Written by Chris Claussen, Co-Founder, Chief Innovation Officer
About the Author: Chris has over 20 years of experience in product and business development. For the past five years he has focused exclusively on innovative product development in the functional foods and functional mushrooms space. Chris brings experience exploring, experimenting, and conducting extensive research on the relationship between functional foods/mushrooms and metabolic, brain, and mental health.
When we talk of cognitive fitness being a pillar of brain health, we are referring to truly challenging yourself by getting outside of your comfort zone. The comfort zone is defined as “a behavioral state within which a person operates in an anxiety-neutral condition, using a limited set of behaviors to deliver a steady level of performance, usually without a sense of risk.”
Going outside our comfort zone from a brain health perspective involves intentionally participating in activities that force the brain to work and engage new neural pathways by introducing new and cognitively challenging situations. Pushing our mind and bodies out of our comfort zone does numerous things to our physiological selves, our spiritual selves, and our mental selves. As humans we are meant to adapt to new and challenging situations whether they be mental, physical, or a combination of both. By challenging yourself to learn new things or tasks, you are creating new neural networks within your brain. This is the foundation of neuroplasticity and studies indicate that stimulating neuroplasticity may protect against age-related cognitive decline.
Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to modify, change, and adapt both structure and function throughout life and in response to experience. Until recently it was thought that we lost the ability for neuroplasticity as we age, and although it does get tougher, our brains have the ability to grow new neural connections and strengthen those connections throughout our lifespan. In addition to challenging ourselves, there are many ways to support neuroplasticity including exercise and taking lion’s mane mushroom, which boosts BDNF, or brain-derived neurotrophic factor (more on this in future posts).
Everyone’s line between comfort and challenge is different. Deep down you know your boundary and what it takes to get to a state that is truly challenging. Learning a new language, public speaking, painting, learning an instrument and starting a new business are just a few examples of activities that can stretch us outside our comfort zone. Start today by recognizing where your opportunities for self-improvement are and push yourself and your brain to learn, create and improve. This simple step can be a powerful catalyst to spark neuronal growth and long-term brain health.