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Use It Or Lose It: Brain Health 201

For the past several weeks, I’ve had brain health on my mind.

If you’ve been following this series, you’ve probably seen the importance of keeping your brain healthy as you move through your 40s, 50s, 60s, and beyond. For instance, last week, we talked about the importance of a brain-nourishing diet in that effort.

Don’t Lose That Powerful Brain of Yours

This week, I want to look at another aspect of brain health. You’ve heard the expression, “use it or lose it.” That phrase applies to your brain as much as anything. If you don’t keep your brain active, you will begin to see if deteriorate over time.

Previously, I’ve encouraged you to learn to play a musical instrument, study a foreign language, build something, plant a garden learn to paint or sculpt…anything that creates new neural pathways in the brain.

Every time you learn a new skill, it builds a new highway of brain cells. The more you repeat that skill, the more it traces over the highway until it becomes permanent. It’s like sketching in a notebook and tracing over it multiple times until it digs through the paper and imprints on the pages below it. Or am I the only person who has done this?

Convenience…or Dependence?

In this time of rapidly-growing technological helps and artificial intelligence, we are able to rely more on our devices than our own intelligence. There is certainly a convenience to being able to pull knowledge from a device, rather than expend time and effort on figuring things out, but at what expense?

Take the technological marvel that is your GPS, for instance.

Remember what life was like before you could ask Siri to direct you to the Shops at Miramar. By developing a device that not only knows where everything on earth is located, but also knows how to calculate multiple routes from where you are to anyplace you want to go, engineers have taken a complex, interlobal brain process and moved it to an outside party. It frees up your conscious mind to focus on other things, like the conversation you are trying to carry on with your passengers, but it also removes human error and emotion from the process.

But what are we losing in the process?

What Taxi Drivers Know

A British study of taxicab drivers in the days before the advent of GPS technology showed that the more they used the motor skills required to navigate a large and complex city like London, the greater the density of the grey matter in their hippocampus — that part of the brain where the synapses connect neurons. The longer drivers had been behind the wheel without a GPS, the more dense the grey matter of their brain.

When you let your GPS navigate for you, not only are you reducing the opportunities for your brain to exercise, you also reduce your physical environment from a 3D universe to a series of 2D steps – “turn left, turn right” – and you have no context for where you are and how you got there. If your device were to suddenly malfunction in the middle of a trip, you would be lost.

The Importance of Brain Exercise

Our smartphones are incredibly powerful devices that literally put the entire world of information in the palms of our hands. The only problem is that they usurp from the even-more-powerful human brain by removing the opportunity to strengthen our neural pathways.

Just like relying on power tools diminishes our need to develop muscle strength, relying on computers to do normal cognitive functions diminishes our need to develop brain strength. In the end, brains that rely on computers to do the most basic jobs are more susceptible to deterioration. The more we make ourselves dependent on anyone or anything else, we make ourselves the more helpless without them.

You gotta exercise your brain.

A Challenge For Brain Health in 2019

I want to encourage you to challenge yourself in 2019 to learn something new. Some people set a New Year’s resolution to learn to play an instrument. It’s become a byword in this nation that most New Year’s resolutions fail within the first week or so. That’s a shame on so many levels. Not only is it discouraging to give up early on a resolution, but you’re also cheating yourself of the opportunity to grow and strengthen your brain. The hand-eye-brain coordination needed to learn a musical instrument is such a powerful brain booster.

If you were already thinking about it for 2019, let me encourage you to stick with it. If you hadn’t considered it before, you should. Your brain will thank you when you are 95 years old.

Also, I want to challenge you to do your own navigating in 2019. It might be difficult to find some places the first time, but that’s when your brain is exercising. Think of it like lifting weights: the real strengthening comes when it’s difficult. After that, it’s easy.

First, navigate yourself to my office, then to a restaurant you don’t often visit. Then maybe take yourself to LaBelle without a GPS. Maybe then you can try a specific restaurant in Orlando. Then Boston. Let’s dream big!

Join Me For The Next…

Next week, I have another brain exercise I want to share with you that I know some of my readers will love. Some might be intimidated by it, but if you’re ready to open your mind a little bit, it will be more fun than you ever thought.

In the meantime, take a few seconds to share this article with your favorite social media channel. You never know who might be worried about their brain health and looking for an article just like this. You might the answer to someone’s prayer.

We’ve got another fun Fundamental Foods and Friends Dinner coming up in just a couple of weeks. The last one was a blast, talking about brain health (and eating some amazing food!). You can watch that one on Facebook, but if you’re in Naples, I hope you’ll join us in person for the next one.

“At the end of your FEELINGS is NOTHING. At the end of your PRINCIPLES is a PROMISE.” — Eric Thomas

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