Organize and Rearrange…for Brain Power

In the previous ‘Brain power‘ post, I discussed the value of mixing up our exercise and activity routines to help our neural network make new connections. Practicing non-dominant activities helps our brain build redundancy into our brain circuitry. Such behaviors may in fact help ward off or reduce the effects of aging and disease. In today’s post I would like to consider the refreshing brain benefits of organizing and re-arranging our living spaces.

Brain researchers have known for some time that organized people perform better on memory tests. Getting organized helps build better memory. The old adage ‘A place for everything and everything in its place’ is built on this organization principle. But organization skills do not have to be exorbitant to be helpful. Spending five minutes organizing one’s desk or medicine cabinet can improve efficiency, memory and possibly reduce stress levels too.

A related activity, re-arrangement, also helps our brains strengthen spatial and visual connections. For instance, by re-arranging furniture in your living spaces on an occasional basis, the brain must re-map neural connections to assist us in navigating the new floor space and layout. Something as simple as moving a trash can from one location to another, requires our brains to re-map circuitry (memory and movement) as we must now navigate to a new location to throw away a piece of litter. Taking a different route home (on foot or in our vehicle) provides a similar benefit.

It doesn’t require much, except may a little creativity on our part, to change the scenery in which we reside and navigate. Kitchen cabinets, pantries, desks, counters and backyard walkways all provide ample opportunities for us to challenge and improve our brain’s neural pathways.

Remember, brainpower increases and improves when we build novelty into our regular activity patterns. When we do familiar things in unfamiliar ways we wake up nerve cells which in turn increases blood flow to make these new connections for our brain cells. A little change goes a long way.


Mix it Up…for Brain Power

As a personal trainer, I often advise my clients to mix up their exercise routines to keep their muscles and their mind challenged. Science has taught us that regular bouts of exercise produce adaptations in the neural connections between our brain and muscles. And we easily recognize these adaptations when we become stronger and have improved aerobic endurance. But even these improvements plateau if we do not mix things up in our activity routines every once in a while.

So how do we overcome plateaus? We overcome plateaus by disrupting our regular routines. Planned, purposeful disruption is strong medicine for creating healthy neural pathways. By adding something new to our exercise or movement routines, we create opportunities for our brains to adapt (reroute and rewrite neural pathways) when we integrate novel movement patterns into our daily activities.

For example, one thing I always suggest my clients do to improve their balance is to switch sides when engaging in routine daily activities. In other words, I encourage them to use their non-dominant hands or legs. If you are right hand dominant, try using your left hand once a day to brush your teeth, write your name or use your computer mouse. Likewise, notice which leg you tend to put into your pants first when you dress…then switch it up once in a while. Making these simple changes recruits and strengthens NEW neural connections.

If switching sides feels awkward or uncomfortable, that is normal, and the
reason we feel ‘off balance’ when we use our non-dominant limbs to do everyday activities is because we have, by years and years of preference, created a strong neural pathway (preference), and this preference is now COMFORTABLE. But from my perspective, comfortable equates to easy which equates to weakness which equates to imbalance; and imbalance is almost always a foundation not only for injury but also for illness. So remember, once in a while, a purposeful disruption needs to be introduced into your day. I hope you will have fun with this and choose to engage in some practical disruption soon. It’s good for your brain. It’s good for your body!

This is the first post in the brain power series. If you want to learn about more ways to improve your brain power, then follow my blog and have notification of my posts sent directly to your email.


Good and Great

“Obviously creation was great, but it is far more important for us to understand that creation is the reflection of the very nature of God.

Remember, we can create only out of who we are, and everything we create is a reflection of who we are. So it makes perfect sense that all of creation, every stroke of the creative act, ended with an emphatic declaration that it was good.

Creation was good because God is good. Creation resulted in life because God is life.”
The Artisan Soul by Irwin Raphael McManus


A Tough Nut

Whether we use this term to describe a person or the hard shelled edible fruit or seed of a tree, a tough nut is hard to crack for many reasons. Sometimes I think of myself in these terms. I don’t know if others do, it doesn’t matter really, but I do know that mental toughness is a valuable skill to attain. As a runner, I’ve learned that mental toughness is absolutely essential when engaging in competitive long distance events. The ability to effectively manage bodily discomforts during a long distance run via the mind, can mean the difference between success or failure.

But long before I was a runner, I had endured enough hard-knocks which toughened me up in other areas of my character too. Of course, as a person who holds firmly to my faith as a Christ follower, I would sometimes feel guilty for the hard lines that characterized my inner self. But I rationalized this hardness of me, by perceiving it as my safety mechanism. Hardness protected me from those things, those people, those situations that had the potential to break me down.

And then today I continued my reading of a book by Anne Lamott, Small Victories, and what does she do but describe her beautiful friend who is dying from leukemia as “a pretty tough customer in her private life, though she had become visibly softer.” Ms. Lamott observed in her friend that it took cancer to ‘wedge a certain kind of person open, so that many new things can get in.’  Wham! Wow! Seriously? A certain kind of person? What kind of person? A tough nut kind of person? Um, yes…hello! So tough nuts get wedged open? by cancer? by hard things in life? Ouch! I don’t want to be that kind of person!

I next find myself ruminating on this idea while I’m running later in the morning. And of course, I’m thinking about tough nuts and how hard some of them are to crack open. Then I considered the destiny of the hard to open nut…it isn’t pretty…and I am sure you know what’s coming…the hammer, right? That’s right, a tough nut gets the hammer or it gets tossed into the waste bucket. And why I wondered do we treat hard, unopened nuts with such force and determination? Why, because unopened, nuts are not good for much of anything, except maybe the compost pile. A nut’s value is in its insides, its fruit or seed is it vitality; its life-giving energy; so first, the hard shell must be cracked open.

So yes, I am, from time to time, a tough nut to crack. But that’s only because I think ~ or rather, I perceive ~ that ‘hardness’ is akin to safety, to sanity, to longevity. But thankfully, today some cracks have been made anew on my tough outer shell; and through the cracks I continue to realize that hardness does not so much protect as it does to isolate. When I isolate my inner self, I shut out the illuminating life force of LOVE.

It takes LOVE to crack tough nuts like me, and you, open. It takes the LIGHT of LOVE to warm and guide us to safety outside our hard shells. But it is LOVE, and LOVE ONLY that will never fail to guide us so we may go forward to discover the treasures hidden for us in the hard things of life.