Winter weather doesn't just affect your physical health -- it can affect your mental health, too.
We may feel more tired during winter because we are exposed to less sunlight throughout the day, which can have a significant impact on how fatigued and drowsy we feel.
Our bodies respond to darkness by producing melatonin, a hormone that helps us sleep. Thus, when the days get shorter and we spend more of our waking hours in darkness, we naturally begin to feel less energetic.
However, a sleepy brain is a sluggish brain, and your fatigued mind certainly won't help you stay on top of your work or home life this winter.
To keep your brain active and healthy, foster these knowledge pools and maintain your mental energy all season long:
1. Learn a language
Whether you're learning new words in your native language or learning a foreign language, expanding this knowledge pool is a great way to get your mental juices flowing.
One recent study even found that people who speak two languages tend to have higher-functioning brains than those who speak only their native language. Bilingual people are also better at separating important information from non-important information. Thus, this can be a great way to not only exercise your brain, but also learn very practical and useful communication skills.
2. Practice yoga
In addition to being a great workout, yoga has also been shown to significantly increase brain function -- even more so than aerobic workouts.
In this study from the Journal of Physical Activity & Health, researchers had participants engage in a 20-minute yoga session, as well as a 20-minute treadmill jogging session. The participants' memory, language understanding, problem solving, reasoning, and decision making were all tested after each workout.
The study concluded that the participants' cognitive functions had all improved much more after the yoga session than they did after the jogging session. So, if you're looking for a way to keep your mind active while working your muscles at the same time, work in some yoga each day.
3. Play an instrument
If you learned an instrument in your younger years, that's great! Studies have shown that practicing an instrument as a child can help your brain stay sharp throughout the entirety of your life.
Yet, even as an adult, there are a number of mental benefits to learning an instrument. One University of Kansas study found that brain functions improve the more years that you play an instrument, even at as little as one year of practice.
Therefore, while people who have been playing instruments since childhood may have slightly higher-functioning brains, it's never too late to start learning.
4. Do math
While not all of us enjoy math (I positively abhorred it in school), it is a beneficial mental exercise of which we should all make better use.
Studies show that different parts of our brains are used when we do different kinds of math. Making exact calculations, for example, uses an entirely different part of our brain than estimating numbers or counting on our fingers.
Therefore, you may be able to improve your cognitive functioning by exactly calculating a few math problems and estimating a few different problems each day. This will exercise the different areas of your bran involved in both and keep challenging you mentally, which is important for maintaining memory and other brain functions.
5. Develop your senses
Whenever you engage your brain in something important, make an active effort to use as many senses as possible.
A study cited in Harvard Health found that people who engage more of their senses in a task are likely to remember the information or experience better. Thus, fostering this kind of knowledge can be a great way to succeed at expanding any of the knowledge pools listed above.
The next time you need to review a project at work or commit something to memory, try being more aware of your other senses to encode the memory better and make your brain stronger.
While it's very tempting to curl up in front of the TV on winter nights and mindlessly drown in your favorite show, doing so will make your brain lethargic, and winter's only just started!
Exercise your brain on a regular basis and you'll find it easier to be more productive and efficient, even during the coldest of winter days.
How do you keep your brain in shape? I'd love to hear your suggestions in the comments!