We’re continuing self care week. Today’s guest writer, neuroscientist Jana Brincker from brain training app, Memorado, explains the importance of keeping your brain as fit as your body.
When we think of fitness and training, we usually consider only what’s below the neck - but every part of you, including your brain, needs regular workouts...and rest.
At any given time, the brain uses a quarter of our overall energy; considering its size relative to the rest of the body, that puts it far ahead of any other organ in terms of energy consumption. And with good reason - it’s our most precious asset. The human species didn’t gain an evolutionary edge thanks to muscle strength, speed, or agility; other animals are far superior in these areas. Our very own superpower is the ability to think. Even our upright body posture is specifically designed to optimally carry and protect our heavy brains.
But while many of us invest considerable time and effort into fitness, beauty and nutrition on a daily basis, we tend to forget about our brains and, by extension, our minds. This is despite the fact that the body and the mind strongly influence each other’s well-being. For example, if we are stressed and unwell mentally, this will negatively affect our physical health. Conversely, maintaining a fit and healthy body promotes a healthy, happy mind. In short, a truly well-rounded, holistic self-care regimen should include the brain.
So, what does your brain need for optimal self-care? Two simple things:
Back in school, our daily curriculum provided much of the variety that many of us are lacking today. Even though you might not have liked all your subjects, learning about different things like math, history, art and chemistry kept your brain on its proverbial toes. Unfortunately, once we enter working life, we tend to do much of the same thing everyday, which can easily end in a rut of repetition, with little to distinguish one day from the next. Over time, a dull routine is downright damaging for the brain - it craves variety and novelty. It wants to keep learning, to be challenged and intrigued.
Traveling and seeing new places is a great way to provide the mind with fresh input, as is taking up new hobbies. But this might be hard, especially if we have little spare time, or have trouble motivating ourselves outside the walls of a classroom. There are smaller and easier ways to avoid dullness: by reading a good novel, watching interesting films or documentaries, listening to an audiobook, or discovering new music. Taking different routes to work, switching up your daily lunch orders, or sitting at a different place than the one you’re used to - it’s all about switching things up to keep your mind interested and alert - there are countless possibilities to break your routine.
Another great and easy way to stimulate your brain is by playing games. Riddles, matching games, strategic or social games… all of them are great for kicking your grey cells into gear. An added bonus is that you’re having fun as you learn and challenge yourself. This is where Memorado comes in - it’s an app that provides you with mini games and brain teasers. Each day, different games target specific cognitive skills: some train your logic, others concentration, speed, reactions, memory and more - giving your brain the challenge and variety that it needs. Training your brain will also invariably benefit your training; quicker reaction times, improved concentration and faster problem solving could make all the difference to your athletic performance. Memorado provides you with fun brain training that takes less than 10 minutes, providing your brain with valuable variety each day.
Unsurprisingly, what our brains need as much as our bodies is rest and relaxation. We’ve all noticed that daily life is accelerating, and that we regularly feel obliged to push through our tiredness and stress in order to make some deadline or other - and many of us feel that we can’t really afford to switch off because of a strange sense of missing out or fear of being unproductive. However, if we look at things logically, this stance of ‘must keep going at any cost’ is not only damaging to our health in the long run, but also lets us achieve far less than if we took necessary breaks.
Imagine you’re at the gym, holding up a dumbell. If you kept it lifted without pause, your arm would start to hurt very quickly, and within minutes you’d be in agony. It is only through the regular lowering of the weight - in other words, giving your muscles a break - that your weightlifting becomes productive and allows you to lift for longer. The same goes for your brain; to be fit and healthy and work at a productive level, it needs to lower its weight once in a while.
Now, you might think that sleep provides the brain with the rest it needs, but unfortunately, that is not strictly the case. The brain is still working when we sleep, as it goes through different cycles of light and deep sleep, processing information gathered during the day. And, as you probably know from experience, we can sometimes wake up feeling far from rested.
As a society, we are steadily unlearning the ability to truly relax and find stillness. Even if we lie on the couch and do nothing, we can still be tense, with our mind racing in a hundred different directions. Doing nothing and relaxing are not necessarily the same thing. This is why more and more people find themselves drawn to relaxation and mindfulness techniques, first and foremost meditation. Meditation is the most efficient way to relax and replenish mind and brain. It has been practiced for thousands of years, and today, science is backing up its seemingly endless multitude of benefits for our mental and physical well-being.
But meditation is a skill that takes some practice - and most of us need some help with it when we start out. In addition to brain training, Memorado offers audio sessions that help you reach deep relaxation with easy guided meditation exercises. Over 130 sessions range from meditative breathing exercises to sleep stories, immersive fantasy stories and talks on a variety of essential tools for mental self-care.
If you’re prepared to put in the time it takes to train your body, you’ve gotta be prepared to do the same for your brain. Self-care also means keeping your brain sharp, alert and well-rested. With Memorado, you have everything you need right at your fingertips.