Tell Me a Story…For Brain Power

No matter our age, most everyone likes to hear or read a good story. Whether we read the story to someone or narrate as storyteller, these activities are powerful medicine for our brains because these behaviors activate neural pathways which might otherwise not get mobilized. Some might argue that reading to ourselves is just as effective as reading out loud to others, however, silent reading is similar to watching television in terms of the amount of mental energy utilized by the brain.

So remember, if you want to sharpen your intellectual edge and build some brainy muscle, then gather together a friend or two and tell or read them a story. You never know, but your doing so could spark creative inertia  among your group of listeners; your story telling might just be the catalyst which inspires another person to write and tell a story. Perhaps their story is just waiting for a reason to be told.

Sharpen Your Senses…for Brain Power

You probably have to be around 50 years old or so (plus or minus a decade) before you actually begin to notice that some of your physical senses (sight, sound, taste, touch, smell) are not as keen as they used to be in the decades that have passed since your youth.

Whether the diminishing of our senses is from overuse, disuse or abuse, it really doesn’t matter; however, we do have some recourse when it comes to maintaining or improving our current sensory switchboard. If you have been reading the brainpower posts, then you already know that our brain is plastic, meaning, it is capable of learning new things, making new connections, and crisscrossing hemispheres to perform new or novel tasks. Yes, even in middle age, thank goodness, neural-plasticity is our friend, and we can help our brain stay healthy and dynamic when we perform old tasks in new ways.

So what follows are some ideas for you to use in the coming days. Perform these ‘exercises’ with some regularity to make your neural pathways strong and dependable.

For sight – Blinking frequently, palming, eye-tracking exercises

For hearing – turn the volume down and listen with intent; listen to different genres of music and try to  identify specific instruments being played

For taste – eating with the eyes closed and think about taste and texture; chew your food thoroughly to unlock more flavor molecules

For touch – Close eyes and attempt to sort coins by touch; give and receive body massage; with a friend, practice writing the letters of the alphabet using your finger as pencil on your friend’s arm, hand or back

For smell – every day smell deeply some specific item whether it be food, or flower, or fragrance; then use words to describe the scent. Performing these two activities regularly will help sprout new scent receptors.


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.