Working out is a hobby I started practicing regularly since my early teens. Since then I have been asked one question many times, “Why do you work out; you are so thin?” I thought after the 90’s everyone knew that one goes to the gym for more than physical fitness but I guess not. Physical conditioning was the primary objective for working out, but what kept me going back to the gym was so much more addictive.
While exercising our brains secrete chemicals that elevate our mood, reduce our stress level, and boost our self-esteem. The mood component is what makes me keep going back for more; but working out the muscles in my body is what I do there. I do a cardiovascular workout which works my heart, I do the leg press which works out my leg muscles, and I do the seated press which works out my chest muscles etc. but what about that muscle which we often overlook for its cognitive functioning?
The brain as a muscle is often overlooked as the brain as an organ. It is the brain that synchronizes all of our other muscles; it is the brain that releases all the chemicals that lets us enjoy the working out of our other muscles; it is the brain that allows us to be aware of our surroundings, but it is also the brain that diminishes in capacity and functioning over time due to inactivity, injury, or overexertion like any other muscle.
Working out the brain is as simple as doing the things we used to as a child,playing an instrument, practicing tongue twisters, or problem solving. When doing brain activities we use both hemispheres of the brain: the right side which is more logical and analytical and the left side which is more artistic and creative. As children we use our left brains as much as our right brains that is why we are more ambidextrous and are quicker learners.
As we get older we start relying more on the left hemisphere of our brain. The pressures and responsibilities of our lives require us to use more logical reasoning and thus we are naturally disinclined to use our imagination, intuition, and creative intelligence. Our brain is intended to work as a whole and this is usually the case in children, which may be one of the reasons they are able to learn at a quicker pace than adults. Our brains use both hemispheres to tackle a problem, but if we use one hemisphere more often than the other than that hemisphere will be quicker to solve problems. For example a popular brain activity is colour words: a series of colours spelled in a different colour ink. Reading the colours instead of the words uses of different a part of our brain than reading the words rather than the colours. When doing this exercise I am quicker when reading the words; which are you quicker at?
All of us have a dominant hemisphere, but the idea is not to let the other hemisphere lay totally dormant. Our non-verbal and artistic brain is usually overshadowed by our linear, mathematical brains; as we get older we slowly lose interest in coloring, dolls, the fake kitchen and edibles, and (my personal favorite) stickers: collecting, trading, etc. these interests are replaced by real world demands such as reasoning, critical thinking, and logic. In other words, activities that engaged our right brains more are replaced with activities that engage our left brains more.
Just as any muscle; the brain diminishes in elasticity, alertness, and speed when not used regularly. So to keep the brain’s activity up to par we must work out our brains. When the brain learns, experiences, or tries something new new neural pathways are formed in the brain and the brain flexes its muscles to absorb the sensory input from that new experience, solve the task set forth by the new experience, and to learn from the new experience. When doing something new, something differently our brain uses its muscles differently.
So take a different route to work, sing a song to a different melody, or try doing with your non dominant hand what you do with your dominant hand; have a different experience, have a new experience, or just have a funny experience to work out your muscles without breaking a sweat. The next time you go to the gym for a workout don’t forget to work out that muscle that reigns over the body at the top of the head.