Mind Exercise? You might react with a memory of high school or college calculus or statistics, and shiver as if it were about to start over, but that is not the mind exercise that I am writing about.
I have been involved in my own personal growth for about 30 years, and I have been professionally involved in counseling for about 20 years, and I know counseling is a mind exercise, if you will.
But since I have been involved in the field, there have been some wonderful developments for mind exercise, based on recent discoveries about neurogenesis and neuroplasticity.
Your brain grows new neurons daily, which is the neurogenetic capacity, and we were unaware of this until just a decade or so ago, and neuroplasticity, which describes the connections between neurons when we learn something, is much more malleable than we thought.
In fact, you can encourage your brain with mind exercise, and that mind exercise does not have to involve learning calculus if you do not want it to.
You can exercise your mind by taking care of what the brain fitness folks are calling the pillars of brain fitness, which are physical activity/exercise, nutrition including omega 3 fatty acid and anitoxidants, good sleep, which is not always as easy as it sounds, stress management, and novel learning experiences, which to the experts means that we challenge our brains in the same way we would when we are learning a new language or new instrument.
Mind Exercise by Physical Exercise?
Physical exercise is the most important kind of mind exercise. If you are imagining that you must undertake an Olympic training regimen, and feeling overwhelmed relax, because the physical exercise required is deep breathing, deep enough that it is hard for you to do what you are doing to generate the deep breathing and talk. So if your physical activity consists of taking a walk daily, then go a bit faster or a bit longer.
In fact, there are some interesting variations available of an exercise program called HIIT or high intensity interval training that can be done in ten minute intervals at home, without a lot of sophisticated or expensive equipment or club memberships, which will suffice quite nicely for physical and mind exercise.
And if you are searching for more information about mind exercise, Brainfit for Life is a great resource for you. The authors, Simon Evans,Ph.D., and Paul Burghardt,Ph.D., are neuroscientists at the University of Michigan, who write for us non-neuroscientists, meaning the book is not filled with neuroscientific jargon.
Evans and Burghardt do go deeper into the whys and the hows of the pillars of brain fitness, and how we can create our own mind exercise program. Evans and Burghardt include a discussion of the research done in regards to something called the dual n back task, which is probably what most of us will associate with mind exercise, and the dual n back fits nicely into the novel learning experience brain fitness pillar.
The dual n back task has been shown to increase IQ, which is good enough for me as far as mind exercise goes, as long as we remember that success in life often requires much more than just IQ.
So of course I had to find a way to try the dual n back
Using it taught me very fast how quickly my attention wanders from the task at hand, and how far away I could get in a second or two between trials.
However it was exciting to see progress in my practice and notice how that was impacting my counseling sessions.
Usually the brain fitness folks say that the novel learning experience pillar of brain fitness needs to challenge the brain the same way that learning a new language or new instrument does.
However, I have looked to computerized brain fitness programs to supplement the novel learning pillar of brain fitness, because I do not have time to learn a new language or instrument.
Of course, the marketers and the charlatans are excited to see those of us my age, 62, searching for mind exercise information, and they are delighted to sell us products which do not provide the optimal learning experience required for neurogenesis or neuroplasticity.
The mind exercises which make it most easy for us to achieve neurogenesis and neuroplasticity requires an increasing level of challenge and provides an optimal amount of positive feedback, which means we can get about 80% of our answers correct at each level. That level of positive feedback will keep us involved, and continuing our work.
It is important to remember that the brain, because it is an incredibly energy intensive organ, will dismantle neuronal connections and circuits not being used.