You’re no doubt familiar with the adage “use it or lose it,” and although it applies to a number of different situations, it’s particularly relevant when it comes to your mental acuity. There are many ways to combat mental lethargy and deterioration by engaging in mentally stimulating activities.
In our always-on, connected society more and more people express concern about feeling mentally exhausted, experience memory lag, and information overload. Many of us may therefore conclude that we need a vacation or some downtime, when the actual remedy needed may be a boost in brain health.
Plenty of studies have shown that, much like muscles, our brains present signs of atrophy if not kept properly engaged. This could potentially lead to earlier onset of Alzheimer’s, dementia, and other mental illnesses.
Fortunately, there are many ways to combat mental lethargy and deterioration by engaging in mentally stimulating activities such as the ones listed below.
Play a musical instrument: Playing music helps with creativity, analytical skills, language, math, fine motor skills, and more. What playing musical instruments does that other activities don’t is strengthen the corpus callosum that links the hemispheres of the brain by creating new connections. An improved corpus callosum helps with executive skills, memory, problem solving, and overall brain function, regardless of how old you are.
Practice meditation to decrease stress: Studies shows that chronic stress can damage the brain. You can help protect and strengthen your brain by engaging in activities or lifestyle habits that decrease the firing of your stress response. One of the best ways to do this is through developing a meditation practice, even if it's just 10 to 20 minutes a day. Practicing breath-focused exercises, mindfulness meditation, yoga, Tai Chi, or engage in a spiritual practice or ritual, like prayer.
Construct bottom-line messages: Summarize your reading, training seminars, articles, movies you see, or books read. Abstracting novel ideas, versus remembering a litany of facts, builds a brain with an enhanced long-term memory for global ideas and the ability to retrieve fundamental facts.
Exercise regularly: Occasional exercise alone doesn’t do the trick. Regular exercise is much more effective than hard work-outs every now and then. When exercising regularly the cells are flooded with BDNF, a protein that helps with memory, learning, focus, concentration, and understanding. Some scientists speculate that sitting down for prolonged periods of time has the opposite affect and hinders our brain from working as well as it should.
Solve puzzles: Sudoku, crosswords, word searches, or anything that forces you to concentrate in order to create a solution to a problem engages your mind and sharpens your acuity; it can also be a hell of a lot of fun in the process. There are puzzles that appeal to just about everyone, so whether you’re interested in word games, brain teasers, or 1000-piece jigsaw puzzles featuring adorable little kittens, you’ll find one just for you.
The next time you feel like you’re having trouble concentrating, or you just don’t feel as mentally sharp as you think you should be, analyze your recent life choices and lifestyle, and be honest with yourself about what you could improve.
LatinAmerican Post | Luisa Fernanda Baez
Copy edited by Susana Cicchetto