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Nationals’ manager Davey Johnson maintains sharp mental edge
Washington field boss exemplifies new science of neuroplasticity
Question of the Day
“If I were the czar of the universe and could prescribe the very best way for older adults to age in very healthy fashion, particularly with memory, I would send them all to Buenos Aries and have them learn to tango. It requires complex physical movement. There’s remarkable socializing, since you’re as close as you can get to another human being. And most important, you’re having fun.”
The last part is crucial. While exercise and engagement are manna for the mind, stress is more like Kryptonite.
Studies in humans and animals indicate that stress hormones can inhibit the formation of new cells and connections in the memory centers of the brain and that chronic stress increases risk for Alzheimer’s.
According to Ms. Lucas, increased stress also corresponds with increased inflammation and an overall decrease in physical well-being, ranging from digestive problems to overloaded adrenal and nervous systems to cardiovascular issues — none of which is conducive to mental clarity.
“We think that mental aging actually has a lot to do with your cardiovascular system,” Mr. Tseng said. “At the end of the day, the heart is the engine of the body, and when your brain doesn’t receive blood, you’re missing oxygen and nutrients.”
During his previous managing gigs in New York, Baltimore and Los Angeles, Mr. Johnson was known for being irascible — particularly when butting heads with team ownership. Though he can seem more placid with the Nationals, even soft-spoken, he laughs off suggestions that he has mellowed.
“The stress is the same; I just tend to keep it in,” Mr. Johnson said.
How does Mr. Johnson cope?
By focusing on solving problems. And by living — and worrying — in the present. “My wife will be worried about where we are going in six months, what beach we’re going to lie on, what country we’ll be in,” he said. “I’m in the now. I’m aware of tomorrow, but only because what you do today will affect it. That’s as far as I go, and I’m comfortable with that.”
Though taking matters “one game at a time” is perhaps the hoariest of athletic cliches, Ms. Lucas said that a solution-seeking, now-oriented approach is highly effective in reducing stress and anxiety, in part because of neuroplasticity. To wit: Researchers at the University of Wisconsin have found that Tibetan monks are able to alter the physical structure of their brains through meditative practice and that habitual meditation reduces the size of an area of the brain that controls fear and is linked to aggression.
Over the course of the Nationals’ season, Mr. Johnson’s players repeatedly have praised his keen intelligence, astute observation, calm demeanor and ability to connect — his ability to stay ahead of the curve. Are white and gray matter the hidden reasons?
Mr. Santangelo has a simpler explanation.
“We’re in first place with a great club and a great bunch of guys, and a good organization that does things the right way,” he said. “Davey’s just having way more fun here than he ever had in Los Angeles.”
© Copyright 2013 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.
About the Author
Patrick Hruby is an award-winning journalist who holds degrees from Georgetown and Northwestern. He also contributes to ESPN.com and The Atlantic Online, and his work has been featured in The Best American Sports Writing. Follow him on Twitter (@patrick_hruby) and contact him at PatrickHruby.net.
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