Why your brain needs breaks from work

walk in woods photo
CC BY-NC 3.0 lindakowen

As if we really needed more science to tell us to take a break from work. We already know how important things like frequent walks, meditation sessions and yes, even naps, are for keeping our brain healthy. But we don't always listen to sage advice telling us to take it easy. We can often be a bit addicted to work, and fail to take these needed brain-breathers. So here is yet more science telling us why mental breaks are so important.

Scientific American reports:

In making an argument for the necessity of mental downtime, we can now add an overwhelming amount of empirical evidence to intuition and anecdote. Why giving our brains a break now and then is so important has become increasingly clear in a diverse collection of new studies investigating: the habits of office workers and the daily routines of extraordinary musicians and athletes; the benefits of vacation, meditation and time spent in parks, gardens and other peaceful outdoor spaces; and how napping, unwinding while awake and perhaps the mere act of blinking can sharpen the mind.

What research to date also clarifies, however, is that even when we are relaxing or daydreaming, the brain does not really slow down or stop working. Rather—just as a dazzling array of molecular, genetic and physiological processes occur primarily or even exclusively when we sleep at night—many important mental processes seem to require what we call downtime and other forms of rest during the day.

Downtime replenishes the brain’s stores of attention and motivation, encourages productivity and creativity, and is essential to both achieve our highest levels of performance and simply form stable memories in everyday life. A wandering mind unsticks us in time so that we can learn from the past and plan for the future. Moments of respite may even be necessary to keep one’s moral compass in working order and maintain a sense of self.

Here is some more reading on the benefits of resting the mind:

Study Links Meditation to Telomerase, An Anti-Age Enzyme
"They compared a group of 30 meditation retreat goers at the Shambhala Mountain Center in Colorado to a control group, those who didn't attend the retreat but who were on the wait list. The meditators, who spent six hours per day for three months meditating on their breath and loving-kindness, were found to contain about 30% more activity of an enzyme called telomerase than the wait listers."

Disconnecting Your Brain from Tech Can Reconnect It to Reality
"A group of five neurologists took a trip to Glenn Canyon National Recreation Area to find out what actually happens to our brains when we remove email, cell phones, text messages, televisions -- even watches -- from our field of vision and daily tasks. During the week-long experiment (that sounds like one of the world's best experiments to be a participant in) the neurologists rafted down the San Juan River, camping along the way, and analyzing how the heavy, perhaps even chronic, use of technology changes how we behave and how a retreat to reconnect with nature reverses the effects."

Study shows a walk in the park fixes a fuzzy brain
"Researchers at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh and the University of Edinburgh used portable EEGs to monitor the brain activity of 12 healthy young adults. Different participants walked through different areas of Edinburgh -- one was an historic shopping district, one was a park-like setting, and one was a busy commercial district. You can guess which walkers were the least stressed and frustrated -- those in the park."

Want to Feel More Alive? Study Shows You Need to Go Outside
"Published in this month's issue of the Journal of Environmental Psychology, the study shows that getting out and communing with nature is better for feeling rejuvenated than reaching for the ever-so-urban cup of coffee. "Nature is fuel for the soul, " says Richard Ryan, lead author and a professor of psychology at the University of Rochester. Both physically and mentally, we're zippier when we step into the wild."

Nature Makes Us Nicer People, New Study Says
"The University of Rochester reports what we all have been savvy to for awhile now, that seeing naturescapes helps reduces stress, and even having a window in a hospital room helps people recover more quickly. "While the salubrious effects of nature are well documented... this study shows that the benefits extend to a person's values and actions. Exposure to natural as opposed to man-made environments leads people to value community and close relationships and to be more generous with money, find [Richard] Ryan and his team of researchers at the University of Rochester."

Tags: Health

WHAT'S HOT ON FACEBOOK