Our world is awash with advice about how to live longer. Most of it involves strict diets, exercise, and calming activities such as yoga. That’s all well and good: these approaches are important, and do work. However, aside from a stunningly healthy body, sometimes it’s hard to see the practical benefit in our day-to-day lives.
The good news is, there is another proven way to improve your physical health in a way that also enhances our other abilities: learning. Here are some examples to explain how it all works.
The stress-reducing calm of learning a new skill
Everyone knows that public enemy number one is the stress hormone cortisol. This chemical monster pushes our bodies into extreme survival mode. Remaining in this state for too long leads to long-term complications, such as heart disease, osteoporosis, and high blood pressure.
The good news is that the process of learning pushes the brain out of fight-or-flight mode and into a state of calm. Learning a new skill, such as painting, cooking, dancing, or craftwork, engages many different parts of the brain, refocusing the energy. The brilliant thing about this kind of brain exercise is that it makes long term changes to our grey matter, building healthy neural pathways.
So, the healthier the brain, the healthier the body?
Absolutely. And that’s why brain-training exercises are unparalleled when it comes to developing advanced brain health. The stronger the positive neural pathways are, the healthier the brain will be. This is why many people choose to undertake hardcore brain training, such as learning to play chess or poker.
When it comes to the ultimate workout, there is nothing more demanding. However, there’s a reason why pro players are so much better than the rest of us. It’s not necessarily because they are innately smarter – although that may certainly give them a head start – but because they have spent hours learning strategies that train their brains to perform as elite machines.
These games involve developing formidable feats of memory, reasoning, logic, and endurance. All of this quite literally changes the chemistry of the brain so that it is primed to form strong neural pathways that resist stress. The famous ‘poker face’ is not so much a question of being good at looking unflustered as being in such an intense state of calm that stress simply isn’t having much of a physical effect. Neat, huh?
So, next time you’re reaching for your wheatgerm smoothie in the vague hope that it will add an extra few minutes to your life, consider adding some brain training into the mix. You might just find that there are powerful benefits to starting to think of your brain as the ultimate key to longer life.