The right and left sides of the brain focus on different skills which, when combined, enable individuals to be rational and spontaneous, analytical and creative. As with physical exercise, working on both sides of the brain enables them to sharpen and coordinate. Moreover, individuals should not reject brain exercise due to concerns about age or background, according to neuroanatomist Dr. Marian C. Diamond, professor of biology at the University of California-Berkeley. Diamond maintains that the process of learning, at any stage of life, stimulates nerve cells to form dendrites, linking knowledge and experience and forming what she calls the “hardware” of intelligence.
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Imagine yourself in school or the workplace, a cultural or community event or a recreational activity. To emphasize the right brain, try to keep your perspective broad, envisioning yourself satisfied or performing well. To emphasize the left brain, visualize specific steps you could take to improve your performance, and focus on the details. This can be translated into a hands-on activity by visualizing a completed creative project such as woodworking, gardening or visual art, then executing the sequence of steps necessary to make it real.
Take up chess and checkers, which are board games with both visual and analytical components. In order to play, you must assess spaces on the board, engaging the right side of the brain, and analyze your moves and those your opponent, engaging the left side. Jigsaw puzzles also offer both spatial and logical challenges and can be completed solo. Sudoku puzzles emphasize deductive logic, whereas crossword puzzles focus on language use; both stimulate the left side of the brain.
Change your tendency toward everyday problem-solving to keep both sides of your brain active. Instead of defining issues or creating strategies, a right brain function, try approaching problems spontaneously and instinctively, a left brain function. Alternatively, curb your impulsiveness and focus on practical, reality-based solutions that have a concrete set of steps. Keep in mind that individuals who are more left-brain dominant may adapt to a new environment before learning its specific demands or requirements. By comparison, people who are right-brain dominant may be so focused on deadlines, rules or regulations that they may be unable to appreciate the larger significance of an event.
The Stroop Test
Test the ability of your two brain sides to work together by writing a series of color names using alternate-colored inks, then try to read only the color. For example, write “green” using red ink, then try to read the word as “red.” The Stroop Test fuses color and language awareness and activates the anterior cingulate, a section of the brain which lies between the left and right hemispheres and aids in resolving conflicts between them. It is attributed to psychologist John Stroop, who published the protocol as part of his Ph.D. thesis in 1935.
Brain exercise should not be considered a substitute for a healthy lifestyle, which includes making sensible choices for eating and exercising regularly. Moreover, sudden changes in speech, memory or motor coordination may be the sign of a serious health condition and require immediate medical attention. Individuals concerned about supporting their brain function should obtain guidance from a qualified health care professional.