Are you cognitively fit?

When we think of fitness, we usually think of speed, strength, flexibility, or coordination. We don’t normally think about cognitive or brain fitness. There seems to be a dualism at work when it comes to how we approach fitness, with the mind being thought of as separate from the rest of the body, and treated as such.

But it doesn’t have to be like this. I believe brain training is just as important as strength-training, and cardio. Solving puzzles, playing chess, or playing a musical instrument are all great ways to keep your mind sharp, but the body is generally not very active while doing this. These are all great ways to improve your cognitive fitness, but a more efficient use of time would combine cardio with a brain workout.

This is where juggling comes in, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be juggling. Any physical activity that raises your heart rate and involves novel, precise body movement will suffice. Martial arts, dancing, and rock climbing all give your brain a boost while also providing cardio benefits. You could even use martial arts to take down some very powerful criminals, which would require a lot of thought as you plot how to sneak into their hideout, and dodge bullets from their henchmen and henchwomen, but alas, this only happens in the movies.

I think the benefits of these activities would be similar to juggling, if juggling isn’t for you. The good thing about juggling though is the very immediate feedback you get when you don’t do it right – you keep dropping balls.

What does it mean to be cognitively fit? According to – Goizueta Business School of Emory University, Department of Psychiatry, Atlanta, USA

Cognitive fitness will help you be more open to new ideas and alternative perspectives. It will give you the capacity to change your behavior and realize your goals. You can delay senescence for years and even enjoy a second career. Drawing from the rapidly expanding body of neuroscience research as well as from well-established research in psychology and other mental health fields, the authors have identified four steps you can take to become cognitively fit: understand how experience makes the brain grow, work hard at play, search for patterns, and seek novelty and innovation. Together these steps capture some of the key opportunities for maintaining an engaged, creative brain.

In other words, the brain is like a muscle: Use it or lose it. Just as un-exercised muscle atrophies, so does the brain, making it less sharp, and increasing the risk for developing dementia. While almost any form of exercise can increase blood flow to the brain, this isn’t the same thing as giving your brain a workout.

A regular cognitive workout is a positive feedback loop: the more cognitively fit you are, the more likely you are to try new things, which in turn can improve your cognitive fitness even further, which allows you to try even more new things, etc.

So if you are bored with your current fitness routine, consider doing activities that also give your mind a workout. Cognitive fitness is just as important as body fitness.

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9 responses to “Are you cognitively fit?

  1. I think Aikido is a good example of something I do that’s more cognitive fitness than physical, http://fitisafeministissue.wordpress.com/2012/10/28/six-things-i-love-about-aikido-and-six-things-i-struggle-with/. Great post.

  2. Great post about cognitive fitness 🙂

  3. Reblogged this on One Regular Guy Writing about Food, Exercise and Living Longer and commented:
    As I have written a number of times here, exercise benefits the brain as much as the body.

  4. Many years ago I used to play with pois/kiwidos. I’m sure you’ve heard of them. Do those function as cognitive training?

  5. “While almost any form of exercise can increase blood flow to the brain, this isn’t the same thing as giving your brain a workout.”

    I don’t think you are correct here. As a matter of fact only cardiovascular exercise sends oxygen to the brain which helps to create new neurotransmitters – new brain cells.

    Doing Sudoku’s or crosswords puzzles increases your skill at those puzzles, but does not increase brain cells or working memory. If you check out this link of my blog:http://guysandgoodhealth.com/important-facts-about-your-brain/ you will see what I mean.

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