Our Ageing Brain

brain-990x622[1]Our Ageing Brain

Like many older people I’ve been interested and a little apprehensive about what happens to our brains as we age. I’ve just read a book called “Our Ageing Brain” by Andre Aleman and I can recommend it to anyone with an interest in the subject.
I’ll attempt to sum up what he says in the book.
Memory decline starts at age 20 but between 60 and 70 declines more rapidly. The speed of information processing, powers of concentration and the ability to switch between ways of thinking also decline.
Older people perform better in general knowledge and vocabulary tests.
People aged 60 and over are happier than between 20 and 40. A positive attitude to ageing has a greater impact on health than physical activity, smoking or obesity.
People aged over 70 can suffer from feelings of depression, more than the middle aged.
Older people have more insight into complex social situations.
Between the ages of 50 and 80 the volume and weight of the brain decline by 10%.
Older people use the front and back and right and left sides of the brain to compensate.
Age is the most important risk factor for dementia. 1% of 60 year olds, 7% of 75 year olds and 30% of 85 year olds are sufferers.
There is no effective treatment for dementia but medication and support can slow it down.
Hormones play a crucial role as we grow older.
Growth hormones could have a positive effect on memory and concentration but can give health problems.
Physical exercise keeps the mind sharp as do memory and concentration exercise.
There is no medication that can improve memory.
Vitamin B12 and Omega 3 can lead to improvements.
People who have done brain work all their lives have a lower risk of Alzheimer’s.
People who exercise regularly have an even smaller risk of Alzheimer’s.
Older people are wiser. They can draw on a substantial database of knowledge and experience. They take fewer risks in financial decision making. The ageing brain works slower, responses are therefore more sensible.
The oldest and healthiest people in the world are from Okinawa , Japan. They eat little saturated fat, sugar and salt.
We should drink 1.5 litres of water a day.
Reading books is a very good way to keep your brain active.

Sri Lanka Part 2

Day 6 was a rest day in Kandy and in the morning we went to the temple of the sacred tooth relic for the offering ceremony. This is the Buddha’s tooth and it is housed in the Royal Palace complex and much revered. In a noisy but well-ordered ceremony people made offerings of food and flowers ; we didn’t see the tooth itself, this was kept behind a well locked door.
In the hotel there were signs telling guests not to leave food out on the veranda because of the monkeys. I thought a pair of cycling shoes left out to dry would be OK but on my return found only one shoe. After searching the grounds I quickly had to nip out and buy a pair of running shoes and change the pedals .
It’s interesting to watch how staff operate in the hotel. They have a computer to keep tabs on all bills but then go upstairs, collect all the bills and add up using a calculator and present a hand written bill. People love to operate an informal system parallel to a formal one.
President Rajapaksa changed the constitution allowing him to run for President a third time ; he was popular because he helped to stop the war but much brutality occurred and there is a possibility that he may be indicted on war crime charges. Election posters showing him dressed in long white robes and looking like a US evangelist were everywhere and there were little signs of the opposition party. But he became unpopular because of corruption and nepotism and in the subsequent election in January he lost his place to the opposition; a triumph for democracy.
Day 7 was a long day in the saddle covering 85K and 1500metres of climbing on 2 long climbs but at a lesser gradient than previously. We lost Brandon for most of the day after he took a wrong turn. Once we got up into the tea plantations the riding was wonderful.
It’s very easy for us to say that the country is picturesque and beautiful but for the people living there life can be tough. The lady tea pickers were often gaunt and aged, they earn maybe $8 a day, and many people have no running water and electricity.
There was much evidence of the British Raj .We stayed the night at an old manger’s house on Hatton’s Tea Estate , 1380 metres high. Here the majority of the people are Tamils and look different with darker skin and many of the ladies wearing saris.
The morning of day 8 was wonderful, as close to a cyclist’s paradise as there can be. We climbed gradually uphill allowing us to look at the scenery, take photos and keep a steady pace in mild sunshine. The tea plantations are sculptured up the steep hills and we stopped and took many photos of the ladies picking leaves. We then had a tour round a tea processing plant, in general it looked old and safety issues didn’t seem to be a priority. We gradually made our way to the top of the pass and then descended 21 kilometres in pouring rain. The descent was white knuckle stuff, steep, fast through forests and round hair pin bends and like most roads in Sri Lanka you never knew whether you would come face to face with a lumbering Tata bus.
By now Marshall was being sick and suffering from enteritis, and with it still pouring down we transferred to the hotel by bus.
Day 9 was our final day’s ride. This was a quiet uneventful ride along a river bank for most of the day.
Altogether we had two days riding without rain, the first and last.
Finally we had a rest day at a nice hotel Ranna 22 by the beach. We normally arrived at these smart hotels where the beautifully dressed staff in sarongs and saries line up to greet you with drinks and towels. They took a step backwards when they saw these bedraggled , wet, smelly cyclists appearing.
On our last day in Sri Lanka we drove to Galle and spent a fascinating few hours strolling around the narrow streets of old Dutch houses in the old fort area. Then we drove on to Colombo via an empty new toll road with lots of road signs warning of peacocks. The centre of Colombo was surprisingly well developed with parks and modern buildings but horrendous traffic out to the airport.
So I finished this with one cycling shoe, a left hand that didn’t work properly after the hectic braking down the hills, a bag full of smelly cycling clothes and a lot of good memories. Sri Lanka is a beautiful country with steep hills, wonderful smiling people and a lot of rain.

