So many of us set resolutions for the new year that centre around better physical health. We vow to move more, eat better, cease destructive bad habits, and finally reach that place of peak vitality we all strive for. We often forget, though, to set resolutions for achieving optimum health for that 3 pound mass of cells and grey matter that sits atop the neck and is essential for running the show: that’s right, I’m talking about your brain. While that great organ of comprehension undoubtedly benefits from physical exercise and from ingesting foods full of antioxidants and phytochemicals, it also enjoys and craves its own special kind of exercise: thinking. In addition to acting as the puppet master from above – moving your body around, making sure your limbs move in the way you wish, your breathing continues, and your personality is what it is – the brain (much like its aptly named counterpart from Pinky and the Brain) loves nothing more than adding, subtracting, dividing, calculating, logicking, deducing, describing, remembering, pondering, and reciting. In our increasingly technologically-efficient, yet time-drained lives, certain tasks become overly easy for the brain while other things overwhelm it. As a result, the mind becomes distracted and forgetful. I find sometimes I can’t remember certain names, or the word I want is on the tip of my tongue, but it takes a few moments before I can actually recall what it is.
Think what you will of Martha Stewart, but one of her latest publications – Living the Good Long Life: A Practical Guide to Caring for Yourself and Others – contains many helpful tips for keeping the brain in top form by preventing memory loss and encouraging mental agility. Much like the muscles of the body, the brain has flexibility, or plasticity, as it’s called in the world of noggin’ studies. To encourage neuron growth and support memory improvement, incorporate a few of the following suggestions into your daily life, and see if you don’t feel sharp as a tack in no time:
- work on memorization skills – learn a poem or several lines of dialogue from your favourite play. Outside of school, most of us don’t spend time memorizing things anymore, and the brain enjoys working on these kinds of recall skills;
- do things differently – start at the end of the grocery store instead of where you usually begin; brush your teeth with the opposite hand; take a different walk route each day
- constantly challenge your memory – for example, learn something new and then quiz yourself for recall and/or understanding (i.e what was the tip mentioned just before this one? After reading this list, can you state all of the different tips?)
- do brain puzzles – sudokus, logic puzzles, kenkens, solitaire, scrabble, whatever! Play online or offline – board games and cards definitely count!
- stimulate your brain – try non-fiction if you usually read fiction, learn a new language (or a least a few words in a new language); keep learning about any topics that interest you – download free lectures, participate in online or in-class courses, sign up for a new workshop or program
- think differently – try interesting exercises like summing up your life story in seven words or describing your favourite fruit using only colours or sounds; take time to reach for just the right word to say what you want to say; tell a story using pictures or photographs or drawings
- learn new words – review the dictionary for some interesting options and then try to work them into your conversation
- have new adventures – take a trip to a new part of town or neighbourhood, and perhaps take your camera; see new movies and new plays; read different books with varying thoughts or opinions on certain topics; try new foods and new recipes and new restaurants
All in all, this year, give your brain some exercise and reap the rewards – soon, also much like Pinky and the Brain, you’ll be ready to take over the world.
Reading List: Living the Good Long Life: A Practical Guide for Caring For Yourself and Others. Author: Martha Stewart