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Helpful Hobbies: Doing what you love strengthens your brain!

From reading, to creating art, to gaming, to going outside, the possibilities of what you can do with your free time are endless. However did you know that the hobbies you choose to fill your free time with actually strengthen your brain?


3 children looking at a painting at a museum

For the museum-goers

The consumption of art and culture has been an essential part of our history, and still proves to be lucrative to this day! The arts are said to nourish systems of sensory, attention, cognition, emotion, and so much more. These systems are integral to all other learning, in various different settings.

Empathetic artists

When you observe a piece of art, your brain is potentially firing the same neurons the artist did when they created the piece, this creates new neural pathways and is the reason why you may feel inspired when you go to museums! This is an example of “embodied cognition,” where thoughts are not just shaped by our brains but rather our sensory interactions with the world around us!

In addition, when you look at art, regardless of what it’s portraying, the part of the brain related to pleasure increases in activity. In fact, there was a study that revealed that participants’ blood flow increased in that part of their brain as much as 10% when looking at art they considered most beautiful. That 10% is the same as when you look at a loved one!

In turn, this sense of awe, wonder, and inspiration promote healthy levels of cytokines, leading to an improved immune system and inflammation responses, allowing people to live longer, healthier lives.


A dog flipping through pages of a book

Is reading more your speed?

Have you ever heard a book worm say that reading transports you to another world? Well, they’re actually right!

Reading gives us the ability to increase neuroplasticity, become more empathetic, and even trick our brains into thinking we’ve experienced what we’ve read!

The Original Virtual Reality

Reading creates visual imagery in our minds that is automatic. Even listening to an audiobook activates various parts of your brain depending on what you’re listening to. When we're listening to a story, not only are language processing parts of our brain activated, experiential parts of our brain come alive too, like for example, your sensory cortex lighting up when you hear or read about food or your motor cortex activating when there is motion. you give your brain good exercise!

You might not have known it, but the reason why reading is considered the first form of virtual reality is because your brain actually can't make a distinction between reading about certain experiences and actually living through them! This means that the same neurological regions are stimulated whether or not you read about a situation or if you actually experienced it. Deep reading allows us to feel what characters in our stories feel, which in turn makes us more empathetic to people in our realities. No wonder why we feel so connected to stories as if they’re real!

Do it for the plot!

Although any kind of reading can stimulate the brain, it has been proven that reading media for literary study is more effective for stimulating and exercising the brain compared to reading for pleasure, however furthermore, learning a foreign language through reading provides growth in the hippocampus and cerebral cortex of the brain.

Plotlines of novels tend to follow a pattern of beginning, middle, and end, which in turn trains our brains to think in sequences! The more we read, the more we think in cause and effect terms, leading to an increased brain plasticity, and attention span!

Not everyone has an affinity to reading, and that’s okay! Reading is not something that everyone yearns to be proficient in, but training oneself in order to read more has been proven to increase white matter in the area of the brain responsible for language. By training yourself to love reading, you can improve brain structure greatly.


Two videogame controllers with a soccer videogame in the background

Do video games pique your interest?

Video games on the human brain have been researched and debated on for decades, but has led to varying results, So what really are its effects?

Gaming mechanics

Through its use of attention control and reward processing, video games have been shown to increase brain plasticity, which is the way in which the brain adapts to learning! the basis behind this is that gaming has seen to increase the brain's gray matter, which contains billions of neurons responsible for controlling movement, retaining memories, and regulating emotions

The demands for attention to detail and task management that various genres of video games require allows players to feel a barrage of reinforcement throughout the completions of game objectives. This in turn requires strong and precise attention and reaction to decipher the auditory and visual cues video game objectives throw at a player, leading to increased focus and hand-eye coordination. Furthermore, Video games are also able to improve the ability to set shift. Not to be confused by multitasking, set shifting is the ability to move back and forth between different tasks quickly


A bit of a catch

However, what makes video games so controversial is that many of the studies done contradict each other. But what remains constant is the risk of video game addictions. The constant stimulation of video games are what can prompt an addiction.The mechanisms of which are similar to other substance use disorders, activating the same parts of the brain and creating a dopamine overload.

A lot of the effects of video games are multifaceted as well. For example, while they may increase spatial awareness and hand-eye coordination, they can also cause structural brain differences and a loss of self-control. In addition, while the effects of videogames can be beneficial, they are not the only stimulants the brain can learn from. Real life events that mirror some of the quick-time objectives of video games can prove to be more influential. In conclusion, although the effects of videogames are varied and are still being researched, the consistency is that their effects are certainly real.

Whether positive or negative, video games are a powerful form of entertainment and it is important to form healthy relationships in our usage with them, to be wary of the prevention of video game addictions.


Conclusion

This list is not extensive, there are thousands of hobbies people can enjoy and niches they can be a part of! However one thing is for sure, and the similarities between all of these hobbies are that they have the potential to transport people to new worlds, grow the brain, and lead to happier, healthier lives.


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