As athletes, we are very focused on keeping our bodies healthy. Working out, eating a balanced diet and getting enough sleep become part of our daily routines. You may not know it, but maintaining physical fitness is also important for keeping your brain healthy. Physical exercise helps improve cognitive function and memory, not to mention reducing stress and helping you feel better and have a better outlook on life. Below are some other ways to challenge your mind and keep your brain healthy.
Every person has a dominant left or right hand. Completing a task using your non-dominant side is a great way to exercise your brain. Try brushing your teeth with your non-dominant hand, or writing with your opposite hand. The next time you’re at the pool, try breathing or flip-turning to your opposite side. The action of using your non-dominant hand or side stimulates the somatosensory cortex, the part of the brain responsible for somatic sensation, responding to visual stimuli and movement planning.
Being able to visualize yourself in a race scenario, completing the event, achieving what you’ve set out to do, is an important part of goal setting and preparation for big events. It’s also very beneficial to your brain. Active visualization, or mental imagery, helps stimulate the brain and enhances creativity. Mental imagery helps activate the perceptual parts of your brain involved in sight, sound, smell, taste and touch. The more vivid the mental imagery becomes, the more exercise for your brain.
Ever had a coach give you a workout that was confusing? Feel like there is too much to remember and you’re left asking, “Where’s the white board?” If your coach is anything like me, they may be doing this on purpose. These types of workouts are like brain candy; a way to exercise both body and mind, helping to improve short term memory, cognitive function and concentration. Word searches and crossword puzzles can accomplish the same thing out of the water.
It’s always exciting to try something new. New activities or skill sets help maintain and improve the function of less frequently used areas of the brain. This encourages brain growth and helps you stay mentally fit. The next time you learn something new, you may just get a new wrinkle in your brain.
Parts adapted from healthyliving.azcentral.com