Mechanicsville, Virginia — The eighth best way to exercise your brain: Smile. How is that? It turns out smiling repeatedly helps interrupt mood disorders and strengthen the brain neural ability to maintain a positive outlook on life. There was even a study that feelings of depression were alleviated when Botox was used to eliminate frown lines! (Finzi E, Wasserman E. Treatment of depression with botulinum toxin A)
Laughing, interestingly, doesn’t do the trick. Different neural pathways are involved, and at times laughter isn’t associated with “warm fuzzy” feelings. We can usually tell when we hear a nervous laugh, or laughter designed to mask fear or surprise.
The key is to trigger a smile response. For example Newberg and Walden, recommend happy music. This has been shown to be particularly effective in helping deal chronic or serious disease. I guess this means funny doctors will get better results!
The seventh best way to exercise your brain: Stay Intellectually Active. Not many would disagree with that I’m sure. It is well documented that if you don’t use neurons (no matter where they are in your body), you will lose them. “Intellectual and cognitive stimulation strengthens the neural connections throughout your frontal lobe, so it’s particularly important to exercise this specific part of your cortex…” “A highly functioning frontal lobe also makes it easier to diet, exercise, and avoid tempting activities that have health risks.”
It turns out, intellectual stimulation, in nearly any form, lowers your propensity to react with anger or fear. The recommendation is to spend as much time as possible doing intellectually stimulating activities (chess, mahjong, visual/spatial exercises, games, reading fiction or nonfiction, listening to books, writing in diaries, attending lectures, going to museums, something for everyone). But if you can believe it, math exercises and crossword puzzles apparently don’t help (Hambrick, Salthouse, Meinz; Predictors of crossword puzzle proficiency and moderators of age-cognition relations)! More believable is the warning they give against video games. The authors point out studies that show one may become more aggressive and coping skills are reduced. Turn off those Playstations.
“Engaging in religious and spiritual issues and problems will also simulate brain function. Reading scriptures, reflecting on meaning, discussing issues with friends, and seriously thinking about the deepest issues facing humanity are outstanding ways of activating complex circuits in your brain.” So spend all the time you need to figure out the big questions in life. Why are we here? Why is there something instead of nothing? Why is there good in the world? What makes something beautiful? Should I go to the chiropractor? All questions we should take time to answer. I’ll give you a great answer to the last question in the next post.