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Motivate Yourself 119: Inactivity

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Ever heard of neuroplasticity?
It means the brain’s ability to change and a lot of research has been undertaken to show just how flexible our brain really is, and coming back from a holiday last month made me think.

Usually when I talk about neuroplasticity it is because of the positives that come from it. Learning a new habit, recovering from a stroke that sort of thing.
But…
If our brain can become smarter due of certain conditions then it goes without saying that we can make ourselves less smart too.

So, how does it do it?
How can we avoid it? And what’s that got to do with going on holiday?

Well… there’s actually a lot that can happen whilst on holiday that can reduce our brain power.
Firstly dehydration, a lot of Brits will go on holiday to try to escape the gloomy weather but heat isn’t good for the brain.
Research has shown that we can drop up to 20 IQ points due to dehydration. 20 points is the difference between someone who’s quite bright and someone who’s average.
Further problems occur if you try to rehydrate with alcohol which strips way more hydration out of your brain than it puts in.
Sunbathing will have the same dehydrating effect. Research at the University of Erlangen in Germany, suggests that combining relaxation and sunbathing causes our frontal lobes literally to shrivel.

We already know that doing nothing reduces oxygen to the brain, yet a lot of people will say that their idea of a good holiday is about doing nothing.
But that sort of inactivity causes the nerve cells involved in sending electrical impulses in the brain to degrade. Add dehydration caused by excess heat, alcohol, or both, and brain cell volume may decrease by up to 15 per cent.
2 weeks of that and your IQ can drop by another 20 points.

When you think about it, it seems obvious.
If there’s a sure fire way of losing a skill it’s by not practising it. Imagine you used to play the piano as a child, but you stopped aged 12 and didn’t play the piano again until you were 24.
Are you going to be anywhere near as good?
Of course not. why would the neurons of the brain keep that hard wired ability, when they could be used for something else.
That’s how the brain works, our abilities, our skills our personality is flexible. It’s constantly changing.

So, if you don’t use certain areas of your brain even for just a fortnight it will shrink, the good news is that when you start it all back up again in only 4 or 5 days you’re back to where you were before.

But you have to start it back up again!

I think this is why depression can cause so many further issues.
Practise makes perfect even with our emotions.
If you practise feeling lonely, misunderstood, rejected or pessimistic you can get really good at it.
So good that you can do it without thinking. It becomes effortless.

Maybe it’s the inactivity that causes some of the symptoms that clients describe as depression.
The inability to concentrate and the forgetfulness. Because with that comes a belief that we must be losing our minds and so we withdraw from society, hide under the duvet and get worse.

The research into a 2 week holidays worth of inactivity shrinking the brain led onto the ways to prevent it which actually weren’t hard work.

10 minutes of Scrabble, Sudoku or Chess every day or anything thats intellectually stimulating, even a brisk walk can help.

So in short, inactivity is a bad thing. Whether that’s because of a holiday or depression, make sure you’re intellectually stimulated.

And in modern society we’re not short of ways to keep ourselves mentally busy, there are an endless supply of Apps for our phones and tablets, websites filled with crosswords and sudoku games.

If you really want to have a good think a friend of mine, Elliot Line has a great website, elliottline.com
Elliott is an author of puzzle books and edits the Mensa magazine “Enigma”.
His website has some great puzzles, and the internet and magazines are full of ways to make us think.
There's always something to do to keep you stimulated.

But it's just easier to do nothing isn’t it?

Because of this we have to put in some extra effort to make sure we stay alert and enthusiastic!

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