Using Neurobics to Improve Your Brain
Neurobics is a term that was described by the late neurobiologist Lawrence Katz and Manning Rubin in their book, Keep Your Brain Alive. It refers to the physiological effects of unique and non-routine ways of thinking and moving and their effects on the brain. Practicing neurobics on a regular basis can strengthen your brain and improve your mood, memory and mindset.
Routine activities become so automatic in the brain that they require less brain activity. Unique activities produce more neurotransmitters and have a greater effect on altering and strengthening neurons and synaptic connections.
How the Brain Works
The brain and nervous system cells, called neurons, exchange a flow of electrolyte chemicals that lead to electrical signaling messages. This is how these cells communicate complex things at the speed of light.
The more activity these cells get, the stronger they get. All neurons need oxygen, fuel (glucose or ketones) and activation. We activate regions of our brain through interacting with our environment on a physical level and deep thinking, learning and visualization.
Neurogenesis is the process our body goes through to create new neurons (1). The more activity a particular brain or neuronal cell is, the more neurogenesis takes place in the various pathways it fires into. Much like a tree with branches, these neurons go through a neurogenesis process called dendritic sprouting where they branch out to connect with other neurons.
One neuron can have up to 30,000 such connections, creating a dense set of interconnected activity (2). These neurons can be stimulated directly through real life experience and mental imagery. They can also be stimulated in an indirect way through the connections they have with their neighboring neurons. Neurobics is one way to stimulate more of this neurogenic process in our brain and body.
Neurotrophins are a class of proteins that protect neurons and enhance neuronal development and function. The 4 most common neurotrophins are Nerve Growth Factor (NGF), Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF), Neurotrophic Factor-3 (NT-3) and Neurotrophic Factor-4/5 (NT-4/5).
NGF plays a big role in modulating the brain’s reaction to stress and rest (3). Patients with inadequate NGF levels can have sleep disturbances. BDNF is critical for higher cortical function, creative thought, memory and learning (4). Individuals with Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, dementia and Huntington’s disease have lower levels of BDNF (5, 6).
The NT-3 proteins play an important role in the spinal ganglion neurons associated with the cochlear division of cranial nerve 8 associated with hearing (7). Individuals with poor NT-3 function can develop poor hearing and tinnitus.
Neurotrophin 4/5 is a key factor in the function of the facial nerve (cranial nerve 7). Research suggests that NT-4/5 prevents injuries that cause the death of these facial nerve motor neurons (8). This can help prevent paralysis, TMJ issues and maintenance of overall facial tone.
In order to adequately produce and utilize the Neurotrophins for optimal neurogenesis in the brain, we need to supply a steady amount of fuel, oxygen and activity. A healthy diet that maintains steady blood sugar and ketone body utilization and healthy circulation is critical for the fuel and oxygen levels.
For activity, we need to actively move our body in unique ways and challenge our brain with new physical and mental stimulus on a regular basis. This is where Neurobics comes in!
How Neurobics Improves the Brain
Neurobics involves introducing unexpected stimulus and experiences for the brain by using a combination of physical, mental and emotional activities involving a variety of senses. This novel experience stimulates the neurons to fire and communicate in new ways which requires them to form new neural networks and strengthens weaker neuronal pathways.
As we continually challenge the nervous system in this way, it improves overall brain and nervous system function and acts to reduce the effects of aging.
Neurobics must be different than typical activities that you do and they can incorporate all of your five senses. These can seem like simple tasks but because they are non-routine, they challenge our brain in unique ways.
Examples of neurobics include:
Writing or using a utensil with your non-dominant hand
Walking down your hallway with your eyes closed
One leg balancing exercises
Spend time outside smelling all the plants and flowers
Eat foods with lots of colors to stimulate your visual senses
Feel the texture of different objects like rocks, shells, etc.
20 Great Neurobic Exercises to Use
Try doing a few of these neurobics each day to improve your mood, memory, learning ability and overall quality of life.
1) Use a Variety of Essential Oils – Not only do essential oils have tremendous health benefits but the powerful scents will increase olfactory sensations which go right to the cortex and will drive up BDNF production for higher cognitive activity.
