Brain and Mind Exercise

While many of us are on an exercise program focused on reshaping, toning, strengthening or slimming our bodies, we often neglect to appreciate the profound benefit that exercise has on our brain.  It’s a well-documented and scientifically verified that exercise has an immediate effect on our ability to focus and maintain a better outlook.  It’s also documented that there are huge long-term benefits to even modest amounts of exercise, as well.

Dr. Wendy Suzuki TED talk: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BHY0FxzoKZE

In addition to physical exercise, many forms of yoga benefit the mind (as well as the brain) with breathing techniques, one-pointed focus and meditation.  Not some mysterious unattainable practice, meditation actually is as simple as sitting with yourself counting your breaths.  Notice that simple and easy are not the same thing!  The brain and mind benefits of yoga and meditation are also scientifically documented (see Marilyn Wei, MD and James Groves, MD, The Harvard Medical School Guide to Yoga.)  The neurological and cognitive benefits of a steady practice are immediate and long term.

There are activities that regenerate and supplement brain development, too.  These mental exercises have the best results when we bring ourselves into a slightly uncomfortable, but not overwhelming spot of problem solving.  For example, memory games that use cards, words and pictures can be helpful.  Experts also recommend crossword puzzles (staring at a level that is challenging, but doable), Sudoku and other math puzzles, as well as any attempt to learn a new language or dust off one that you may have some familiarity with.  These brain-enriching activities help us to create more neural pathways in the areas of memory and creative problem solving.

And the last area that most people do not usually associate with better brain function is sleep. (See Matthew Walker’s Why We Sleep.)  Proper sleep helps our brains make space for our memories and synthesize everything that has happened to us throughout our waking hours.  Our different kinds of sleep (REM, Non-REM, etc.) help the brain in different ways, so one kind of sleep is not preferred over another.  The whole of our sleep cycle keeps us healthy (mentally and physically) and able to function optimally. 

Matthew Walker TED talk: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5MuIMqhT8DM

Your health is complex and requires your attention to the whole picture of you.  Your brain is the command center of the rest of you and we do have some understanding now about what helps and what hurts with our brain health.  Maybe try one of the suggestions here in the next week and see how you feel!

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