Our brain is entirely like any of our physical muscles
The lesson of these new insights is that our brain is entirely like any of our physical muscles: Use it or lose it. We all know what happens to your muscles if you are bedridden from illness or just living the couch potato life. The same thing happens to your brain. By failing to engage it in intellectually challenging activities, your brain will fail to grow new connections, and it will indeed become disorganized and ultimately dysfunctional. The converse is also true for both body and brain. If someone who has not been physically active for a sustained period starts a program of physical therapy and regular exercise, she can regain her muscle mass and tone within a matter of months. The same thing is true of your brain.
Many studies demonstrate that people who maintain their intellectual activities throughout life remain mentally sharp. A Canadian study called the Victoria Longitudinal Study has shown that older individuals who routinely engage in mentally challenging activities, including everyday activities such as reading, remain mentally alert, as compared with the substantial cognitive decline of those who do not engage in these activities.
Just as we have more than one muscle to keep fit, we have more than one region of the brain that we need to exercise. To keep the cerebellum--the region of the brain that controls voluntary movement--healthy, you should engage in physical activities, particularly those that involve the development of skills such as sports.
Nonetheless, in terms of exercising your brain, it is important to engage both your logical and your emotional faculties. To the extent that your job or educational activities do not engage your logical brain, find activities that require problem solving. There are myriad examples, ranging from board games such as chess to solving crossword or Sudoku puzzles. Keeping track of your finances or planning a trip will engage your logical mind. Reading and writing certainly engage both aspects of your brain. Express your creative and artistic urges by studying a musical instrument. Learn to create art using any modality, including computer graphics. Take up a hobby. Take an adult education course. Travel to new places. Engage in conversations with interesting and thoughtful people. Most important, emphasize interpersonal relationships. Strong connections to others deeply engage both types of mental activities and satisfy a basic human need.
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