When imagining an action, it requires the same motor and sensory programs in the brain that would be used if
you were actually doing it. New research has shown that those who mentally practiced playing the piano achieved the same accuracy level as those who physically did it.
On the same note, people who imagined doing strength-training exercises increased their muscle strength by 22%, compared to 30% among those who physically did the exercises. Taking this a bit further, the research showed that when you focus your mind on a specific muscle during a workout, you work that muscle 22% harder. So by focusing on what you are doing at the gym can enable you to get a better workout.
In fact, just believing that your daily activities are exercise has also been shown to improve physical fitness. Harvard researchers informed one group of hotel housekeepers that their daily work qualified as exercise, whereas a control group did not receive this information. Four weeks later, those who believed their work was a form of exercise had a decrease in weight, blood pressure, body fat, waist-to-hip ratio, and body mass index, even though their behaviors hadn’t actually changed at all.
Dr. Merzenich, professor emeritus at the University of California, who has pioneered research in brain
plasticity explains, your brain is designed and constructed to be stimulated and challenged, and to carefully examine, resolve and interpret your environment. What research into brain plasticity shows us is that by providing your brain with appropriate stimulus, you can counteract degeneration. A key factor or ingredient necessary for improving brain function or reversing functional decline is the seriousness of purpose with which you engage in a task. In other words, the task must be important to you, or somehow meaningful or interesting — it must hold your attention. Rote memorization of nonsensical or unimportant items will not stimulate your brain to create new neurons – but imagining the act of exercise or playing a musical instrument might.
Aside from engaging in a computer-based brain exercise program, Dr. Merzenich lists several things you
can do on a daily basis, as part of your day-to-day lifestyle, to help maintain brain function. Here are 5 ways to maintain optimal brain function:
- Get 15-30 minutes of physical exercise each day. When exercising, think about using your brain to control your actions. So skip the music and concentrate on the details of your actions and the environment.
- Spend about five minutes every day working on the refinement of a specific, small part of your physical body.
- Find ways to engage yourself in new learning. Continually look for new hobbies, activities and skills.
- Stay socially engaged.
- Practice “mindfulness”, in which you are attentively focusing on the world around you again, as if you are seeing it for the first time.
Your mind is intricately linked to your physical activity. Just as your thoughts can affect physical body, physical exercise can also protect your brain. One study found that among people in their 70s, those who were the most physically active had less signs of aging in their brains than those who weren’t, while engaging in intellectually challenging or social activities appeared to have no effect.
The key take home point from this is … you can very well harness the power of your thoughts to create real
physical changes in your body. And on the flipside, physical activity can also lead to positive changes in your brain. A lifestyle that encourages both of these modalities is likely going to give you the most benefit now and in the years to come.
Modified from www.mercola.com.