A Creative High Point

We're expecting a big blizzard here in the Northeast tomorrow. It might be a good time to hunker down in the house and take out that creative project you've had on the back burner for so long. Challenging mental activity such as artistic expression stimulates the growth of new brain cells in the cerebral cortex, scientists have found. My friend and fellow blogger Nancy Monson, who muses about creativity on crafttoheal.blogspot.com, offers some expert words. Read Nancy's words on connections between creativity and mental, physical, and spiritual health below:


Midlife: Scaling the Creative Peaks

If you've always wanted to take up a hobby or craft, now is the time to do it. It turns out midlife is a creative high point for many people. Couple that with the sad state of our financial system and you've got what amounts to a mandate for self-expression and relaxation, two qualities creative pursuits offer in spades...

Gene Cohen, MD, a psychiatrist at George Washington University, says that as we enter our 40s and 50s, our brains start firing on all cylinders. We begin using both sides of our brain more (the logical and analytical left side and the artistic right side), which stimulates us to be more creative. In turn, being more creative prompts us to integrate both left- and right-brain capabilities in a happy cycle of artistic energy. As an added bonus, we become more confident and comfortable with ourselves as we age, and so we may cast off the need to conform: After 40, we want to showcase our true selves through the way we speak, act, dress, and the things we do. And we may shed the "should have" way of living we previously endorsed, embracing instead the life we really want to live.

Cohen says that many people in mid-to late-life go through a psychological "liberation" phase characterized by an increasing urge and feeling of freedom to do the things they've always wanted to do. They hear an inner voice that asks them "If not now, when?" and "Why not-what can they do to me?" that gives them the courage and confidence to try something new and self-expressive.That's great news since more and more research is pointing to the value of taking up a new interest, hobby, or craft as you age, learning an instrument, challenging yourself with word games and crossword puzzles, and seeking out unique experiences. Not only can these creative activities help you stay active and interested in life, but they have potent mental and physical effects, too, which researchers are only now beginning to explore.

So far, they've learned that: We need the charge of doing something creative to feel good mentally. That's because the level of the brain chemical dopamine, which brings on a natural high, declines as we age. By seeking out novel experiences, we can trigger dopamine surges and regain that feeling of satisfaction. Trying new things and being creative also promotes brain plasticity (flexibility and growth) and even prompts our brains to rewire, which may fend off dementia and help to maintain health.

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