How to Exercise Every Inch of Your Brain and Sharpen Your Memory

According to a brain-health expert, this is the way to perform “whole-brain combination workouts". This article was originally published by Rihazudin Razik on April 17th via Medium.com. The author has given permission to feature this article on Arete Coach.



A decade ago, my father-in-law had a brain stroke. One day he was a gentle husband and father; the next, he changed. Though he survived — nothing short of a miracle — the region of his brain responsible for empathy was permanently damaged.

His gentleness disappeared.

When I met my husband, his father had already changed. To me, he seemed normal, albeit a bit cranky. But my husband insisted: His father — the father who’d raised him — was gone.

Now every time I meet with my father-in-law, I’m faced with a powerful reminder: We need healthy brains. Our loved ones and our own identities depend on it.

But what if I told you that it was possible to do more than maintain a healthy brain? What if you could enhance it?

According to Marian Diamond, one of the founders of modern neuroscience, “with proper stimulation and an enriched environment, the human brain can continue to develop at any age.”

This is called Neuroplasticity. In simple terms, It’s the brain’s ability to continue growing and adapting despite aging. Even as adults, our brains continue to create neurons that — if properly stimulated — can strengthen our mental capabilities and sharpen our memories.

Before, I thought you achieved this by doing sudokus and crosswords. But that’s like believing you get a full-body workout when you exercise your abs. It’s incomplete.

In his book, Memory Rescue: Supercharge Your Brain, Reverse Memory Loss, and Remember What Matters Most, New York Times Bestselling author Dr. Daniel Amen addresses this problem. He offers us a complete guide to doing a “whole-brain combination workout.”

To fully reap the benefits of Neuroplasticity, Dr. Amen suggests we work on five different brain areas: the prefrontal cortex (PFC); the temporal, parietal, and occipital lobes; and the cerebellum. Here’s how:


 

The Prefrontal Cortex: The Brain’s CEO

The brain has four main regions or lobes: frontal, temporal, parietal, and occipital. The last two perceive our surroundings, whereas the first two — where the prefrontal cortex is located — integrate and analyze the sensory information before making decisions.

According to Dr. Amen, the prefrontal cortex is the brain’s CEO as it “enables us to learn from our mistakes and make plans.” When it’s healthy, we’re organized, goal-oriented, thoughtful, empathetic, and emotionally intelligent. We avoid saying or doing idiotic things.

When it deteriorates, though, impulsivity, disorganization, poor time management, lack of empathy, among other unwanted problems, arise.

How to exercise it:

  • Language games such as Scrabble and Boggle.

  • Crossword puzzles.

  • Speech and debate classes or any other public speaking activities.

  • Strategy games such as Risk, chess, and Catan.

  • Prayer and meditation. “It may be the most powerful prefrontal cortex booster of all. It improves focus, executive function, judgment, and impulse control.”

  • Weight training combined with aerobic activity (brisk walking).


 

The Temporal Lobes: The Brain’s Memory Center

The temporal lobes have a crucial role when it comes to memories. They contain the hippocampi, two seahorse-shaped structures that house the stem cells responsible for producing new neurons.

According to research cited in Dr. Amen’s book, the hippocampi can produce up to 700 new cells every day if we exercise, include omega-3 fatty acids in our diet, engage in mental exercises, and have active social lives. Imagine the potential!

However, without a nourishing environment, trouble can befall the temporal lobes, spelling doom. Damage in this area can lead to short and long-term memory problems, reading difficulties, an inability to find the right words in conversation, trouble reading social cues, and mood instability.

How to exercise it:

  • 3D video games such as Super Mario 3D.

  • Intensive learning (a degree or a dedicated course).

  • Memorization of poetry and prose.

  • Learning to play a new musical instrument, which also stimulates the Prefrontal cortex, parietal lobes, and cerebellum.

  • Physical exercise.


 

The Parietal Lobes: The Brain’s GPS

The top, back part of the brain contains the parietal lobes, responsible for our sense of direction and our ability to know right from left. In other words, our GPS.

People with trouble in this area often get lost and find it difficult to track objects visually.

Worst of all, though, is that people with damaged parietal lobes deny their problems. Those affected don’t recognize the danger they’re in. And how can you solve a problem without acknowledging it first?

How to exercise it:

  • Math games like sudoku.

  • Juggling.

  • Golf. “40 hours of training increases gray matter in the parietal and occipital lobes.”

  • Dancing.

  • Map reading without a GPS device.


 

The Occipital Lobes: The Brain’s Eye

If you can read this, then your occipital lobes are fine. Located at the back of the brain, they process visual information. Light, shade, color, and basic shapes are then sorted out.

If there were trouble in this area, you would find it hard to discern colors, faces, and anything else in the visual realm.

How to exercise it:

  • Golf.

  • Optical illusion exercises.

  • 3D movies.

  • VR (Virtual Reality) experiences.


 

The Cerebellum: The Brain’s Coordinator

Though the cerebellum “makes up only 10% of the brain’s volume, it contains 50% of its neurons.” Not only that, but it’s involved in higher-level thinking like learning, language, judgment, and thought coordination.


If damaged, a person can experience slower thinking, speaking, and moving, like playing an online game with a lousy internet connection.


How to exercise it:

  • Coordination games like table tennis, dancing, yoga, and tai chi.

  • Basketball.


 

Creating “Whole-Brain Combination Workouts”

Dr. Amen’s message is simple: We must exercise every inch of our brain.

To do that, select one exercise from each category. For example, learn a new language (prefrontal cortex), solve a sudoku every day (parietal lobes), memorize a poem (temporal lobes), watch 3D movies (occipital lobes), and play table tennis (cerebellum).

Or — if you’re into efficiency — choose fewer activities that engage several areas of the brain. For example, learn a new musical instrument (prefrontal cortex, temporal lobes, cerebellum, and parietal lobes) and watch 3D movies.

A word of caution, though. The more you do something, the less it stimulates the brain.

As Dr. Amen says, “the best mental exercises involve acquiring new knowledge and doing things you haven’t done before.” In other words, no matter what you do, seek new and challenging activities. Your brain will thank you.


 

Though my father-in-law will never be the same, he’s improved thanks to a decade of “whole-brain” workout sessions. Once a helpless man who suffered a traumatic brain stroke, he’s now regained his independence.


Inspired by him, I’ve also started caring for my brain.

And what about you? Why not try a new mental training program? At a rate of 700 new neurons per day, who knows how far you could go.


This article was originally published by Rihazudin Razik on April 17th via Medium.com. The author has given permission to feature this article on Arete Coach.




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