Sri Lanka Part 1


Sri Lanka is an island shaped like a tear to the South of India and has a long and interesting history. Visited by the Buddha, colonised by the Portuguese, the Dutch, the British and since independence in 1948 it had a vicious civil war between the Sinhalese and the Tamil tigers which only ended in 2009. The island also suffered from the tsunami in 2004 which killed 30,000 people and made 100,000 homeless. The population is about 20 million of whom the Buddhist Sinhalese make up 75% of the population and the Hindu Tamils have about 11% of the population. They originally came into the country as indentured labour in the same way as the Natal Indians and they continue to be discriminated against. There are also minorities of Muslim and European descent. The main sources of income are tea and tourism and garment manufacturing. Like Nepal and the Philippines the country exports large numbers of cheap workers to the Gulf, basically slave labour.

Isn’t it amazing that wherever one travels there is the same scenario, the majority of wealth is in the minority of hands and the majority of people suffer with poor healthcare, education and either slave labour or no work at all; another dysfunctional democracy.

On the flight over I sat with Peter, a 50 something diver emigrating to UK to join his family. It was only when we were going through security did I discover he was wearing his lead lined diving boots and weight belt. The flashing alarm sirens and lights were going off like mad.

The group of 8 riders are an experienced cycling bunch many of whom have done previous cycling tours in places like Myanmar , Ecuador, Vietnam, Montenegro and Bhutan and were a mix of retired guys like me and younger adventurers. Their nationalities were Croatian, American, Swiss, Aussie and of course South African. Spice Roads provides a guide who cycles, a cycling leader and two back up vehicles , one for bikes and the other for the riders so there is a team of 4 looking after 8 riders. The nice thing about this type of touring is that although some of the riding is hard you know that at the end of the day there will be a hot shower, a comfortable bed, Wi-Fi , a beer and good food. The guys looked after servicing , cleaning the bikes and mending punctures; all we had to do was ride. To top it up I got a brand new Trek bike and a brand new helmet.

This is adventuring the easy way, not like my friend Ron who cycled over 3000 kms across Australia on his own without back up.

First impressions of Sri Lanka were that it is similar to Nepal and the Philippines with lots of small businesses along the roadside but a lot less traffic. The hotel was on the sea with palm fringed beaches.

