Everyone over a certain age has experienced the fact that sooner or later deterioration starts in our bodies, just like it does in our buildings as they age. But we have also likely read that there are some things we can do to at least slow down the process. One of those things is to exercise our brains.

The usual suggestions that come to mind are crossword puzzles, Sudoku and other brain-teasing type games. But those require a specific tool or setting, such as a book or newspaper and a chair. I would recommend adding another brain exerciser that we can do anytime or anywhere: getting into the practice of continually asking questions of ourselves, specifically two simple questions. The first one is "why?"

Recently, a friend sent a list of good "why" questions. While his wasn't intended to be a brain-saving game for us seniors, it is a good place to start. For instance, why are sweetmeats candy, but sweetbreads, which aren't sweet, are meat? Why are boxing rings square? Why do our noses run but our feet can smell? Why can we have a slim chance and a fat chance and they mean the same? But then why are "a wise man" and "a wise guy" opposites? Why, when the stars are out, they are visible, but when the lights are out, they are invisible. Why do we fill in a form to fill it out? Why say teachers taught when we don't say that preachers praught? Why would we say that a vegetarian eats vegetables; so what does a humanitarian eat? It is fun to try to find out how and where such word usage originated!

Of course, those got me thinking about other good "why questions." I was in a bank, standing in line, and started wondering about those people behind the counter. Why are they called tellers? They don't "tell," as far as I can tell.

Another: I was home, cooking, and started to peel an onion, when it happened again: why is it that the little compost container is always already full when I need to add those papery onion skins? If I don't stop what I am doing and empty it first, they will fly all over the place, adding extra work for me to pick them up.

Why does a group of people walking together - slowly - take up the whole hallway? Why do people change lanes or make turns without using turn signals? Why do people turn a corner from the right lane into the left lane? Why are the products that I like the best the ones that get discontinued, such as a favorite lipstick?

There are also good "whys" to ask about many rules. Why does everyone have to be at work at the same time in the morning, or be penalized for being late? One time during my career years, one of the people was habitually late. She was simply a night person, and found it hard to get anywhere early in the morning. But her tardiness drove a lot of people crazy, especially her boss. He often pointed out the rest of us were all early-birds; we were usually there at least a half hour before the official start time. So why couldn't she get there early too? To be honest, she was so consistent that the few times she was ever there on time, we thought she must be ill.

I brought up the question of why we had to be so rigid: our office, in the Central Time zone, had two other offices reporting to it. One was in the Eastern Time zone, the other in the Mountain Time zone. So, the ones in the east started work earlier than we did, and the ones in the mountain states started to work an hour later than us, but they were also there an hour after we closed.

This person, who was habitually late in the morning, also stayed later than everyone else at night. I pointed out that most of us were there early enough to cover any questions or problems that might come in from the east. But, after our closing time, if a problem arose in the west, she was always there to handle it, long after the rest of us had left the building. So, really, that person, tardy in the morning, was often doing us a favor in the evening. Somehow my logic and questioning the "why" of it did not convince her boss. I guess the "why" is that sometimes, maybe even often, we just have rules for rules' sake.

I could add a variation of the why question, and that is by asking "why not?" That opens up another whole avenue of exploration. And learning. But that wasn't the second question I had in mind when I started this thought process. I guess that second one will have to wait for another day and another page in this diary.