We writers have a challenging job. We try to eat healthy, drink water, move our muscles and improve our health to keep up with the pace of marketing and deadlines without flatlining along the way. All are important for fitness but in our job the brain is the muscle we use the most in a day. Have you thought about brain fitness? These days many people report they are suffering from stress, Covid brain fog, Long Covid, memory fears, media overload and any number of issues that make creativity and efficiency an uphill climb.
When I had my physical a month or so ago, I asked my doctor what I can do to make sure I stay sharp as I age. He said the most important two things are to get regular physical exercise (Ugh! I knew that) and to shock your brain. I know I looked shocked just by his suggestion. I pictured electrodes attached to my head and a technician in a white coat rotating dials.
Well, it’s not that at all. Dr. Aghaie said much research has recently been done on this subject and it’s been proven that challenging yourself with difficult tasks actually builds brain function. These are not run of the mill hard tasks like a game of Sudoku. He says these are the kind of tasks that make your head hurt so that the end of your session you find yourself holding your head and taking a couple of aspirin. Makes sense, doesn’t it? At the end of a hard workout our muscles hurt. The brain is a muscle, so it stands to reason it reacts the same way. When your muscles hurt, you know you are building more muscle. It’s the same with your brain.
The doctor shared that he is shocking his brain by learning Mandarin Chinese, one of the world’s most difficult languages. I took his suggestion to heart. In preparation for my recent webinar, I unraveled the intricacies of Canva and Loom in a few short days. My head hurt at the end of each day. I’m serious about finding shocking new brain challenges because I need to stay sharp to manage all the detail that comes with my job.
If this sounds like pseudo-science, There’s plenty of trusted research out there. This article from Constant Therapy Health was excellent with lots of practical suggestions. Harvard Health had a piece about it. And Sharecare.com looked at a study of 3,000 nuns over several decades. When the nuns died and their brains were autopsied scientists discovered that the better educated nuns who had more challenging jobs had far less Alzheimers disease. You can find hundreds of articles confirming this. And if you are serious, you can dig up and investigate all the original studies as primary source material. That would be a good brain fitness challenge.
I’m looking to find my next challenge. How about you? How do you plan to shock your brain?
My brain’s made it very clear
that the highest it will reach
is for another can of beer
upon a Key West beach.
It will eschew pretensions
of other gals and fellas,
and will never mention
drinks served with small umbrellas,
so I must take it by the hand
to a place of Nordic teetotal,
and in this dry and austere land
make it scale a climbing wall
of discipline to bring it gain
no matter how it may complain.
Poor brain. I got the visual of a disciplined brain climbing a rock wall.
Which is exactly the intended visual!
One of the wonderful things about being a writer is you never stop learning. Since retiring from my non-writing career six years ago, I’ve taught myself to spin fibers into yarn, how to set upa loom and weave, how to knit intricate canled sweaters that require 20 charts to complete the appropriate stitches in the appropriate places ( I could only do that a couple of hours at a time first thing in the morning when I was fresh and caffenated.). I keep looking for more complicated and fibers to work with. And I create building for my husband’s model railroad layout with lots of realistic details. Don’t know how long my hands will be steady enough for that. I think my little gray cells may be getting a better workout than my hips!
Oh, Kim, I wish you were nearby. I used to weave on a four harness loom years ago but how I’d love to learn the even earlier steps of fiber art. Brain fitness, indeed.
P.S. I just saw your tiny brand on your photo. “Spinning Romance” Brilliant. Positively brilliant.
Do all the brain shocks that come with writing a historical novel count? While I’m not learning another language (enough to speak it, anyway, just enough to make it seem like my characters do) I’m learning things like new trades, time periods, places in new time periods, new cultures in new places in new time periods. At least enough to convince a reader for a few hours of immersive reading that I know what it looks and feels like to be a person born and bred then and there. I often wind up with a headache from a day of that. 🙂
I’m agree, Lori. Writing a novel has to count as brain shock. At least for me, when the story comes together in the end, my brain is definitely shocked.
Absolutely. Historical fiction requires complicated time travel of a whole different kind. But I’d say starting over with a brand new pup is shock enough these days.
I am fulfilling a long held dream of learning to play the piano. My first recital is next month. It’s nothing special–two pieces totalling 32 bars–but it’s still a milestone.
Numerous studies have shown that playing a musical instrument benefits your brain in multiple ways. I urge everyone who has ever thought about learning an instrument to act on that urge today. It’s only too late when you’re dead.
Yes! One of the articles I referenced talks about learning to play music.
I thought I was noticing a decline so I asked my son-in-law about the most difficult video gaming system he had. I ended up buying an XBox, becoming proficient (but not addicted), and I still pick up a controller when I’m feeling dull. I also took a college algebra course. Nearly killed me, but it proved to my brain that it could still think.
Kristen Joy Wilks
Yes! Playing video games with my teenage sons definitely hurts my brain!!!
Hurts your brain but cements your bond with your boys, Kristen.
College Algebra is above and beyond. I love that for you but I think I’d rather let my gray cells atrophy than to tackle that again.
In May 2021, I started learning ukulele and immediately fell in love with it. Then, about a month ago, a friend and I ordered Irish tin whistles and are learning together. After several decades of singing, playing an instrument is stretching my musical muscles in a way that I love.
Every once in a while, I find myself fiddling around with my uke and realized I was creating my own melodies. So now I am challenging myself to write my own music.
A challenge indeed, Jeanette. I can’t wait to hear your own compositions.
Kristen Joy Wilks
Wow! What great information, Cynthia. My grandmother and great aunt both had Alzheimers and I remember the struggles. “Never get in the car with your great aunt, Kristen!” Yes, it is surprisingly difficult to get someone’s license taken away, even after several crashes! You know, this actually makes me feel a bit less frustrated with having to learn new platform and marketing things. There is the sorrow that one cannot just learn how to write great books and then do so. Well, the act of learning to write certainly hurts the brain and then, marketing hurts the brain too! Win, win!!! Well, this last year I learned a bit about instagram (both for myself as well as for the camp we live and work at) and now I’m investigating BookBub and BookSweeps. Let the brain-building pain begin!!!
Kristen Joy Wilks
Wendy!!! I’m so sorry. I saw the Y in your name and thought Cynthia.
No worries. That is a high compliment to think I write as well as Cynthia!
Perfect way to look at it, though I’d far rather challenge my brain with fiber arts than algebra or Instagram. (I know, I’m terrible that way.)
Last week I played tennis with my 7-year old on a court up in Washington state.
Hadn’t played since high school!
I’d forgotten how much mental work tennis is – anticipating the angle of the ball when it’s volleyed back to you. Your feet need to be there 2-3 seconds before your racket does – and you need to think fast – if your opponent is on the left side of the court – then angle your shot to the right. Not only does it keep your heart working and muscles moving, it SHOCKED my brain. So looking to get into tennis league now!
And that would satisfy BOTH my doctor’s suggestions– exercise and brain shock. Brava!