When I was a young medical student in the mid-1980s, I was taught that the brain was a rather fixed structure, and throughout life we would every year loose a large number of neurons that could not be regenerated. As many other “medical truths”, this has also proven to be wrong.
You are born with some 100 billion neurons, and although you are losing 85,000 every day, your brain is also constantly growing new neurons, so at the age of 70, you will still have the same number as in your 20s.
Not only does the brain regenerate, it is also constantly rebuilding and refining itself to meet the new demands it encounters, in a fantastic process called brain plasticity. This happens in a similar fashion as how the muscles grow and develop in response to physical exercise. The more you train your brain, the more it grows and develops, and this happens both during mental challenges and physical exercise.
So how do you best train your brain? The below tips will help you miles on the way to have a beefed-up super brain:
- Be curious! Open up your mind to the endless possibilities to learn and experience new things. Read books, go to the theatre, travel, talk to people – especially those with different interests and backgrounds than yourself.
- Be mindful! See yourself as a vigilant explorer of what takes place around and within yourself. Pay attention to your feelings, body motions and your sensory inputs. Practice regular meditation to increase your understanding of the real you. When you are doing things out of habit, question yourself, whether things could be done differently. If you are struggling with your weight, be mindful why you are opening the fridge. Maybe your inner needs are not related to hunger. Pick up the phone and call a friend, instead of picking up a soda or a bar of chocolate if you are feeling lonely. This way your brain will create new feedback loops and react in new ways when the cravings for sweets set in.
- Do sports involving specific bodily movements and reactive patterns! Playing tennis or doing yoga, not only increases you physical, but also mental abilities. The mere thoughts of carrying out a specific movement will help you do that also in real life, as the same parts of your brain are involved. If you want to improve your golf swing, keep imagining every single aspect of the perfect swing in your mind over and over again. One can even engage new parts of the brain and grow new neurons to take over lost functions after a stroke, just by focussed thinking of the movements.
- Challenge your brain with mental exercises! Solving crossword puzzles, playing chess or writing poetry will keep your brain sharp high up in the ages, and decrease the risk of developing dementia.
- Identify the true values of life! Try to see through the myths of what brings happiness to life. It’s not about money and things, but about relations with other people, and a spiritual well-being. A happy life will give you a happy brain.
This blog post was inspired by Deepak Chopra & Rudolph E Tanzi (2013). Super brain – unleash the explosive power of your brain. Rider & Co.