Better Bodies, Stronger Minds - Why Fitness Isn't Just Physical
Tom Peterson of Vive Health
Staying active and fit is absolutely crucial to living a long, happy life. That’s been made clear by hundreds of studies over the years, and the conventional wisdom of plentiful exercise contributing to a reduction in heart disease, diabetes, stroke, and other dangerous and life-threatening conditions has been borne out by every single one of these studies.
Having a consistent exercise regimen of at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity is one of the best ways currently known to ensure that you have a longer lifespan, and can remain active as you age.
In addition, increased physical activity has been shown to help increase cognitive abilities, decrease stress and reduce the effects of anxiety, and even decrease your risk of contracting Alzheimer’s.
Clearly, exercising regularly is key to a long lifespan, good health, and maintaining a healthy mental state. But while exercising is good for your brain, it shouldn’t be your only method of strengthening your mind.
Your Brain Is A Muscle – So Train It
Okay, your brain isn’t literally a muscle. However, there is evidence that using your mental faculties to their fullest can help increase memory, boost mood, and avoid cognitive decline, especially as you age.
It make sense, right? For your body, the attitude is “use it or lose it” – if you do nothing but sit around on the couch and eat chips all day, your body is going to adjust accordingly.
The same thing goes for your brain – though perhaps to a lesser extent. Not straining your brain doesn’t mean you’ll get dumber – and doing cognitively challenging exercises doesn’t necessarily make you smarter.
However, cognitively challenging tasks and engaging, fun, interesting activities have been shown to boost brain function and improve memory, which makes sense – the more you use your brain, the better it will perform.
In fact, a great analogy for this is a muscle. Each muscle on the body has a limit to which it can grow – beyond that limit, no more growth is possible. Your brain is similar. You can’t actually make yourself smarter – but you can keep your brain as active and healthy as possible for a longer time by engaging in cognitively stimulating actions.
Three Easy Ways To Keep An Active, Curious Mind
So what are the best things to do to keep your mind healthy? Well, exercising is one of them, as mentioned, and there are plenty of ways to do that. However, exercise is just part of the puzzle – you’ll want to partake in some mentally stimulating activities as well. Here are three of the best, most fun ways you can keep your mind active.
- Get Social – Human beings are naturally social animals. Interacting with others broadens our perspectives, makes us happy, and engages specific parts of our brain. Healthy social interactions have been shown to improve mood and improve the function of your brain, so maintaining an active, fun social life is a great way to ensure that you’re taking care of your mental fitness.
- Do Some Puzzles, Or Play Some Games – Puzzles like Sudoku, crosswords, and others have been correlated with a healthier brain, as are complex and deep board games. Beyond the fact that they’re great for your mind and mental well-being, doing puzzles and playing games is fun! For an even more fun experience, try playing games that require other people – blending your social life and your love of mentally stimulating games is a fantastic way to boost your brainpower.
- Never Stop Learning – Learning sharpens the brain perhaps more than any other activity. Learning, understanding, and remembering new information requires lots of brainpower – and has been shown to actually change the physical structure of the brain. If you’re an autodidact and love learning on your own, keep it up – self-study is a fantastic way to increase your knowledge base and keep your mind active.
For other folks, going back to school may be an option – many universities and colleges will allow you to sit in and audit classes for free, and many seniors can get the benefits of a full course for free. There are also many online learning websites you can use, like Khan Academy and others, if you would prefer to take classes from your own home.
Physical activity is crucial for your health – both physically and mentally – but don’t neglect your mind. Challenging yourself with intellectually stimulating materials, books, and situations can help you stay young longer, and allow you to use your brain to its full potential.