Crossword puzzles. Sudoku. Word games. Logic problems. These are common recipes from the diet books for the mind. Go traveling. Take up knitting or gardening. Learn Italian. Drive a different way to work. Get an advanced degree. Anything and everything that piques cognitive activity belongs in our catalogue of mental health activities.
“That’s all good,” says Barbara Strauch, author of The Secret Life of the Grown-Up Brain: The Surprising Talents of the Middle-Aged Mind and New York Times health and medical science editor. But the most intriguing advice Ms. Strauch has heard is this: “Deliberately challenge your view of the world. Talk to people you totally disagree with.”
It makes sense. Nothing kicks the brain into overdrive like having to defend your point of view against attack, or the desire to dismantle an argument you find unsound or wrongheaded. What’s more, Ms. Strauch asserts that the brain is actually primed for questioning assumptions, since reexamining our beliefs provides the opportunity to revisit, or more deeply contemplate, why we believe the way we do.
“Confronting things you disagree with may not make you change your mind,” she says, “but it will perhaps give you a view that is more satisfying to the middle-aged brain.”
And who knows? Sometimes we may even discover that we’ve been wrong.