When it comes to keeping your body’s muscles fit, you often hear the expression “use it or lose it.”
Yet most people don’t know that your body’s controlling organ – your brain – is similar to a muscle, too. In fact, keeping your brain “fit” with plenty of mental stimulation is a great way to support your healthy cognition, mental function and memory throughout your life.
Isn’t that exciting?
It is just as important to exercise your brain, as it is to exercise your body. It can be fun, too!
Dr. Amen’s 12 Ways to Strengthen Your Brain
1. Dedicate yourself to new learning.
Put 15 minutes in your day to learn something new. Einstein said that if anyone spends 15 minutes a day learning something new, in a year he or she will be an expert! Learn by taking a class. Try square-dancing, chess, tai chi, yoga, or sculpture. Parents, work with modeling clay or Playdough with your kids. It helps develop agility and hand-brain coordination!
2. Cross train at work.
Learn someone else’s job. Maybe even switch jobs for several weeks. This benefits the business and employees alike, as both workers will develop new skills and better brain function.
3. Improve your skills at things you already do.
Some repetitive mental stimulation is okay as long as you look to expand your base skills and knowledge. Common activities such as gardening, sewing, playing bridge, reading, painting, and doing crossword puzzles have value, but push yourself to do different gardening techniques, more complex sewing patterns, play bridge against more talented players to increase your skill, read new authors on varied subjects, learn a new painting technique, and work harder crossword puzzles. Pushing your brain to new heights helps to keep it healthy and strong.
4. Limit television for kids and adults.
In a study published in the journal Pediatrics it was reported that for every hour a day children watch TV there is a 10% increased chance of them being diagnosed with attention deficit disorder (ADD). This means if the child watches five hours a day they have a 50% increased chance of being diagnosed with ADD! Watching TV is usually a “no brain” activity. To be fair, most studies did not specifiy if watching programs that teach you something had the same effect as situation comedies, reality shows or sports. I suspect that no-brain TV shows are the primary problem.
5. Limit video games.
Action video games have been studied using brain imaging techniques that look at blood flow and activity patterns. Video games have been found to work in an area of the brain called the basal ganglia, one of the pleasure centers in the brain. In fact, this is the same part of the brain that lights up when researchers inject a person with cocaine! My experience with patients and one of my own children is that they tend to get hooked on the games and play so much that it can deteriorate their school work, work and social time – a bit like a drug. Some children and adults actually do get hooked on them.
6. Join a reading group that keeps you accountable to new learning.
Almost any mental activity you enjoy can be used to protect your brain. The essential requirement is that it activates several different brain areas, one of which should be the hippocampus (in the temporal lobes), which stores new information for retrieval later on. By recalling information (using your hippocampus), you are protecting your brain’s memory centers. In essence, as long as you learn something new and work to recall it later for discussions, you are protecting short-term memory. Reading stimulates a wide variety of brain areas that process, understand, and analyze what you read, and then store it for later recall if you decide it’s worth remembering. The neurons in these activated brain areas are stimulated with specific patterns of information.