Posted: 7th January 2015
There’s a saying, if you don’t use it, you lose it. And it’s a word to the wise for those of us who, for one reason or another, find ourselves occasionally stagnating in mind, body or soul.
It could be the time of year, when all you really feel like doing is hibernating until spring. Or it could be that you’re living with a long term physical or mental health condition, which is particularly debilitating in the winter months. Or maybe you’re prone to social anxiety or depression – and the short days and long nights are having a negative effect on your moods.
If you identify with any of these, you’re by no means alone. It’s estimated that one in four people are affected by anxiety at some stage in their life. And currently, there are more than 15 million people in the UK who live with – and can expect to die with as opposed to of – some form of long term health condition.
This is why we need to invest in ourselves, nurture our minds and pamper our bodies.
In much the same was as our heart and lungs need oxygen and exercise, so too does our brain. Feed your mind and you’ll feel emotionally and physically invigorated. But how do you keep this organ in shape? By challenging yourself mentally, you can improve your memory, rev up your mental alacrity, increase your problem-solving skills and boost your creativity.
Whatever your taste in reading, it’s been proven that getting immersed in a good book is an instant brain booster. As well as a form of escapism, which can in itself promote mental health, reading is an exercise which improves cognitive skills as well as increasing your vocabulary. And if you join a book club, there’s a social element to the benefits, too.
Enrolling on a course can be daunting at first – but we all have to start somewhere! Whether you’re into South East Asian cookery, car maintenance or computer programming, learning a new skill is great for improving memory, harnessing greater mental and physical co-ordination and increasing social awareness.
By challenging yourself, you will stimulate new neural pathways in your brain, improve self-esteem and build confidence.
The internet has opened up many new opportunities in this field, so you don’t even have to leave your own home to learn a new language. Learning a language keeps your brain flexible and your mind sharp, helping to reduce the slowing of the thought processes that comes with age. Why not treat yourself and book on an adventure? It might just give you the added incentive to learn a new tongue!
Gentle exercise such as running – even at slow or steady intervals – increases the levels of oxygen in your brain and around your body.
Jogging stimulates the release of endorphins, which make you feel energized and generates an overall sense of well-being.
You don’t have to sign up to a marathon or pick up a racquet to reap the benefits of sport and leisure.
Golf is a great example of how to combine relaxation, fresh air and mental stimulation in one. It’s known to aid decision-making skills, hand-eye co-ordination and balance.
Yoga is a surprisingly strenuous exercise which is popular in all age groups. Whilst it can be physically demanding, it is very gentle on the joints and promotes mental relaxation, making it an effective ally in stress reduction.
Perhaps you prefer a less physically demanding sport? Snooker is a great way to unwind and keep your mind sharp. This pastime requires strategic planning and concentration, which increases mental clarity.
You’ll find a variety of sports and physical activities right on your doorstep. And don’t be put off by the cost. Get in touch with your local authority; they often subsidise sports and activities.
Put your strategic skills to the test in a challenging game of chess. Expand your powers of recall over an evening of card games. Test your logic skills with a family board game. Improve your mental speed with a computer game or boost hand-eye co-ordination with a Wii.
There’s a vast choice of games available in both the real and virtual world! And whether you prefer a problem solving challenge to a role-playing game, there’s something to suit everybody’s taste. And as well as keeping your mind active, they’re great for socialising, too.
Building a model airplane may be a fond childhood memory, but why relegate it to the past!? Following all those detailed instructions sharpens your powers of concentration whilst focusing on the task at hand can be very relaxing.
There are many arts, crafts and hobbies you can sign up for to stimulate your creative genius. Browse the internet for inspiration!
You don’t have to be in a boy band to reap the benefits of music and dance! Grab your old guitar out of the attic and sign up to some lessons. Playing an instrument boosts creativity, provides mental stimulation, improves your powers of recall and hones your levels of concentration.
Or pull on a pair of tap shoes and make like Fred Astaire. It doesn’t matter if you’ve got two left feet. Dancing is a fantastic all-round exercise which stimulates the mind and body and promotes well-being.
Online or in print, the trusty crossword puzzle is a fabulous mental pick-me-up whether you’re a genius or a novice. They help improve cognitive skills and creative thinking as well as increasing word power and vocabulary.
Discussing the pros and cons of a subject can be especially invigorating, just so long as you avoid getting into an argument! Debating can be fun and sociable… a great way to promote your quick-thinking skills, logic and rationale.
Keeping your brain in tip-top shape isn’t rocket science. And you don’t need to be an Olympian, either. Simply staying active in mind and body is the secret elixir to health and well-being!
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