Considering that physical health is often dictated by mental health, it would be privy to take nurturing the latter seriously. There are a myriad of means by which this can be achieved, but hiking/being in nature, meditation, yoga, nutrition, and listening to music are the focus here. Each offer well-documented and researched benefits that are advantageous to brain stimulation.
Hiking is an excellent means by which our brains are given a chance to thrive. The combination of a serenely scenic and calming environment allows the mind to cognitively realign itself. Being out in nature has a documented, physiological effect on the neurological functioning of the brain.
A recent study conducted by Stanford University explores the beneficial ramifications of being in nature, even in small doses. Unfortunately, opportunities for many to experience a walk in nature for any period of time have grown fewer and farther between with the ever expanding of the urban sprawl.
Noted by the findings is an acknowledgement that “more than half of the world’s population lives in urban settings, and that is forecast to rise to 70 percent within a few decades. Just as urbanization and disconnection from nature have grown dramatically, so have mental disorders such as depression.”
Yoga is also greatly beneficial to mental health. Not unlike going for a walk in the park or wilderness, it engages both mind and body. An article found on the Harvard University health page details findings, which assert a link between yoga and a substantial decrease in both anxiety and depression.
Cited is a study conducted in 2000, which “examined the effects of a single yoga class for inpatients at a New Hampshire psychiatric hospital. The 113 participants included patients with bipolar disorder, major depression, and schizophrenia. After the class, average levels of tension, anxiety, depression, anger, hostility, and fatigue dropped significantly, as measured by the Profile of Mood States, a standard 65-item questionnaire that participants answered on their own before and after the class.”
Meditation is an excellent practice in regard to mental health and fitness. Not the thumb-to-forefinger and humming cliché, but a very intentional reflection allowing the brain to cease its racing, especially in these modern times that demand we continuously multitask, meet deadlines, and endure undue stress is a crucial practice for our overactive brains. Whether prayer, breathing exercises, or focusing on the blessings in our lives, meditation promotes an environment of tranquility and peace in the midst of the chaos we have become accustomed to in our personal lives.
It may seem that it would go without saying, but physical exercise, from a pickup game of basketball to jumping jacks, is vital to mental health and fitness. Heidi Godman of the Harvard Health Letter notes the tangible benefits to both thinking skills and memory that aerobic exercise, specifically, facilitates. Researchers at the University of British Columbia “found that regular aerobic exercise, the kind that gets your heart and your sweat glands pumping, appears to boost the size of the hippocampus, the brain area involved in verbal memory and learning.”
Lastly, but certainly not least, is music. Music, whether instrumental or otherwise, can evoke nostalgia, good memories, and a general sesame of warmth, all while engaging the brain. Experts at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology take it a step further as detailed in an article via their news site entitled ‘Music in the Brain,’ “MIT neuroscientists have identified a neural population in the human auditory cortex that responds selectively to sounds that people typically categorize as music, but not to speech or other environmental sounds.” It's remarkable that music exudes exclusive qualities to which the brain responds.
Andrea Stewart Roa, M.S.
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