Mind It. Mend It

Words: Dr Rajgopal NIDAMBOOR

Think of a ‘new light’ splashed on an old thought ― a classy synthesis on the potential of how our brains progress.

Years ago a research team in the UK compared brain images of 16 male taxi drivers with 50 from general residents. They reported that an area of the brain, called the posterior hippocampus, was incredibly and notably greater in cab drivers. Reason: hippocampus is one of the key areas in the brain responsible for navigation, learning, and special memory.

You’d, perforce, infer that cabbies essentially have larger ‘memory’ areas, along with a distinct on-the-job exposure. This, however, wasn’t the case. Researchers found the largest memory areas in drivers who had long-term acquaintance and experience. The more experienced the cab driver, the better was their working capacity and memory.

The outcome of the research, in question, was remarkable for one primaeval reason, viz., our evolving understanding of aging and the brain. For too long, it was widely accepted that loss of brain cells characterised normal aging activity. It was also construed that connections in the brain were established in the developmental phases of childhood and, after elevation, some sort of a brain cell dropout followed. New studies show that there’s actual likelihood and justification for continually expanding our memory banks in terms of on-going brain development, or evolution.

There may be another possibility dimension: the determination of the extent to which mental exercises can invert, or compensate, the negative effects of stress on memory. Research proposes that repeated stress can lead to the body’s inability to turn off its major biological stress pathways, causing significant memory loss. Studies also suggest that substances, like glucocorticoids, which act as the body’s natural steroids, and excitatory amino acids ― neurotransmitters, or chemical substances, that enable nerve ‘broadcast’ in crucial areas ― directly impact nerve fibres, called dendrites, in the hippocampus.

Now, the big question: can mental exercise preserve, or build, our memory capacities in the presence of significant stressors? The answer is yes. This is also reason enough why research recommends a healthy mental workout each day, along with physical exercise, proper diet, and stress reduction.

The onus is, of course, on you. You have to look at potential approaches to reducing stress and improving your brain inclinations, including your intelligence and spiritual quotient, as also emotional intelligence.

For a handy roadmap, you’d ‘take-off’ with the following templates:

  • Practice meditation
  • Read books, newspapers/magazines etc.,
  • Listen to music, or educational, self-help, inspirational, and spiritual clips, CDs, or podcasts
  • Write or memorise poems, songs etc.,
  • Maintain a diary, or learn a new language
  • Research a new hobby
  • Not use the calculator to check your grocer’s bill
  • Plan a mental, or mindful, vacation to a place you’d love to ‘walk around’
  • Solve crossword puzzles; play Scrabble with your kids and friends
  • Develop your own sense of humour by memorising old and new jokes.

The inference is obvious: quality time spent in a challenging mental exercise everyday would help maintain what we cannot relinquish. The reason is simple. It is also profound. Our mind is too precious to squander. What’s more, it’s also never too late to nurture it — our most precious gift. As Robert Bly, a perceptive thinker, once said: “It takes leisure to mature. People in a hurry can neither grow nor decay; they are preserved in a state of perpetual puerility.”

That’s the truth. Go figure.

Dr RAJGOPAL NIDAMBOOR, PhD, is a wellness physician-writer-editor, independent researcher, critic, columnist, author and publisher. His published work includes hundreds of newspaper, magazine, web articles, essays, meditations, columns, and critiques on a host of subjects, eight books on natural health, two coffee table tomes and an encyclopaedic treatise on Indian philosophy. He is Chief Wellness Officer, Docco360 — a mobile health application/platform connecting patients with Ayurveda, homeopathic and Unani physicians, and nutrition therapists, among others, from the comfort of their home — and, Editor-in-Chief, ThinkWellness360.

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