Neurobic Exercises: Give your mind a workout

If left unchecked your mental abilities can go into decline as early as only 27 years old.

When can you expect your mental powers to start declining due to age? For most of you reading this it will already have begun. Recent research published in the journal Neurobiology of Aging found that many of our mental abilities may peak by age 22 and start to decline as early as 27.

The research involved following 2,000 healthy people aged 18 to 60 over a period of seven years. Participants had to spot patterns in letters and symbols, solve puzzles, and recall words or story details.

In the majority of the tests (nine out of twelve) mental abilities peaked at age 22. As mentioned above declines were observed starting at age 27. Those declines were found on tests involving visual puzzle-solving ability, brain speed, and reasoning.

However before you go throwing in the towel, remember these are the identified averages for the population, and it doesn’t have to be this way. The vast majority of the people surveyed here will not have ever done anything to actively prevent this decline. Research shows that you can not only maintain your edge, but by exercising your brain in the right way your mental capacity can even improve with age.

Exercises that maintain, develop and improve your mental capacities do so by encouraging growth of new cells in the brain. These kind of exercises are called Neurobics.

Neurobic exercises, are generally those that involve non-routine actions and thoughts. These produce more of the chemicals that encourage growth of new dendrites and neurons in the brain. You might be surprised by how much our daily life we go through on auto-pilot, our routines become so automatic that the actions are done largely unconsciously. For example, do you ever get up in the morning and walk to the bathroom before you're really conscious? Automated or unconscious actions like these require less activity in the brain, and therefore exercise it less.

A neurobic activity, on the other hand, should do one or more of the following:
1. Involve one or more of your senses in a new context.
2. Involve your full attention, at least briefly.
3. Break your routine in some significant way.

Neurobics don't need to be complicated, or require that you set aside special times. In fact many simple brain exercises can be worked into your normal day.

Take a shower with your eyes closed.
When you ‘turn off’ one sense your other senses become more active, particularly when you ‘turn off’ your sight as this is normally your most dominant and relied upon sense. A shower engages several senses simultaneously, and these sensations will be hightened. If you have a shower in the morning this is a great way to get yourself into a Neurobic frame of mind early on in the day.

Try brushing your teeth with your non-dominant hand.
You will probably find this tricky to begin with and will require your full attention the first time you try it. This will encourage cells relating to coordination to grow, the same neural circuitry is important for learning so you can expect a knock on effect there.

Find a new route to work.
It doesn't have to be a longer route - just different. Even a slight variation in the sights, sounds and smells will provide new information for your brain to process. Taking a number of different routes over different days will also improve your spatial awareness.

Distinguish coins using only your sense of touch.
This brain exercise can be a way to kill time when waiting for an appointment or in a queue at the checkout. If you start to get comfortable doing this, try to distinguish different paper notes by touch alone for an extra challenge.

Go to a different shop.
Try a new store when you go shopping, this way you don’t automatically know what is in each isle and you have to think a little to find your way around.

Look for new scents to smell.
Next time you need to change your shampoo, soap, or washing up liquid pick something different than usual, an odour that you might not know, or be exposed to very often. If you go for a new shampoo, combine this with showering with your eyes closed, especially the first time you use it for a double effect.

Make up your own Television programs
Turn the volume off on television and make up your own dialogue based on what you see the characters doing. This works even better If you do this with a friend as you can each play various roles. This one is not only fun to do, but also stimulates creative thought.

Leave the lights off in your house.
Try to move around your home by memory and feel alone. This will definitely require your full attention, and will help to develop your spatial awareness, coordination and memory. Remember to be careful when doing this!

I think that’s enough to be getting on with but I’m sure you can already think of plenty more ways to challenge your brain by mixing up your routines.


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