New research in neuroscience shows how to stay sharp by
exercising your brain.
by Roderick Gilkey and Clint Kilts
INSTON CHURCHILL WAS
outspoken on the sacred
rites of smoking cigars
and drinking alcohol before, after, and during meals – and in
the intervals in between. But he was
also exceptionally active mentally. As
historians have duly noted, Churchill
went on to live until 90. That speaks
volumes for the information that is
now coming to light about how the
brain can affect the body.
Of course, few executives would be
willing to follow Churchill’s example in
1657 Gilkey.indd 53
taking such poor care of their physical
health. As life expectancy continues to
rise, people are doing more and more to
ensure that their lives, if long, are going
to be healthy. The American Heart Association now recommends 30 minutes
of moderate exercise ﬁve days a week.
Not surprisingly, most large companies
offer health club memberships as a
perk; many provide gyms on-site. Find
yourself on the road, and you’re almost
guaranteed to have a ﬁtness center in
your hotel. You may even have to get in
line to use the equipment.
N ovember 2007
Harvard Business Review 5 3
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Until recently, however, there seemed
to be no guidelines for active efforts
you could make to stay mentally healthy.
There were no brain exercises – no mental push-ups – you could do to stave off
the loss of memory and analytic acuity
that comes as you grow older. In the
worst-case scenario, you could end up
with Alzheimer’s disease, for which
there are no proven treatments.
But a concentrated commitment of
resources by the National Institutes of
Health, the National Institute of Mental
Health, and the Library of Congress during the 1990s – which the White House
proclaimed the “decade of the brain” to
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