5 Leisure Activities that are Great for Your Brain
Leisure and rest are is important for your brain to function. Every mechanism has a point past which it can’t be pushed, and that includes our brains. But we know that, don’t we?
What many of us don’t know is that what we do with our leisure time also has important consequences for our brain. Whatever you are doing in your leisure, your brain is still being engaged, although ideally, it’s not getting stressed out. Now, different activities engage different parts of our brain, sometimes multiple brain areas together. Some engagements boost your brain health, others may cause harm in the long-term.
So, if you want to preserve and boost your brain health, choosing leisure activities that contribute to that goal is the first step. But how do we decide which activity to choose?
How does leisure activities affect our brain?
Just like our daily work, our leisure too tends to fall into habits if we do it often. The point of leisure activities is precisely that they are things we enjoy, and often the first thing we turn to when we are bored. So just like our daily work, we engage in our favorite leisure activities quite a lot of times in our lives. Hence, they impact our brains quite significantly over time.
Neurologists classify these impacts into two categories – active and passive.
The neuronal networks that connect the different parts of the brain during these activities, get strengthened over time. If we do something often enough, they become permanent, and can significantly influence and even change the way your brain functions. In advanced age, your leisure activities may be the difference between a healthy brain and an unhealthy one.
- If we engage in activities that require many different areas of our brains to connect, for example socially engaging or mentally challenging ones, it is likely a large part of our cognitive functions will stay healthy even in advanced age. Examples: adventure sports, artistic practices, sudoku, mathematical puzzles etc.
- Even if the activity doesn’t require routine formation of new connections, if we keep at it regularly the neural pathways connected to that particular activity gets stronger. So even if other areas may diminish, these stay intact. Examples: instrumental and sports-related skills.
If your chosen activity is socially and intellectually engaging, they tend to increase the number of synapses in your neurons each time you do something ‘novel’ in the course of it. Even if you are not extremely dedicated to that activity, they build ‘stronger’ neurons in certain areas nonetheless. As we age, our neurons naturally degenerate, but the ‘stronger’ neurons tend to hold on much longer than the weaker ones. The brain area that has more stronger neurons, will have better cognitive functions in old age.
Some activities that actively help your brain
- Creative art: Artistic practices are a great way to unwind, and actually it has nothing to do with talent. Painting, doodling, pottery, and even performance practices like dancing and acting are great exercises in creativity and self-articulation. They engage various parts of our brain, they hone our gross and fine motor skills, as well as our focus and quick thinking abilities. Most of all, they give us an avenue to channelize the accumulated stress out of our systems.
- Math and word puzzles: They challenge our brains to think creatively, deeply, and multi-dimensionally. Puzzles teach us to think and approach problems systematically and step-by-step, which goes a long way in influencing our decision-making abilities.
- Learning a new language: If you have always wanted to give French a go, jump right in. New languages open our minds to new cultures and new ways of seeing, which is great for your creative thinking abilities. Learning to see, hear, and articulate the world around you through completely different words and systems also engage the sensory areas in your brain, giving everything a good shake and tumble.
- Playing instruments: Playing or learning to play musical instruments is a very strong memory-booster. Music of any kind has a far-reaching impact on your memory; even long-term patients of Dementia have been noted to remember their favourite pieces of music when they remember nothing else. Incorporating some piano or guitar time in your daily routine will not only help you unwind, but preserve a lot of things worth preserving in your mind for far longer.’
- Travel and adventure: Going to new places, meeting new people, encountering different cultures – these are not just stress-busters. They also greatly engage and challenge your social engagement, creative thinking, decision-making, and overall adapting abilities. Regular travels or adventure activities push our brains to experience scenarios that we have no chance of encountering in our daily lives.
The very function of leisure activities is that they should help you de-stress. So, getting too competitive or attaching your self-worth with these activities is the first thing you need to stop doing. If you truly enjoy something, and are able to forget your stress during it, that alone is criteria enough for a good leisure activity. But there’s no harm in trying give some extra edge to our brain while at it, right?