Mental stimulation basically translates to “giving your brain a good work out”! Why is this important? And how do we go about achieving good levels of mental stimulation?
Why do we need mental stimulation?
1.) Our brain needs to be stimulated in order to keep working well
Studies have shown that the more we use our brain for a wide variety of tasks which stretch it, the more likely we are to hold on to better brain-functioning, even in old age.
The more we are mentally stimulated, the more dendritic branches we create in our brain to inter-connect our brain cells, to improve functioning of our thinking and our memory. This has been found to be an effective way of delaying onset of cognitive impairment, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease in the elderly.
2.) We need mental stimulation to feel happy and fulfilled
Many years ago, our ancestors would have used their brain for a range of highly stimulating activities for basic survival including:
- Keeping senses alert to hear if danger or predators were near. Acute senses would have been useful in hunting too, and in observing the details in nature around them.
- Learning how to interact with members of the tribe in order to work together harmoniously, to find mates, and to bring up their offspring.
- Using their brain to form maps in their heads when traversing the lands.
- Planning and carrying out cunning methods to hunt and capture prey.
- Interpreting environmental clues to enable them to prepare for seasonal changes.
- Building shelter and learning to use survival skills
- Learning how to fend off disease, keep clean and healthy
In short, brain function was key for a lot of different kinds of survival-based needs.
Today, many of us no longer know how to build shelter, or survive out in the wild. It is questionable whether many city-folk could utilize good tracking skills on a hunt. Nevertheless, in our modern world, we stimulate our brains in new ways that weren’t possible for our ancestors.
If you look at dogs, experts will tell you that they require both physical and mental stimulation in order to feel happy and satisfied. Otherwise behavioural problems may arise. The same is true with cats, pet birds… and humans!
Maybe in the years when we evolved to utilize our brain we evolved a mechanism by which we feel happy when we fulfil all these mental tasks in the brain, in order to encourage survival. This isn’t to say that we should all start hunting again, but just that we should utilize similar mental functioning mechanisms needed in hunting in new ways, in order to fulfil that basic “need”, so that we feel happy and fulfilled.
3.) We need mental stimulation to keep boredom at bay
Closely linked to the need to feel happy and fulfilled is the need to keep boredom away. Mental stimulation is a good antidote to boredom.
4.) Mental stimulation helps us progress and achieve
It may be that the more you use your brain, the more likely you are to enhance brain functioning, to enhance your chances of success, achievement and progress. Mental stimulation is partly behind the progress of the human race.
How to exercise your brain
So how do you keep your brain a lean, keen, thinking machine? There are several mentally stimulating activities and brain games you can consciously encorporate into your lifestyle to ensure maximal mental stimulation.
1.) Thinking and expressing your thoughts
Thinking, brainstorming and talking about topics that require you to critically analyse situations, form opinions and express them coherently, is a great workout for the brain. Debating and conversing about politics, philosophy, religion, psychology and other opinion-linked topics is good for mental stimulation.
A different kind of thought exercise is visualization exercises which are also useful to try and can be very relaxing to do.
2.) Use your creativity
When we’re thinking creatively, we are exercising a different part of the brain to when we form emotional and logical thoughts. Creativity could include composing poetry, music, stories, artwork and design. Creativity doesn’t have to be artistic. It could also involve coming up with new innovations and ideas in business and society.
3.) Mentally Stimulating Games
Games are a great way to emulate some of our more primitive needs which aren’t fulfilled in everyday modern life. I wonder if this may partly be why humans are so drawn to hunting-like computer games and things like laser-tag or paintballing. Although these aren’t games, some people exercise these skills when they go hunting.
For children, a game like a treasure hunt, or geocaching for adults can be a fun way to recreate the excitement of the hunt.
Other games work on other aspects of your brain like word games, puzzles, memory-reliant games and strategy-based games. Memory-reliant games emulate our ancestors’ use of their brain for land mapping, and strategy-based games like chess or even certain card games may be akin to the strategic cunning needed in capturing prey.
Teamwork-related games like football or basketball also utilize yet other parts of the brain that would have been activated in our ancestors as they worked side-by-side.
4.) Exploring and taking note of the world around you
Paying attention to the details in the weather and observing the miniscule details of the sensations around you, all is fantastic mental stimulation. Dogs too benefit greatly from exploring new places because it is interesting and stimulating for them.
Travelling and exploring new areas of your town are recommended for exercising and satisfying certain parts of your brain.
Trying new things is a generally good way to achieve mental stimulation.
5.) Learning new things
Whenever we learn, it is no surprise that we are putting our brain through a rigorous workout! Whether you’re learning a new language, reading about science, learning how to cook, juggle, skateboard, play an instrument, draw, defend yourself or dance, all these stimulate the mind.
Learning need not be limited to conventional hobbies. You can also train yourself to write with your other hand, or even with your feet if you’re up for learning a party trick!
Our pets also need mental stimulation and enjoy nothing more than learning new tricks to fulfil this need.
Reading causes specific areas in the brain to jump into action, firing electric impulses through your brain.
7.) Social interaction
When you are amongst people, you are activating your mind on many levels as you form thoughts, opinions, speak, and of course access your emotions.
Caring and looking after people or pets requires yet different parts of the brain and is quite a thorough exercise for the brain.
Interacting with animals is a type of “social interaction” that utilizes slightly different parts of the brain. Social interaction is an important part of mental stimulation for pets too.
8.) Physical activity
Using your brain to carry out coordinated movements in walking, swimming, dancing or any type of exercise utilizes yet more brain power. This is another type of mental stimulation that would have been very active in our ancestors.
Fixing things, building things, working out how they work and putting them back together again are all wonderful ways to get the noggin working.
10.) Sense exercises
Sense exercises are things like wine-tasting, or putting your tastebuds into practice by trying to taste subtle differences between foods of different cuisines.
You can develop any sense to stimulate your brain. Your sense of smell can be trained to pick up increasingly subtle nuances, and the same can be said for your sense of hearing, touch and even sight.
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