I was listening to an episode of Dr. Ginger Campbell’s Brain Science Podcast today about research on the aging brain (see BSP #87) and was fascinated at the link between this work and the benefits of keeping a nature sketchbook. Here are a few of the things that really got me thinking. Cognitive decline with age is not inevitable. Nature journaling is a great way to keep your brain fit, building new connections between neurons and strengthening those that already exist.
- Neural plasticity: Your brain constantly lays down new neurons, yes even in adulthood. What we have to do us to use them so that they become incorporated into networks. If we do not use them, the atrophy. Nature journaling is active and dynamic and thereby great brain food. The more we practice it, the more we build up the neurons that support it. You literally rewire your brain by using it.
- How we use our journal makes a difference. Use your journal as a platform to help you discover something new, even in a familiar object. Push yourself outside of your comfort zone by being intentional about recording your questions and delving into what you do not know instead of just reaffirming what you do. Seek out connections. Intentionally relate experiences and ideas. How is this related to that? For more on this see my blog post on the three prompts for deeper nature observation: I notice, I wonder, it reminds me of.
- Cognitive training exercises may not transfer to meaningful experiences your everyday life. If you sit around training yourself to so some mind game, you will get good at it but there is not necessarily a cross over to helping you in other ways. If you are going to do something to strengthen your brain, why not pick something that also builds useful skills like… I don’t know… perhaps… drawing, writing, observing, or learning about biodiversity in your neighborhood?
- Healthy heart and healthy brain: Your brain needs oxygen. Research shows that walking is a great way to exercise your heart. Incorporating walking in nature as a part of your journaling practice waters your brain.
- Social stimulation is probably better than doing it on your own. What would happen if you went sketching with friends or family on a regular basis? Why not start or join a local nature sketching group? What would happen if you combine that with travel?
It’s a good podcast and will definitely get you thinking. If that reinforces your commitment and passion for nature journaling you may end up doing that thinking with an even stronger network of neurons!
Addendum: you may also be interested in reading The Dana Consortium Report on Arts and Cognition: Learning, Arts, and the Brain.