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Happy Pi Day!

imagesToday is 3/14/13 – This is called Pi day by nerds like Dr. C because 3/14 is like 3.14, the first 3 numbers of the sequence of Pi. Pi is the circumference of a circle divided by its diameter. Curiously it seems to be a never ending sequence of changing numbers. 22/7 is an approximation of Pi but not the same as Pi.

Many have made a sport out of memorizing Pi to a long number of digits and then accurately reciting them. The current official record holder recited Pi to 67,890 digits in 2005. I just ran some math on this. If said the numbers out loud one every second, he would have taken 7 days and 19 hours. I’m sure it would have taken much longer given the needs of the human body.

Hearing about this a few questions come to mind:

  • Is a memory like that lucky genes or the result of training?
  • Can anyone develop these skills?

Most importantly:

  • Are there lessons to be learned that can help you not lose your keys?

Memory feats like this are the result of training. Top Pi champions average 8000 – 10000 hours of training. This equals roughly a year’s worth of work at 40 hours per week. They actually memorize numbers in chunks of 10 on average. One common method gives each chunk a symbol, a color and an emotion. These are then strung together to make a visual story which they memorize.

Yes, anyone can develop these skills. In a fascinating book called Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything, a man with an average memory learns these techniques and is able to go toe to toe with the world’s best in a matter of months. Oddly he reported these skills did not help him not lose his keys.

How can you improve your memory in a useful way and prevent brain aging?

There is always a tantalizing supplement or medication touted to help with this. I have some friends who are world class brain researchers, Daniel Amen, MD and Carl Sonder, MD. They have both told me that whenever new research on brain preservation rolls out, nothing comes close to the effects of aerobic exercise.

It is important to remember that our brains did not adapt to make us good at pecking keys in cubicles. Our brains adapted to navigate our bodies through hostile terrain, eat, make babies and not get killed in the process. Our brains experience close to zero stimulation when our bodies are not moving.

Brain docs’ advice: aerobic exercise at least 30 minutes each day. If you’re not an exerciser, this can be as simple as a daily walk. If you are an exerciser, try a variety of activities with some days intense and some days leisurely.

The most exciting news in brain research in the last decade is that the adult brain does regenerate. It can improve as can all aspects of your health.

Never forget this and never give up on yourself!

In good health,

Dr. C

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