Exercise is vital to the health of our bodies. Everyone knows it whether they act on it or not. We know that well toned muscles are more effective and a strong heart can handle more stress and a healthy immune system can fight off disease. Because of this a lot of us are fanatic about our routines whether we go to the gym or the basement treadmill or the high school track. We walk, run, lift weights, use high dollar equipment, all to keep the machines we need running well.
Yet, we tend to overlook another form of exercise just as vital for our health over the long-term: brain exercise. Perhaps, because we are so busy in our daily lives, and it feels like our poor brains are getting overworked as it is. Give the gray matter a break already, right? No. The thinking machine needs those workouts as much as the body and for the same reasons. The stress and strain of our busy working lives plays havoc with our neural pathways. The brain needs variety in its workouts and like your physical exercise, consistency is key to seeing the most gain. That’s as important as the workout itself.
In a world of increasing concerns over Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, people are more aware than before of what happens to the aging brain. The sad reality is, like our bodies, the brain can age prematurely due to factors like diet, exercise, and stress. Dementia patients are often given mental games to help combat memory loss. Why wait? Give your brain the exercise it needs.
As writers the brain is an important tool and requires the same fit shape as a boxer’s body. We cannot afford flab or laxity or in more appropriate language; we can’t afford for our synapses to misfire. Luckily, artists have a host of ways to exercise the brain.
1. Get outside of your artistic mode – if you’re a writer, paint or draw, sing or dance, select any other form to express yourself. It doesn’t matter whether you’re any good at it. The purpose is for the brain to engage and extend itself in new ways.
2. Leave your usual environment – If you normally write indoors, go out. If the weather is nice, enjoy it. If not, seek a library or museum. Let a new place set your juices flowing in new directions.
3. Prompt yourself – Write to a prompt. We know this is a good thing to do, but we seldom do it. Set a goal for yourself to write to a prompt once a week. Then, reward yourself in some way when it’s done. A Starbuck’s Chai Tea Latte or a hot fudge sundae.
4. Serve others – An excellent thing we can do for our brains is to get our thoughts off ourselves. Serve at a soup kitchen or deliver meals to the elderly or read to the sick. It doesn’t matter what your service is as long as it isn’t about you. You’ll find your brain excited by the change of scenery and pace.
5. Serve yourself – You aren’t just a writer. You’re a mom/dad, child, sibling, husband/wife, employee and the list goes on. Your responsibilities could strangle you and probably do. Set a goal to give yourself one hour a week that is just yours. It’s your hour away from everyone and everything. No phones, no texts, no emails, no internet. That quiet is as important for your brain as the challenge of new knowledge. At the end of your hour, thank yourself. I know it sounds silly, but you and I know you don’t hear it enough. Allow your brain to thank you for all you’re doing to keep it fit and healthy for the writing years to come.
What do you do to exercise your brain?