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Science says that imagination improves the brain. But the environmental factor and good physical activity also help. But above all, we learn to love the most precious tool we have - the brain.

The genius Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who invented the most famous detective of all time, the infallible Sherlock Holmes, used to underline how important it was to keep one's brain young by training it as much as possible; in one of his famous phrases, he indicates that a man's brain "is like an attic, where you have to choose the furniture with which to fill it, and above all it is foolish to put any object in there."

“My brain," he began, "rebels against any form of stasis, of intellectual stagnation. Give me problems to solve, give me work to do, give me the most abstruse cryptogram to decipher, or the most complex analytical puzzle to examine, and I will be in my element.
(Arthur Conan Doyle)

But what makes a brain truly brilliant, is certainly knowing how to use with common sense a series of strategies to be able to: decode the messages that we receive daily in various situations to take the best from each experience. All this is therefore possible, under the precise indication of A.C.Doyle (and his alter ego Sherlock) through:

  • observation;

  • selective memory;

  • analysis of body language;

  • logic;

  • problem solving;

  • and creative thinking.

#1 Environmental factors affect the mind (and heart)

“Nature is not a place to visit. It is simply our home”. (Gary Snyder)

The first consideration to make if you want to maintain as healthy and young a brain as possible is to have a 'regular' blood circulation. In fact, a heart that works well, is maintained well if it has in good condition the so-called cardiovascular factors, thus improving the performance in speed of the brain itself, in particular the factors are:

  • the control of blood pressure

  • maintenance of low cholesterol levels;

  • controlling blood glucose levels.

Furthermore, in the two-way communication between heart and brain (and vice versa), having an irregular heartbeat is nowadays synonymous with health; however, only if this variability is caused by the synergy of the two branches of the autonomic nervous system (known as the ANS) in a concrete interaction with each other. There are therefore effects of cardiac activity on the emotional and cognitive function of the brain, where low variability indicates brain ageing, while high variability promotes brain regeneration.

But, as we have seen, although cardiac wellbeing is definitely important for brain ageing, there is another indirect factor that determines both cardiovascular health and the relationship to brain ageing that causes various degenerative diseases, and that is: the built environment factor. This concept, reported in the Journal Of the American Heart Association in March 2019, recalls the importance of the urban aspect and the viability at a qualitative level of housing and all the buildings present and absent on the territory, which actually influence the health of people living mainly in cities.

The exponential increase in atmospheric pollution and noise, for example, are among the main causes of obesity, high blood pressure and stress, to name but a few. At the same time, the JOAHA study provides an interesting analysis of the reduction in the risk of cardiovascular disease in places where there are more green areas than concrete, which is a bit like saying that: "Nature is not a place to visit. It is simply our home." (Gary Snyder).

The first suggestion to maintain a healthy and young brain could be to start a different lifestyle, choosing to live more outdoors, in green spaces, where nature offers its most beautiful colours and fruits, available to all of us.

#2 Synergy between mental and physical well-being

“Mens sana in corpore sano” (Decimo Giunio Giovenale)

The hectic life of those who often live in cities is often determined by the choices made quickly, (due to lack of time) in reaching goals, places and people, without realising that our brain suffers above all, but also our heart and thus our whole body. As the ancient Latins recalled with the famous phrase "mens sana in corpore sano" (a healthy mind in a healthy body), there is in any case a deep connection between mental and physical well-being, a perfect secret weapon available "for free", such as the physical body, capable of supporting us to live much better; but to acquire a lifestyle that is better for the brain), the 2nd golden rule is first of all to learn to listen to your body. The basic steps to understand what is good for us and what is not are therefore as follows:

  • experience the sensations that arise without having to understand them straight away: by doing this, we slowly free ourselves from the weight of our emotions and our bodies thank us too, feeling lighter;

  • dance with the music with your eyes closed, following only the sound and giving voice to your body moving; to be done at home, alone when we are not disturbed, putting on a piece of music that we like and letting yourself go, listening to the piece as if it were the first time, but with your eyes closed. It will be like feeling on a cloud of affection and full self care;

  • following our instincts as children do; it is a way of feeling our body telling us whether we like something or not. An easy and useful exercise, is when a hunch comes, not to listen to prejudices and preconceptions, since they often come from outside, but try to follow your intuition (or little voice) already imagining the future situation. You will feel like real magicians!

