The NASA Twin Study Proves You Need to Exercise Your Brain
One of the wonderful things that space travel has done for social scientists is provide us a neat environment to test human behavior! When trying to ferret out what parts of our behavior are genetic or environmental, psychologists used twin studies to observe not only identical twins raised together but also those raised apart.
NASA just published the findings of the coolest twin study ever conducted.
They took identical twins, Scott and Mark Kelly, and had one live on the International Space Station (ISS) for nearly a year while the other lived on Earth.
The findings of this study shed some interesting light on what happens to the human body when subjected to space. One of the findings was that Scott Kelly?s (flight twin) cognitive function seemed to decrease during the mission as compared to his twin’s.
Cognitive decline is something of interest to most people. The fear of losing one?s memory or cognitive ability is a very real thing, but the good news is that we can do something about it.
The research is very clear that those who engage in meaningful, cognitive activity into their older years, retain much of their ability. This means we need to stay mentally active.
Sure, you need to exercise to keep your body healthy, but you must also exercise your brain. How do we exercise our brains?
For many this means engaging in learning activities! Lifelong learners are said to report the highest levels of life satisfaction, health and have fewer cases of Alzheimer?s disease and dementia. In Europe, the Lifelong Learning Programme was created so that any individual, at any point in their lives, can engage in meaningful education. This means a retired person can attend university or learn a new trade. This also means that they included activity that is not school-bound, like learning to play an instrument or appreciating art or music.
Remember ?RIF: Reading is Fundamental?? They were right! Reading does something to the brain that nothing else can. Reading activates several areas of the brain all at once. For example, when we are watching TV, the electrical impulses in our brain are flat and consistent. It is only when commercials come on that our brain shows more activity because they are manipulating the image, sound and content to make us pay attention. Reading a suspenseful novel activates several parts of our brain and engages our emotional responses! Our brain naturally engages in predicting who did it and that activity continues long after we shut the book.
Stress is a natural response to outside pressure. When we focus on our reaction to the pressure and anticipate more burden, we create anxiety. Anxiety is a horrible thing for our mind and body. It puts so much strain on all our systems, from our heart, muscles and brain, that it is exhausting. Managing stress in a healthy manner will not only mitigate any anxiety but also help you build up your immune response and keep you mentally sharper. A good way of handling this is to focus on the problem and not the stress. If the outside pressure has a solution, solve it. If it does not, let it go and resolve to handle the aftermath. This trick handles everything from a deadline to death.
These ideas are not new, but they are important to living a healthy life. Cognitive functioning, mental acuity and having a working memory are the core of who we are. We may have no way of knowing how long we may have to live but we can do something about how well we live the life we still have.
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