2) Use Your Non-Dominant Hand: Brush your teeth with non-dominant hand. This re-patterns your somatosensory function, causing large releases of BDNF in the parietal lobes of your brain and surrounding cortex.
3) Look at Various Colors: Surround yourself with lots of different colors. This will stimulate the vision centers of the brain and help to simulate BDNF for learning and development.
4) Try a New Instrument: Play a new musical instrument to stimulate both kinesthetic senses as well as auditory learning. This is a fantastic way to challenge the brain to grow and develop. You can also focusing on listening deeply and intently to something new, this will stimulate the NT-3 protein production for improved auditory ability.
5) CrossWord Puzzles and Board Games: Do a crossword puzzle or play a board game. This forces you to think in new and novel ways. Some games force you to think very quickly, while others depend upon creative thinking which enhances BDNF production and neurogenesis.
6) Walk Barefoot: Walk barefoot outside and pay attention to the unique feel of the rocks and ground with your feet. This gives kinesthetic sensations that are new which enhance your brain development.
7) Sit Outside and Journal: Sit in a park and journal about all the unique sounds and smells you are experiencing. The more you can concentrate on new sounds and smells, the more well-rounded and developed the brain has the potential to be.
8) Recite a Speech: Recite a speech out-load while pacing with your eyes closed. This is a technique that most professional speakers have been doing for years. This activates multiple senses and helps drive up BDNF for both short and long-term learning patterns.
9) Try a New Food or Dish: Try a new, healthy dish with unique flavors you are not accustomed too. It is important to slow down and take your time to savor the dish rather than just consuming quickly. This will help to challenge Neurotrophin 4/5 and BDNF as you will be sensing new textures, tastes and smells.
10) Writing Instead of Typing: When you write by hand, you activate more of your brain than you do when you type. This can help you learn material and remember to do items more effectively.
11) Time Your Activities: We all can be easily distracted and many have a lot of time staying focused. Timed activities force the brain to pay attention, work fast and carefully. Play games or work on projects with a timer and do your best to accomplish your goal before the timer goes off.
12) Meditation: Studies have shown that those who practice meditation have bigger brains, experience less neuronal decay and improved mental activity than others their age. This may be the best way to enhance the production of NGF and it crosses over to the other neurotrophins as well.
13) Laughter: When we laugh, we active the ventromedial prefrontal cortex and other regions of the brain where dopamine is released. Dopamine sensitivity is key for healthy cognition, learning, memory, mental drive, focus and attention. Yes, regular laughter can help you learn and produce at a higher level!
14) Gratitude List: Gratitude helps improve neuronal firing and improves NGF production and our ability to tolerate and adapt to stress. It also helps to rewire our brain to see things from an optimistic point of view, which reduces stress hormones and improves endorphin production and endorphin sensitivity in the brain cells, allowing us to feel good more often with less overall stimulus. Who wouldn’t want that?
15) Teach Others: When you teach a particular subject to another person it enhances your brain development and improves both short-term and long-term memory. After you learn something new, your goal should be to immediately try to teach it back to someone else to enhance the memory centers. This activity boosts the energy and activity of the entire brain.
16) Practice the Mozart Effect: Classical music stimulates the brain more than any other type of music according to the latest research. Mozart’s work has shown the highest degree of activity, in particular the Sonata for Two Pianos in D Major and Piano Concerto No 23).
17) Close Your Eyes: If you have good balance, try doing things with your eyes closed. It could be simple things like getting dressed or more complicated things like walking down a hallway (keep your arms slightly outstretched to catch yourself if needed).
18) Try a New Hobby: Hobbies that depend upon the use of more than one sense are the most Neurobic. They enhance the communication pathways between our senses. This could be things like gardening, sports activities, dancing, horseback riding, playing with your pets, etc.
19) Rearrange Your Home: Try moving around some furniture, change up your office, etc every month or 2. This practice ractivates spatial forces in your visual and somatosensory areas as you readjust your mental maps.
20) Go Some Place New: Visiting a new store, a new town or city or a new turn on your daily walk will cause increased neuronal activity and stimulate more neurogenic effects. Ideally, do this when you have spare time so you can take the time to absorb the new location with all of your senses.