Your brain is like a muscle that needs to exercise to stay fit! Here’s how to keep it sharp

Your brain is a wonderful resource. Every day she performs an amazing array of tasks that seem simple only because you complete them so easily. Actually, a brain workout is needed every now and then to keep our minds sharp. Consider the intense coordination of physical and mental processes required just to drive to the nearest market. You must first plan your destination, locate your keys, and walk to the car. So you have to unlock the car, get inside, remember how to start the engine, steer yourself out of a parking space or driveway and simultaneously operate the steering wheel, accelerator pedal and brakes while keeping track of landmarks that point the way to your destination. If it’s snowing, you may need to clean your car and clear a path, turn on the wipers and defroster, and navigate the conditions as you drive.

Once you arrive at the market, you’ll need to locate a place to park, exit and find your way in, then remember your entire shopping list and gather ingredients for any meals you plan to prepare, along with anything else you may need. need. to shop, even as you make your way through all the distractions, enticing displays, background music, signs, and other shoppers that stand in your way.

You’ll then have to repeat the process in reverse, first walking back to your car and physically placing the grocery bags inside, then safely leaving the cart and walking home through the weather and traffic, parking and hauling the groceries back in. , and then finally focus on cooking the meal. If you’re recreating a favorite family recipe, you might remember your relationship with your grandmother and how she taught you to prepare it, how the whole dish should taste and smell so you know it’s right, and then how you feel to serve the same meal to your family.

The work you don’t see

As with everything else you do in your life, you probably never think about the different sets of skills and activities required to pull off the entire process, from initial planning and strategic thinking, to navigating local conditions, coordinating all your motor activities. activities and thoughts, to remember your relationship with your grandmother, to taste and smell the recipe, and then relate to each of the individuals in your family when dinner is served. Every activity you engage in requires a rich neural network that accesses multiple regions of your brain, integrating distinctive processes such as sensory recognition, cognition and memory retrieval, motor skills, emotional processing, and maintaining balance and balance. concentration in the immediate world. Every time you use each complex network, you strengthen the neural connections that make it all possible.

You would never make it through life if your brain was just a one-trick pony, relying only on intellectual skills like memory and reasoning. Instead, it leverages a symphony of coordinated networks that all need to be kept up-to-date, fresh, and ready to fire when you need them. Brain power is a use it or lose it situation for all the skills involved. To keep your brain strong and supercharged, you must actively call upon all of its capabilities as you go about your daily life.

Putting it to the test

To help you gauge how well you’re handling this process, Eileen Donahue Robinson, PhD, a personality psychologist and adjunct professor at Hawaii Pacific University, and Keith Harary, PhD, executive director of the Institute for Advanced Psychology, have prepared a quiz that explore the many different ways to use your brain on a regular basis. They are co-authors of Who do you think you area book on personality self-assessment. Think of the quiz as a kind of lifestyle checker that will help you determine which neural networks you tend to rely on and use more frequently, and which ones could benefit from more regular workouts.

Take a few moments to think back over the last seven days and remember, as clearly as possible, what kinds of activities you did each day. Then compare your activities to the descriptions on the right side of the graph and calculate the number of days, over the past week, that you engaged in any activity matching each description for at least 20 minutes at a time on that particular day.

Now it’s time to take the quiz. For best results, complete the questions before continuing reading.

Understand your results

Each colored section of the graph identifies an important area of ​​functioning, such as intellectual interests, social relationships, recreation, and physical well-being. Each individual area involves complex networks that access multiple areas of your brain. Each of the colorful categories maximizes a particular type of skill: learning new things, communicating and empathizing with others, working toward goals, regulating positive emotions to offset daily stressors, and coordinating your body’s movements across time and space.

Review the results to identify which colored categories and associated skills you consistently engage in on the most days of the week. These may be your areas of particular strength. Then identify any areas that you may be ignoring or neglecting for many days. Research suggests it may be beneficial to activate these skills and their associated neural networks on a more frequent or regular basis. If you wish to create a greater sense of balance in your activities, we can suggest two approaches:

  • One option is to isolate the categories and networks you tend to exercise less frequently, identify the businesses you’re running that use them, and try to run those businesses more often.
  • The second strategy requires more creativity, ingenuity and imagination, so just figuring out how to do it earns you points in more categories! To get started, identify the activities you already do frequently on a daily basis. Then find ways to enhance these businesses by making them richer, more diverse, or more complex.

Rejuvenate your brain

Spice up your activities by adding new components that lead you to access different colorful categories at the same time. Try doing your favorite things in a new location, enjoying them with new people, or adding new sensations or motor sequences to the mix. For example, if you walk around your neighborhood every day, you might invite a neighbor to join you, so you can walk, converse, form a new relationship, and learn new topics all at the same time. If you exercise on a stationary bike, try listening to audio books or podcasts or coordinating your pace to the beat of a new musical style and language. Doing familiar things in new ways creates new connections in your brain, a process called neuroplasticitywhich helps keep the brain young, healthy and efficient.

When it comes to rejuvenating your spirit and brain, you may also want to consider meditation. Many people pursue meditation to create a private internal universe somewhere between waking and sleeping. Meditators often report that the process helps them gain perspective along with a deeper feeling of well-being and connection. Research shows that the calming and restorative benefits of meditation support a more active and resilient brain. Meditation can help strengthen your neural connections, facilitating better ability to focus, along with improved self-awareness and self-esteem, and reduced levels of stress and anxiety, which help maintain a healthy level of brain functioning as you progress. of age.

The power of laughter

Laughter has also been shown to have measurable benefits for your body and brain, including building resilience, increasing creative problem solving, and increasing your overall satisfaction with life. That’s no wonder, since laughter exercises the upper body, encourages deep breathing, and releases pleasurable chemicals in the brain, and humor often relies on seeing the world in new and unusual ways. Further research has found that laughter shared with others, which engages your social and communication skills, is even better than laughter alone for benefiting your brain. Likewise, solving a problem with a team often generates more brain gain than doing it alone.

Benefits of exercise

Exercise has been found to literally fuel the brain, increasing its uptake of glucose and regulating the neurotransmitters it needs to function. Running around your neighborhood, absorbing sights and sounds, and finding your way around, further improves your visual perception and your ability to integrate information. Listening to music can boost mental alertness, boost memory, improve sleep, and reduce pain, anxiety, and blood pressure. Singing, playing an instrument and especially dancing have been shown to be even more beneficial than passively listening to music, probably because they activate additional neural networks.

Train your brain and learn a new language

Learning a foreign language is especially good at forming new neural connections because you refer to existing semantic networks while also developing new ways to communicate. MRI studies show that learning a foreign language provides effective brain training that can grow brain regions associated with memory and spatial navigation, including the cerebral cortex and hippocampus along with the gray matter that connects different parts of the brain.

Yoga for body and mind

Huge neural benefits have also been found for yoga, including reduced levels of anxiety and improved cognitive performance, most likely because it combines movement, flexibility, balance, focus and relaxation, and also social connections when practiced as part of a class. Recent research suggests that practicing yoga may help improve concentration and information processing, and protect the brain from age-related decline.

As you focus on expanding your neural repertoire, keep in mind that sound sleep also plays a vital restorative role. While you sleep, your brain works to strengthen new, helpful connections and just as significantly to purge connections that no longer serve you. By making a coordinated effort to continually call upon all the multifaceted layers and dimensions of your brain, you can not only keep your brain strong, but you can also maintain more immediate access to a broad range of human capabilities. In the process, you can not only supercharge your brain; you can also improve the quality of your life.

A version of this article appeared in our partner magazine, Supercharge Your Brain, in 2022.

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