I love double-dipping and stacking health benefits; anything that smells of efficiency thoroughly excites me. Examples include getting vitamin D while forest bathing or walking in nature, or perhaps you fancy a meditative trance while walking. We live in an age where brains are valued over brawn, so anything that enhances mental clarity and cognitive performance is worth its weight in gold. Instead of cheesy tricks to remember people’s names (which I also need) let’s review some exercises you can do to literally change your brain. Each of these biohacks is beneficial as a standalone fitness exercise, so use the knowledge of their brain-boosting benefits as further motivation (or vice versa, depending on your values, either way you get both).
Biohack #1: Handstands
Free, fun, no equipment required, with infinite progressions, handstands are a dream come true. They offer a full swath of fitness-related benefits, but inverting your body rushes blood into your brain, building new capillaries, making it easier to get blood to your brain, which increases oxygen uptake and mental performance. Handstands also stimulate the pituitary and pineal glands, vital for hormone and body balance. Inversion tables will have the same brain blood flow benefits, but they are the clunky, expensive, lazy way to accomplish what a handstand can do (parallel to the free weight versus machine argument in the gym).
Biohack #2: Juggling
Juggling won’t tax your nervous system and fatigue you the way other exercises will, yet they offer a potent brain upgrade. Juggling enhances connections in the brain by changing the white matter (provides the electrical circuitry to connect disparate parts of the brain, sharpening concentration and enabling one of the greatest manifestations of intelligence: connecting disparate phenomena). Learning any new skill can trigger these changes, but juggling is the most universally studied and accessible to anyone. Reason #99 to never stop learning.
Biohack #3: Aerobic Exercise
This one was actually a bit disheartening to learn since I don’t sit comfortably knowing there’s an exceptionally compelling reason why I should be running more. Ignorance is bliss; I was happy just doing my high-intensity workouts, but the goal of life is to continually expand your Bounded Rationality. Sustained (20 minutes or more) aerobic exercise has been shown to stimulate neurogenesis in the hippocampus (improves learning ability). You can literally jog yourself into growing new brain cells. If that isn’t better living through science, I don’t know what is.
You now have the brain boost trifecta: increasing blood flow from handstands, increase white matter and effectively brain power from juggling, and increasing total neurons from aerobic exercise. You’re getting more gas pumped into the engine, a more efficient engine, and a bigger engine. I don’t give a @#$% about cars but (wo)man am I excited, and that’s what this article is all about!