Declaring a hippo challenge every weekend


From outer space to inner space … the Year of Liveability has shifted focus slightly thanks to ABC Catalyst’s latest episode, “Powering the Mind”.

Cognitive well-being is a topic of ongoing interest.  I’m particularly interested in the creative brain, but I don’t mind a few tips on keeping the rest in good shape.  The birthdays slip past quite quickly these days.

Catalyst offered quite a few tips and they are all listed in the transcript.

Amongst them, there were two take-home messages for me.  First, in a study about 15 years ago it was found that London taxi drivers had a bigger hippocampus than the average person.  Even more interesting … the longer they’d been on the job the larger their hippocampus had grown.  Bus drivers, in contrast, showed no change.

The idea is that the hippocampus is critical for memory.  The London taxi drivers had to commit a large amount of information to memory, and then every working day had to recall and rearrange that information in order to efficiently deliver passenger, after passenger, after passenger, to different locations.  Bus drivers just drive a preset and increasingly familiar route day, after day, after day.

That left me wondering if there’s anything in my life that matches the job of a London taxi driver?  My work is challenging some days, but not nearly that challenging.  I might have to expand a hobby … maybe get really serious with the digital camera.  Perhaps then I’d remember to adjust the white balance every time I go out!

Second take-home message was the mice that were placed in a stimulating environment, with plenty of exercise.  They had better memories and more adult-born neurons than bored, stationary mice.  I’d heard about this research before but now there are extra details.  It seems it is the exercise that stimulates the brain’s neurons to divide and grow, but they don’t last long without the cognitive stimulation.  It’s the stimulation that keeps the new neurons alive and makes them useful.

When discussing the program with my Mum, I pronounced enthusiastically “Being comfortable is the enemy”.

Perhaps a little more encouraging is to instead declare enthusiastically, “Now, what exciting new things will this weekend bring?”



“Powering the Mind”, presented by Anja Taylor on Catalyst, broadcast by Australian Broadcasting Corporation on Tuesday 17 March 2015.  Transcript available at


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