Hunting stimulates the brain

by Jason Bain | August 7, 2019
trail, conifer trees

Hunting is a prime example of a mind-boosting outdoor activity, according to a world-renowned neuroscientist who says our brains have been affected for the worse by the relatively-predictable environments surrounding us.

Posit Science co-founder and Chief Scientific Officer Dr. Michael Merzenich, a pioneer in researching neuroplasticity – the brain’s ability to modify its connections or “re-wire” itself – noted how predicting game movement is part of being a skillful hunter.

The mental exercise that comes with being outdoors is the subject of a new Posit video titled “Your Brain Outdoors” in which the neuroscientist talks about how activities like bird watching challenges our brains in ways the indoors simply cannot.

In fact, we’ve regressively withdrawn from the outdoors at our peril, Merzenich told Ontario OUT of DOORS, pointing out how humans evolved to become masters of our environment by continually attending to the details around us.

Connected to our environs by our physical movement, we had to make adjustments in our balance and posture with every step, he said. We were subject to surprise, maturing and driving our brains to a higher operational state, Merzenich added.

So much of our paved, flat-surfaced surroundings today, however, do not provide the kind of stimulation that amplifies brain activities.

“It’s like we don’t want to challenge our senses … we do everything to simplify so we don’t have to pay attention to them,” Merzenich said, pointing out how people have developed a sort of sensory blindness. “They are living zombies. They really aren’t paying attention to … the information coming into their bodies.”

Dr. Michael Merzenich
Dr. Michael Merzenich (Courtesy Posit Science)

Our brains are very different as a consequence and Merzenich worries about growing disengagement as use of electronic devices increases, particularly in youth. “There is no doubt their brains will be different … this is a slope downhill.”

His key message: teach everyone the importance of this connection outside, where folks can move around in the landscape.

There, Merzenich encourages everyone to think about their surroundings so they can replay them and see what is different when they go back. “If you just look, the world is full of surprises that are really healthy for the brain.”

Merzenich is a professor emeritus neuroscientist at the University of California, San Francisco, the author of Soft-Wired: How the New Science of Brain Plasticity Can Change Your Life and the creator of online brain training program BrainHQ.

He has published more than 150 articles in journals and been granted nearly 100 patents for his work. In 2016, he was awarded one of the world’s top neuroscience prizes – the Kavli Prize – for his achievements in the field of brain plasticity.

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