Life Health & Wellbeing

Wednesday 16 October 2019

Me and my brain: Ian Robertson

Ian Robertson
Ian Robertson

Best-selling author Ian Robertson is co-founder of the Global Brain Health Institute and Professor Emeritus at Trinity College Dublin. As a neuroscientist and a trained clinical psychologist, his research tries to bridge the gap between brain science, human psychology and the personal challenges that every single person on the planet faces from time to time. His popular books include The Stress Test, Mind Sculpture, The Mind’s Eye, Stay Sharp and The Winner Effect.

Ian, 67, has distilled the science on healthy brain ageing and applied it to his own life. “I take plenty of exercise — five times a week at least, for anything from 20 minutes to a couple of hours. Recently I have used an exercise bike when I’m pushed for time, but more often now in good weather I cycle to work. Occasionally I run or swim and quite often walk. I have no doubt that this is crucial for my brain — and the science is very strong on this.”

He pays as much attention to his mind and stress levels as his fitness. “I also use mindfulness, one or two brief five-to-eight-minute sessions using an App (Buddhify) most days. The science isn’t as strong on this as it is for aerobic exercise, but it is promising, and for sure feeling hassled or stressed depletes your brain reserves.

“Finally, I made sure not to retire — I know my brain is, to a certain extent, like a muscle and the principle of ‘use it or lose it’ is a fact not a myth. If I wasn’t still working I would keep my brain active through voluntary or community work, or maybe start to learn a musical instrument or some art — but leisure stops being leisure when that’s all you have: it only stays leisure in contrast to work.”

Ian’s tips for brain health

  • Regularly exercise — enough to raise a slight sweat (but check with your doctor first if you aren’t already exercising). Try to find types of exercise that are enjoyable rather than chores, or if you can’t, listen to talking books while you do it.
  • Enjoy the moment by learning to relax and be mindful. There are hundreds of ways of doing this, including yoga, mindfulness apps and tai-chi. Spend at least a few minutes each day training your mind to stay in the moment.
  • Remember that a healthy age-proofed brain needs three things: Challenge. Change. New Learning.

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