Why Trying New Things Can Help Your Brain Stay Healthy, According to a Neurosurgeon

Turns out, you can teach an old brain new tricks.

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We all know the importance of exercise and movement for our bodies. Whether it's going for a run or bike ride to support cardiac health or lifting weights to build muscle strength, our bodies need to be taken care of—and the brain is no exception. It's important to keep your brain healthy and according to Dr. Sanjay Gupta, there are easy ways to achieve that.

On a radio broadcast of Fresh Air, Gupta spoke with host Terry Gross about the coronavirus, how our brains function, how to keep our brains healthy and his book, Keep Sharp: Build a Better Brain at Any Age (buy it: Amazon, $16). As with any part of the body, we need to maintain our brain health—and trying new things can help do just that. Read on to learn more about the importance of new brain cells and Gupta's simple suggestions to keep our minds sharp as we get older.

Getty Images / Kanyarat Yasowong / Veronika Oliinyk / archivector

Why It's Important to Try New Things

In order to keep our brains healthy and functioning, it's important to develop new brain cells. New brain cells "can have connections with other brain cells and, as a result form, you know, new pathways throughout your brain," Gupta explains. These new cells and pathways are critical to supporting brain health and essentially act as an exercise for your brain. With new pathways, you might "see patterns that you would otherwise miss. You may be faster at processing things," Gupta says. In addition to new pathways, it's also important to maintain existing pathways, which is where tasks like crossword puzzles can come in handy. Although, Gupta notes that getting outside of your comfort zone is more important for brain health.

So, how exactly are new brain cells generated? Luckily, it doesn't require tremendous effort. Gupta says, "the act of learning new things, the act of experiencing something new...can all generate these new brain cells and these new pathways." Whether you attempt to learn a new language, take up crocheting or learn how to garden, engaging in new tasks is important for your brain.

In addition to new things, Gupta also says, "doing something that's typical for you but in a different way" can also lead to new brain cells and pathways. For example, Gupta suggests eating with your non-dominant hand or putting on a tie in the dark with your eyes closed. Essentially "the more you can recruit different parts of your brain to do even simple activities, the better it is for your brain now and the better it is for your long-term brain health," Gupta says.

Whether you try something new or something old in a new way, both are important activities for maintaining brain health. And one easy way that we'll be recruiting our brains to stay healthy is by cooking up a new recipe like Sweet Potato & Bean Enchiladas and eating it with our non-dominant hand. Not only is it delicious, but your taste buds and your brain cells will thank you.

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