O'BRIEN: Exercising the brain worth losing your 'Man Card' over

Posted: Mar. 25, 2013 5:12 pm Updated: May. 7, 2013 9:15 am

In front of a packed ballroom in Manhattan 10 days ago, Ram Kolli returned to the top of his sport.

After winning the USA Memory Championship in 2005, Kolli recaptured his title on March 16 when he bested a field of 50 people for the title. He edged two-time defending champion Nelson Dellis. The USA Memory Championship bills itself as "an Olympiad for thinking games." It's a "sporting event for mental athletes." Those athletes see who is best at memorizing 117 names and faces, a shuffled deck of cards, an unpublished poem, speed numbers and a list of 500 words.

Kolli won an oversized $1,000 check that I'm pretty sure didn't fit in his wallet. Sadly, the USA Memory Championship doesn't come with any cool championship belt like the mustard-colored one Joey Chestnut gets each July for winning the Nathan's Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest on Coney Island.

Even worse news for the 32-year-old Kolli is that the older he gets, the tougher it's going to be for him to regain the crown.

As we all know, your memory is one of the first things to go. As I creep into my mid-40s, I worry about forgetting stuff all of the time. It's recently reached the point that I've started playing silly games on my iPhone to help keep my mind sharp.

I shudder to think at how many hours I've wasted playing those games. It started with Words With Friends, a Scrabble-like game where you get seven tiles and each letter has a different point value. That led to me downloading Scramble With Friends. In Scramble With Friends, you try to figure out how many words you can make from a 16-tile grid over a two-minute period. I even have a similar game called Ruzzle that I play just because I saw some other people playing it.

Then there is my latest obsession, Candy Crush. It's a silly Facebook game where you try to match the color-coded pieces of candy in sets of three, four or five. You have to reach a goal each round in order to move on to the next one. I'm trying to battle my way past Level 50 right now. Somewhere, someone is revoking my "Man Card" for admitting to playing Candy Crush.

But the reason I'm playing these silly games is to try to keep my mind sharp. Who knows if it's helping or not? If we're to believe the researchers, people my age and older need to do something to stay sharp. The British Medical Journal last year released a study that said that adult memory loss begins as early as age 45. I'll reach that mark before Obama finishes his second term. It used to be that our brains were thought to function normally until we hit 60.

Now, we're told to exercise our brain like we do our body.

Lately, it's been much easier to peck away at games on my phone than actually get up and sweat on a treadmill. If takes goofy games like Ruzzle to help me remember where I put my keys or parked my car, then so be it.

And I'm pretty sure that if I get past Level 50 in Candy Crush, I'll feel like I have qualified for next year's USA Memory Championship.



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