When it comes to maintaining health, the mind is an often-overlooked part of the equation.
But it shouldn’t be.
When we think about exercising, we probably think of sweat-filled rooms and young guys grunting through their sets.
But not all forms of exercise target muscles. And not all of them make you work up a sweat.
Just like we exercise our bodies, we have to exercise our minds as well.
And neurobics are a proven way to positively influence cognition, memory and functional skills.
While the term was coined by neurobiologist Dr. Lawrence Katz and Manning Rubin, the idea isn’t a new one.
Exercising the brain to improve memory and focus dates all the way back to (and probably even before) the ancient Greek poet Simonides.
The story goes that the poet left a building shortly before it collapsed. The impact was so severe that it crushed everyone inside and left the bodies unrecognizable.
But by using a technique he developed to memorize things by location, Simonides was able to identify everyone who was inside the building by recalling where they were seated.
Thus, Simonides is credited with developing one of the first mnemonic systems (systems designed to improve memory)… which are essentially what neurobics boil down to.
Simple exercises like thinking about basic things in a new way (like trying to memorize a seating chart as Simonides did) trigger the brain to synthesize neurotrophins, which regulate neural development, synaptic strength and brain plasticity.
More neurotrophins lead to additional neural pathways, which are known to enhance comprehension, memory and learning retention.
Every time you do this, it’s like you’re doing a set of mental pushups.
But you don’t have to walk out of a collapsing building to get your brain to send out more neurotrophins.
Here are six simple ways to keep the brain firing on all cylinders.
- Read aloud. The brain is used to seeing words on paper, but including the ears lets the brain form associations between different senses.
- Go lefty (or righty). You brush your teeth every morning. It’s a well-practiced routine. But doing something as simple as switching the hand you brush with throws a wrench in the pattern and forces the brain to think about things differently.
- Pick a new route. Brain imaging studies show that new tasks activate large areas of the cortex. But when tasks become routine and automatic, the brain doesn’t engage the same way. This is why something as simple as taking a new route to work or the store can be a helpful trick to rejuvenate the mind.
- Pick up change. We typically rely on visual cues to identify things. So change it up by carrying some spare change in your pocket, and engage your sense of touch by trying to identify the coins without looking at them. Bonus points for counting it all up using only your tactile abilities.
- Eat different foods. Our olfactory system is capable of distinguishing millions of different smells. And adding new ones to the mix can evoke unexpected associations in the brain. So by trying an unfamiliar cuisine, you’re adding something new to your already impressive odor library.
- Flip it. When looking at a picture or clock right-side up, the left part of your brain, which is more analytical and verbal, quickly kicks in. But if something is upside down, the right (more creative) part of your brain steps in to try to interpret it. Who knew trying to figure out what time it is could be so taxing?
These simple exercises are proven to get the brain out of its sedentary state and give it the healthy workout it needs to stay sharp and focused.