From Jingle Bells to kettlebells we go. We are squarely within that zone where fitness-related resolutions are still top of mind and far from fizzling out. Whatever your plan for staying fit this year, you chose it with something in mind--heart health, the waistline, your core--and I wish you much success.

But please, keep your brain in mind. Just as there are ways to affect your cholesterol numbers or waistline, there are things anyone can do to keep the brain tuned up and nimble, and the benefits are real.

I'll skip most of the science here, but suffice it to say that every cell in your body is communicating with your brain, and every cell in your brain is communicating with your body. Exercising or stimulating your brain maintains those connections and even creates new ones. In essence, it gives your cells and your brain something interesting to talk about, which is important in keeping any relationship fresh.

Here are several things you can do to exercise your brain:

Incorporate the Senses in Different Ways

Lawrence C. Katz was a renowned neurobiologist whose research focused on brain development. Katz maintained that "neurobic" exercise should incorporate all five senses during the day. Of course we always use all of our senses during each day, but Katz suggests that shaking things up and combining the senses in different ways is good brain exercise. This could mean listening to music while cooking, or walking on a brisk day and observing things around you.

Shake Up Routines

Katz also found that experiencing the unexpected each day was good for the brain. It makes sense that new experiences offer more for your brain to process, and, on the other side of the coin, that too much routine behavior can lead to brain atrophy.

But our routines are essential to us, if not downright sacred. Without them, how could we expect to follow through on any fitness-related resolution? So I wouldn't suggest shaking your daily routine to the core. Wake up at the same time, just change your alarm tone. Arrive at work at the same time, just take a different route. Make dinner like you always do, just try a new recipe. Any slight change to a routine on a given day will count as exercise--think of it as your brain taking the stairs instead of the elevator.

Music

Listening to music also, without a doubt, stimulates your brain. Much research suggests that the brain responds to frequencies of sound, pitch, and tone. It can have a positive effect on test performance, mood, blood pressure, heart rate, and the perception of pain. Additionally, listening to your favorite music is likely to bring pleasure and can provide an opportunity for thoughtful reflection.

Putting this into practice might be as simple as listening to music on your drive to and from work. A client of ours has a 40-minute drive to work. Ten minutes before she gets to the office, she puts on Vivaldi to stimulate her brain and calm down. Conversely, on her drive home, she puts on Vivaldi again before she walks in the door to greet her kids.

Crossover Exercises

Any activities involving interaction between the left and right sides of the body will stimulate the right and left hemispheres of the brain and allow them to communicate better. This could be as simple as touching your left knee with your right hand. Think of these as good warm-up exercises.

Every workshop that I facilitate begins with these exercises. And if I had my way, every person would begin their workday with a few brain gym moves. In addition to just being good for your brain, it helps you to learn and retain information. This is especially helpful given that these days each one of us is bombarded with messages from all directions.

These things, as you can tell, are achievable with a little conscious effort, and their benefits outweigh the time they will take you. Exactly how you exercise your brain will depend on your thinking and behavioral preferences.

Published on: Jan 20, 2015
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