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How to benefit from distracting yourself from work and study: 5 activities to help your brain switch gears

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What do you usually do to take a break from writing code or studying programming theory? Swipe through social media? Watch TV shows? Doing a workout? Everyone has their opinion, but some believe that the best rest is a change of activity. We have selected several activities that will help you switch away from programming while pumping up your mental abilities simultaneously. And to avoid making unfounded claims, we will back up our list of activities with scientific research ;)


Why is music so good at taking your mind off of your worries? Because listening to music triggers various emotions, which happens to switch our brains away from work and to these emotions. If you do more than just listen and actually learn to play an instrument, then new neural connections will develop in your brain. This helps develop intelligence and fosters good brain health. What can we say? Being able to play an instrument is just great all around.


Research shows that studying music not only develops specific areas of the brain, but also improves communication between different parts of the brain, positively affecting verbal memory, spatial reasoning, and even literacy skills. And when it comes to these skills, professional musicians tend to surpass non-musicians, reports The Guardian, citing neurophysiologist Catherine Loveday of the University of Westminster. Recent work by scientists shows that studying music accelerates the recovery of people who have suffered a stroke and can also improve information perception in children with dyslexia and other language disorders. There is also evidence that musical training in childhood later protects against the development of cognitive impairment and dementia.


You might wonder how reading could be on this list. After all, it seems that nothing could be easier. But in fact, reading is a complex process for our brains. Regular reading does train various zones of the brain. When we read, the primary visual cortex, motor cortex, angular gyrus, and other zones are activated: all this happens as we transform the read words into a mental picture and understand the meaning of the text. It is known that thirty minutes of reading a day reduces the risk of developing Alzheimer's in healthy patients over forty-five years of age by almost a third (research by the University of Tel Aviv, Israel).


By regularly "turning on" neurons and synapses in the areas of the brain involved in the reading process, we maintain the functions they are responsible for. These include attention and memory. If left untrained, these brain functions are the first to suffer in old age. And besides training your neurons, reading can be a great way to relax. In an experiment conducted at the University of Sussex (UK), researchers first artificially elevated the stress levels of a group of volunteers, offered several ways to relax, and then remeasured their stress level, as indicated by heart rate and muscle tension. The offered relaxation methods were reading books, listening to music, playing a video game, walking, and drinking a cup of tea or coffee. Reading proved to be most effective, reducing stress levels by 68% in subjects who spent only 6 minutes reading a book. Now try to remember how long ago you last read a fiction book and not technical documentation or the news?


The recently released Netflix series Queen's Gambit about a chess genius has revived popular interest in chess. But beyond participating in mainstream culture, chess is fun, engaging, and rewarding.


One of the critical skills that chess cultivates is the ability to think consistently. During a chess game, nothing that happens on the board is an accident. The victory goes to players who know how to contemplate their moves rather than just playing randomly. Chess lets you simultaneously use both logical and abstract thinking. A chess player must think through steps in advance and build hypothetical scenarios to unfold the game. Playing chess requires a person to use working memory and long-term memory simultaneously. Few activities are capable of putting you into these mental states. Heavy utilization of your brain affects cognitive abilities most beneficially.


"Every major decision I’ve made in the last eight years has been prefaced by a run," filmmaker Casey Neistat said in an interview with Runner's World.


After a good run, the human brain functions better. And there is a scientific explanation for this reality. After jogging, changes were recorded in the frontal lobes of the brain. These areas experience increased activity after people adopt a long-term habit of physical activity. After 30-40 minutes of vigorous aerobic exercise, researchers recorded an increase in blood flow in this area, which, incidentally, is associated with forward planning, attention and focus, goal setting and time management. Running also affects the regulation of emotions, including reducing anxiety and stress. Running helps create a state of mindfulness, a sense of "here and now", as we observe sensations in our own body. Have you noticed that it is much easier to solve problems when your mind is fresh? During a run, we train the body, allowing the brain to stop thinking about work. It is this kind of distraction that can later help solve a complex programming problem.


Apple founder Steve Jobs practiced mindful meditation for many years: "If you just sit and observe, you will see how restless your mind is. If you try to calm it, it only makes it worse. But over time it does calm, and when it does, there's room to hear more subtle things. That's when your intuition starts to blossom, and you start to see things more clearly and be in the present more. Your mind just slows down, and you see a tremendous expanse in the moment. You see so much more than you could see before." This is how Steve Jobs described the effect of meditation to his biographer Walter Isaacson.


Today, the positive effects of meditation have been proven in neuroscience. Giants such as Google, General Mills, Target and Ford are specifically teaching their employees about the meditation that Jobs discovered decades ago. Through regular meditation practice, you will get rid of stress and insomnia, and begin to think clearly. In addition, meditation is something that does not require any resources other than 10-15 minutes of free time. What activities do you prefer to take your mind off of programming? Share in the comments ;) How to benefit from distracting yourself from work and study: 5 activities to help your brain switch gears - 1