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SHARPEN THE OLD NOODLE

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Looking for an engaging pastime that also boosts your brain power? Anindra Siqueira tells you about a few hobbies you can take up to keep your mind sharp

It’s said that your brain is like a muscle, in the sense that you’ll need to keep it working if you want to stay mentally sharp. But, especially if you have a job in which you have to use your brain, the last thing you want is to “work” on the weekend. That’s why we’re telling you about a few hobbies you can take up to keep your brain functioning at its peak.

Learning a new language
This may seem like a lot of hard work, and something you may not want to take up as a hobby, but once you start and get past the initial difficult phase, things will get much easier. Also, learning a new language has many brain benefits. For one, it increases connectivity in the brain. Studies have also found that it improves attention and multi-tasking comes easier to those who learn new languages.

Playing a musical instrument
While playing a musical instrument is generally associated with creativity, it can also make you smarter. At best, it is a full workout for your mind because, some believe that playing or learning to play a musical instrument helps with analytical skills, fine motor skills and even language and mathematical functions. If nothing else, it is like learning a new language — music. Playing a musical instrument can strengthen the corpus callosum, the part of your brain that links its two hemispheres, creating new synaptic connections.

Reading — anything!
This shouldn’t come as a surprise because you gain knowledge when you read, even if you’re reading a fantasy novel. Reading can increase three types of intelligence — crystallised, fluid and emotional. The fact is that reading can do wonders to keep your brain working well. A study published in the journal Brain Connectivity in December 2013 showed that reading a novel could increase connectivity in the brain in those regions associated with perspective taking skills and story comprehension. Other studies have suggested that reading can improve memory, slow the progression of Alzheimer’s, improve concentration, help with depression, slow down mental decline, lower stress and even make you more empathetic.

Exercising
As strange as this may sound, exercising isn’t just good for your physical health; it’s also great for your brain. According to 2013 research published in the journal Cell Metabolism, those who exercised regularly had higher levels of a molecule called irisin, which in turn increased the levels of BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor) and activated genes involved in cognition. In the brain, BDNF is found in the hippocampus, the cortex and the basal forebrain, areas vital to learning, memory and higher thinking.

Playing chess
If you are averse to the outdoors or exercise, you’ll be glad to know that you don’t have to step outside to increase your mental sharpness. Playing chess has been shown to improve working memory, attention, focus, motivation and decision-making. Some researchers even believe that taking up this hobby results in leaning-induced neuroplasticity.

HAVE FUN & GET SMARTER
Learning to play a musical instrument, and particularly learning a new language, can be difficult, time-consuming and frustrating. And, you should really be having fun with your hobbies. So, here are two fun things that you can take up, which will make your sharper.

Solving puzzles
Even simple things like doing crossword puzzles, solving the Sudoku and playing board games can boost attention and focus.

Playing video games
Yes, this is actually true. Research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in 2015 showed that those who play action games had a greater capacity to learn certain tasks than those who didn’t. Even puzzle games, role playing games and real-time strategy games can boost brain function.

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