The first day of riding started from the hotel and followed the west coast with beaches and fishing villages all cloaked with thousands of coconut palms. At one instance we rode through a herd of buffalo being driven along the road. We stopped at one place where they were tapping coconut oil which they use in alcoholic drinks, e g palm wine. This involves tappers climbing the tree and then balancing high above the ground and strung from tree to tree to form a catwalk. The bark is also used for fibre for brushes.

The area was very Catholic , a legacy of Portuguese colonialism, with ornate churches and as it was a Sunday there were big crowds praying. Then we moved into an area containing mosques and then into an area with Buddhist temples. The island is lush and green with tropical fauna and flora. Our hotel , Thilanks Spa is beautifully set in rice paddies with its main feature being a long swimming pool. It seems to be rather cruel for paddy workers to be slaving in the fields next to lazing tourists. It was hot during the day but clouded over later and started to rain. The night was very tropical with cicadas and frogs croaking.

The second day we rode through the countryside, mainly on dirt roads to Sigriya Rock, a 5th century fortress. This is a truly amazing place; we climbed up on foot to the top 300m past frescoes of ladies and up steep circular staircases to the top. We climbed through a huge carved lion gateway .Below was a pleasure garden where the King Kasyapa entertained his ladies at a swimming pool

. This is another dynasty which had an amazing culture and then just disappeared after the death of the King.

On our way up the hillside it poured down and we had to wade through a waterfall cascading down the path.

From there we rode to Dambulla , a 2nd century cave temple with 150 Buddha statues.

The weather was showery with heavy downpours and we all got wet and muddy but had good fun riding through the mud. Riding on the roads is another story; beware of red buses, their drivers must be ex lunatic asylum inmates or prisoners to drive them. There were lots of egrets in the rice paddies, herons, kingfishers and a large monitor lizard. Children waved and shouted to us and after one motor cycle passed us there was a wonderful tang of incense in the air which lingered for quite a while. These are the spice islands after all.

We rode between 50 – 80 kilometres a day and would generally stop for snack breaks and a sit down lunch in a restaurant before continuing on in the afternoon. Day 3 was a long day dodging in and out of rain showers. At times in the elephant reserve we could have been in Phinda Game Reserve with dams and forested hills. After lunch we toured around Polonnurawa lake with good birds and on to the park with its 10th century  ruins and temples. Again this is an amazing place from a bygone age which flourished with sophisticated buildings and systems and then just disappeared. All this is rather similar to Ankor Wat.

I picked up some saddle sores, probably from wet cycling pants. I expected hot cycling conditions but the temperature was bearable with cloudy days and heavy rain showers.

Sri Lanka is very self-sufficient and grows fruit, veggies, mielies and of course all spices to make their excellent mild tasting curries.

Day 4 was a steady ride along a main road until the last hour when it poured. I had to actively swerve around a fearsome looking monitor lizard eating something on the road. In the afternoon we had a game drive in the Wasgomuwa National Park. We saw plenty of elephants, herds of wild buffalo, deer and good birds including Brown’s fishing owl, peacocks, bee eaters, storks, ibises, eagles, and kingfishers. What I didn’t appreciate was that the driver of the game viewing vehicle , chewing red beetle juice and with a wild look to his eyes drove straight at the herd of elephants and forced them off the road , which included a pregnant female who was in some distress.

Day 5 dawned wet and rainy again. I wasn’t feeling 100 % and had swollen ankles, legs and my face was very puffy around the eyes. On top of it all this was the toughest day so far, we did 1500m of climbing between 10-15 degrees up hair pin bends and all in rain and mist . There were three long climbs , the last one being 11 kilometres. At one stage I completely ran out of steam and waited for the bus to come up to me. I asked them for anything to kick start me. Steroids, testosterone, ESP, you name it, I would have taken it.

It felt like the Tour de France. I had to settle for a banana and water but it was enough to kick start me up to the top.

We plunged down a narrow hairpin road in the pouring rain squeezing past red buses labouring up the hill leaving dense black plumes of smoke behind them and eventually arrived in Kandy.

Part 2  to follow