What makes an exercise Neurobic?

THROUGHOUT THE COURSE OF EVERY DAY, YOUR BRAIN IS ACTIVATED BY YOUR SENSES, AND YOU ENCOUNTER NEW STIMULI ALL THE TIME.  WHY AREN’T THESE NEUROBIC ACTIVITIES?  WHAT IS IT ABOUT THE SPECIFIC THINGS WE SUGGEST THAT MAKES THEM NEUROBIC?

To begin with, not everything that’s novel or new provides the kind or strength ofnerve cell stimulation that is necessary to activate new brain circuits and enhance neurotrophin production. For example, if you normally write with a pen and one day choose to write everything in pencil, you’ve broken your routine and are doing something new. So, in some small way, you’ve changed the patterns of activity in the parts of your brain activated by touching. But such a small change wouldn’t recruit new sensory associations important enough to engage the circuitry required to really exercise your brain.


Exercise # 3 Brushing Roulette Chapter IV ... Starting and Ending the Day illustrated by David Suter ©1999

Exercise # 3 Brushing Roulette
Chapter IV ... Starting and Ending the Day illustrated by David Suter ©1999

Contrast this with deciding one day to change the hand you normally write with. If you are right handed, controlling a pen is normally the responsibility of the cortex on the left side of your brain. When you change to writing left handed, the large network of connections, circuits, and brain areas involved in writing with your left hand—which are normally rarely used—are now activated on the right side of your brain. Suddenly your brain is confronted with an engaging task that’s interesting, challenging , fun and potentially frustrating.

Making multi-sensory associations, and doing something novel that is important or engaging to you—these are the key conditions for a genuine Neurobic exercise.

TO BE MORE SPECIFIC

1. Involve one or more of your senses in a novel context.
You can use additional senses to do an ordinary task by blunting the sense normally used. For instance:

Get dressed for work or take a shower with your eyes closed.
Eat a meal with your family in silence. Use only visual cues.

or combine two or more senses in unexpected ways:

Listen to a specific piece of music with eyes closed while smelling a particular aroma like vanilla, chocolate, or lavender and think about a vacation you liked. 

2. Engage your attention.
To stand out from the background of everyday activities something has to be unusual, fun, surprising or evoke one of your basic emotions like happiness, love or anger:

Go camping or bird watching or fishing or nature walking on the weekend.
Take your child, spouse or parent to your work for the day.

3. Break a routine activity in an unexpected, novel way (novelty just for it’s own sake is not highly neurobic).

Take a completely new route to work. Shop at a farmer’s market instead of a supermarket.     Completely rearrange your workplace or home desktop or table or kitchen surfaces for a day.