26 Practical Steps to a Healthier You: Learn Something New to Keep Your Brain Healthy {Week 16}

For the next 26 weeks I will be sharing a different way you can become healthier in your daily life. Some of these suggestions have to do with food or exercise, others have to do with lifestyle changes, but all of them are practical and relatively easy to execute. You may already be practicing some of these habits, but hopefully you’ll be inspired by at least one or two new ideas you can begin to implement.

Learn Something New to Keep Your Brain Healthy

When was the last time you took a course or taught yourself a new hobby? Have you resigned yourself to cognitive decline, or are you seeking to be a life-long learner?

New research is finding that with various healthy brain habits, the hippocampus can expand, much like exercised muscles grow. According to journalist Mike Zimmerman, “Our brains produce about 400 new neurons a day, but to be incorporated into our gray matter, they have to develop attachments to other neurons there. That’s what enlarges the hippocampi and adds to what scientists call your cognitive reserve.” One woman grew her hippocampi by 8.6% after a mere 12 weeks of brain training, which is the equivalent of 17 years of brain age reversal!

Denise C. Park, PhD. says learning a new skill that requires multiple thought processes over a prolonged period of time is the key to maximizing your memory as you age. Daniel Amen agrees that spending 15 minutes a day learning something new is the best way to work your brain. “Whenever you learn something new, your brain makes a new connection. But when you stop learning your brain starts to disconnect itself. But this does not mean just doing crossword puzzles. You have to use your whole brain. Doing only crossword puzzles is like going to the gym and only doing bicep curls on your right arm and then going home.”

WAYS TO EXERCISE YOUR BRAIN:

Meditate on God’s Word. Even though humans are just now conducting research that proves the benefits of meditation, the psalmist in the Old Testament proclaimed thousands of years ago, “Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night” (NIV, italics added). There is a reason people up through the ages have focused on spiritual disciplines like meditating on God’s Word. [As a side note, I do want to warn that Eastern meditation is NOT the same as Biblical meditation and is d

When meeting someone new, pick out 1-2 things about the person to help you remember who they are. There are people who can memorize up to 50 names in less than an hour. Majid Fotuhi, for example, plays this very game with himself whenever he lectures to large audiences, successfully memorizing around 50 different individuals’ names by the end of his speech.

Read a page from the dictionary every day to increase your vocabulary. I just started doing this and it’s incredible how much I’ve learned in such a short amount of time! Researchers in Spain found that individuals with smaller word banks were more likely to have mild cognitive impairment. So building a strong vocabulary now may help you avoid dementia down the road.

Dictionary.jpg

Study a foreign language. Researchers have found that there is visible evidence that learning a new language increases the size of one’s brain. When students who were studying foreign languages were compared with other students just studying medicine or cognitive science, the foreign language students’ brains increased, while the other students’ brains remained the same.

Memorize verses from the Bible. Memorizing things help to tone your hippocampi. And what better to memorize than God’s Word? Romans 12:2 says to “be transformed by the renewing of your mind…” What better way to renew your mind than by repeating God’s Truth over and over in your mind until you know it by heart? When we do this we will start to think differently and in turn, begin to act differently. We’ll be transformed from the inside out!

Learn to play a musical instrument. Playing music is to the brain what a full-body workout is to your muscles. Neuroscientists believe this is one of the best ways to strengthen brain function because it uses so many varied parts of the brain. It is unlike any other activity in this regard.

Instruments.jpg

Take dance classes. Dance is believed to be the best form of exercise for the brain. Like all exercise, it pumps blood into the brain, but be required to focus on what step to take next creates new neural paths that increases the pace of information transmission. In one study done on a group of elderly, 76% of those who danced frequently exhibited lesser signs of dementia, compared to those who merely did crossword puzzles or read often.

Read books and articles. Reading helps to increase one’s attention span, decrease the amount of white matter in your brain (an excess of this increases your chances for stroke or Alzheimer’s), heighten the connectivity in the left temporal cortex (responsible for processing language), and make us more empathetic to those around us.

Write (try journaling or starting a blog or writing letters to your friends). Scientists are discovering that professionally trained writers have similarities in brain structure to that of skilled musicians and athletes. Have you ever noticed that writing something down helps you to remember it? That’s because writing stimulates a collection of cells in your brain called the reticular activating system. The RAS is responsible for filtering all the information your brain needs to process and triggers it to pay close attention to the information you are writing down.

writeletter

Do Puzzles. Jigsaw puzzles requires both the logical and creative sides of your brain to be exercised. Putting puzzles together sharpens your memory, increases clarity of thought, and improves overall brain function.

Other Worthwhile Learning Pursuits:
-Learn to crochet or knit.
-Study world geography.
-Master oragami.
-Take an art class.
-Learn to speed read.
-Learn morse code.
-Learn sign language.
-Learn how to juggle.
-Learn how to do magic tricks.
-Learn how to bake or cook.

What do you do to keep your brain healthy?

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