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Why Your Brain Needs Something to Bite On
A healthy diet and high activity level boost mental and emotional resources. But this one-way relationship is only half of the story. There is also the balancing benefit of healthy mental conditioning for the body as a whole.
As in all things in life, balance is key. As much as we may nurture our energy levels, our muscle tone and our cardiovascular vitality, we must also pay attention to the mental machinery that is every bit as much a part of our make-up, even if it can’t be so easily measured in reps, centimetres or beats per minute.
Different people take different approaches to mental exercise, but one of the most contentious issues of recent times – so called brain training is not the answer. For every sponsored advertorial there is an independent scientific paper declaring all those tests are good for is making you better at the tests themselves. They represent a kind of self-fulfilling, closed loop that appears to offer generic benefits, but which can only measure those benefits in their own terms. They might make you feel better about yourself, but that’s as far as it goes.
In terms of retaining an edge into later life, especially combatting the threat of Alzheimer’s, there is no substitute for stretching your brain via continual mental exercise. The argument runs that the way to do that is through some form of intellectual play – chess, crosswords, Sudoku and so on. But for those activities to fully engage and fully stimulate the brain they have to be made consequential. In a sense the nature of play is too trivial to get the job done.
What is needed is a fully immersive activity that has real-world effects so as to fully stimulate the mental resources. ‘Play’ is by its nature too easily put down if it becomes difficult. Instead what is required is something that entails an element of either risk or reward. A detailed analysis of the betting or gaming opportunities available at Bet365, for example, and the willingness to put cash at risk are a way to guarantee that you are fully invested in what you are doing. It is the same logic that keeps people ‘switched on’ at work, but without the necessity to actually labour through a whole day. The complex balancing of mathematical, financial, emotional and informational factors that are woven into an intelligently considered wager are every bit as challenging as a brain training game.
The point of this example is to show that a recreational approach to mental acuity is, in and of itself, insufficient to deliver the benefits that are required to keep mind as well as body in optimal order. Just as a rigorous attention to diet and exercise is the only sure-fire way to maximise the chances of good health, a serious consideration of your mental exercise regime is also important.
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