mother who entered senile dementia in her 70s, a state which only deepened until her death at 95, I wanted to do everything I could to retain my mental acuity. So, to this end I’m committed to regular walking and to maintaining a desirable weight. I also follow a twice-weekly active-meditation program through a spiritual practice called Subud. Finally, besides all this, I do a daily crossword puzzle, am a regular on-line solitaire player, enjoy frequent Rummi Kub games with Cedar and others, and—as someone who has studied twelve languages and speak eight fairly well—I am currently on an 825-consecutive-day streak on the language-learning app Duolingo, currently for French and Italian, two languages I already speak but want to improve. There is research that multi-language users tend to be less likely to develop senile dementia and/or Alzheimer’s. Now, the big question of course is, will all this help? Time will tell. But if I do experience one or both of these maladies, at least I have done my best to ward them off.