Trying something new—whether you’re navigating a foreign city or a new dance step—can refresh your mood and enhance your brain. And it’s easy to do everyday.
The Art of Exploring: Explorers are on a constant search for new knowledge. They’re fascinated by the world around them, they are engaged in their everyday lives, and always want to know more.
Why It’s Good For You: Exciting new research suggests that new learning and doing the same old thing in a different way can help your brain stay healthy and young. Boring is not only, well, boring, it is also potentially harmful to the long term well-being of your brain. In several new scientific studies, people who do not engage in regular learning activities throughout their lives have a higher incidence of Alzheimer’s disease.
Keeping Your Brain Young: The brain is like a muscle. The more you use it, the more you can continue to use it. New learning makes new connections in the brain, making you sharper and efficient; while no learning actually causes the brain to disconnect itself. Unlike a muscle, however, the brain gets easily bored and requires new and different challenges to stay healthy. Once the brain really learns something, such as the way to work or how to navigate the streets of Venice, it uses less and less energy to accomplish the task. To keep the brain active it needs a constant stream of new challenges.
Try Something New: New adventures, new sites, and new skills encourage brain health. By working to keep your brain young, every thing else in your life will feel better as well, including your mood, memory, flexibility, social skills, and judgment. Here are three fantastic ways to do it.
1. Foreign Immersion
Going on a cooking vacation to Italy, unless you have done it several times before, is a perfect way to keep your brain young. Travel to new lands, especially ones filled with fascinating history and sites, keeps the brain learning and working at optimal efficiency. In addition, going to different cultures often involve a new language, which really pushes the linguistic and memory centers of the brain. If you also add another skill, such as cooking, as long as you do not drink too much wine, there is even a greater benefit. Likewise, consider traveling to a new city nearby, watching a foreign film, going to an international restaurant, or listening to new music also exposes the brain to new experiences. New learning enhances cells in the hippocampus, a part of the emotional and memory center of the brain.
2. New Paths
A simpler, cheaper exercise closer to home is to start taking new and different ways to and from work each day. Going the same old way each time puts the brain on automatic pilot, which does nothing positive for it. Look for ways to vary your commute or drive. For example, rather than only taking the highway, take some side streets from time to time to see new neighborhoods. New navigation routes enhance the brain’s parietal lobes, which are involved in direction sense. Driving the scenic route home may help to decrease your stress level, which will have a global positive effect on the brain.
3. Move It
Exploring new exercises are perhaps one of the most powerful ways to keep the brain young. My favorite exercise for the brain is dancing. Exercise, by itself, boosts blood flow to the brain and helps keep it young. When you add in a coordination exercise to music, such as learning a new dance step, it boosts the cerebellum and temporal lobes, which are two of the major processing and learning centers in the brain. It gives the brain an extra boost. But go light on the wine spritzers -- drinking ruins the positive effect.
Daniel G. Amen, M.D. is the medical director of the Amen Clinics in Newport Beach and San Francisco, CA, Bellevue, WA and Reston, VA. He is also the author of Change Your Brain, Change Your Body and the new book coming next year called Use Your Brain to Change Your Age. Learn more at www.TheAmenSolution.com.