#3 Your brain's best ally is imagination

“We don't need magic to change the world: we already have within us all the power we need, we have the power to imagine things better than they are.(J.K. Rowling)

As we have seen so far, in order for a brain to age as late as possible, it needs to: live in harmony, be healthy, and at the same time listen to the messages sent by our body. But there is another rule (the third) that serves to enhance a brain and make it young, alert and therefore healthy and that is: imagination.

We certainly do not want to diminish critical thinking, which with its rationality and selectivity of a problem, helps us to make choices; but in addition to logical reasoning, we also need to explore new ideas, which can only be achieved through creative thinking. Don't worry if you think you don't have creative thinking. There are those who are born with it and those who have to work on it for a while before they can use it to the full. So, the question to ask yourself is just one:

  • How do I think creatively?

Answering this question may initially seem difficult, but in reality what most people lack in order to realise their dreams, thus becoming stronger and longer-lived, is above all linked to the choice of the right tools for thinking, which translates into all those possibilities of: creating ideas and then organising them and bringing them to their final fulfilment.

A widely used technique to train creative thinking, in order to activate and enhance the brain, but also to solve problems and come up with new projects, is called the Capture System, (devised by the British Capture Arts and Creative Project for the education system in the UK, (see also: which combines creative thinking techniques with the aforementioned practical activities (always creative). In short, those who want to try to train their imagination must first of all remember to:

  • Remain calm and patient, as it takes time to change the way you think;

  • Facing the problem as a positive challenge, without accumulating stress and obsession about it;

  • Combining sensory and physical action helps to accumulate more information for effective resolution.

The Capture System, therefore, is an effective technique that encourages and increases confidence in creative thinking by exploring new connections in the brain. In short, the steps to activate creative thinking are:

  • Create the right environment: switch off your smartphone and computer and start thinking with a pen and paper... simple, isn't it?

  • Ask open and correct questions: don't try to block the flow of ideas, even if they may seem far from the goal, just try and try...

  • Gather all the information of the case: like a good detective, like Sherlock Holmes, it is important to gather the available data, as if we were a Computer;

  • Set a date and time to think: deciding on a time to think about a problem and then working on it is definitely beneficial to the brain and the problem itself;

  • Think with your hands to create or re-invent: in addition to thinking, touching objects and materials with your hands (as artists do) is inspiring creative thinking that creates action through objects;

  • Experiment in order to learn: trying is used to understand whether a solution works or not, with an objectivity that grows gradually with the experience gained through experimentation..

#10 daily practices that improve the mind

In concrete terms, let's look at the 3 rules in 10 daily practices, which we think can help the brain to stay young, dynamic and above all healthy. The only suggestion: you don't need to follow them all at once; start with the practice you like best and then gradually add others (if you feel like it). The principle of quality and not quantity applies.

And the important thing is to see the practices for what they are: a support and a positive challenge to be overcome in joy and light-heartedness. I like to think of it as "a game that continues when we grow up".

  1. Meditation/physical activity. Both promote concentration and relaxation, eliminating stress. It also improves circulation, joints and muscle strength, combating the onset of osteoporosis.

  2. Writing with the left hand: Leonardo da Vinci did it. Try it as a daily challenge.

  3. Guessing objects with your eyes closed: Use touch as your main sense.

  4. Imagine an everyday experience (but not yet lived). idealise a day

  5. Download applications with games and curiosities. It only takes 10 minutes a day.

  6. Reconstruct images of situations, places and people you have just seen. Use your memory, pay attention to the details you encounter during the day and then write them down in your notebook.

  7. Yes to antioxidant foods, no to fatty foods. Prefer tomatoes, spinach, bitter cocoa, etc.

  8. Learn a language/new hobby. There is no better cure than a passion cultivated every day.

  9. Broaden your 5 senses. In addition to touch, start exploring the other sensory receptors (smell, taste and hearing) with your eyes closed, such as: taking a shower, eating, looking for clothes in the wardrobe.

  10. Changing your route to work or home. New habits make the brain more alert and curious, as if we were going out to explore or have new adventures... But then that's it!

Recommended books:

Uno studio in rosso, Arthur Conan Doyle, Oscar gialli, Traduttore A. Tedeschi, ristampa 2016


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