Our brains are mysteriously amazing. All day they’re taking in information, assessing risks, and helping us with mundane tasks like walking, talking, and driving. Simultaneously, they regulate the function of our organs, nervous system, and keep us breathing. Pretty amazing, huh?
We all want a smart, agile brain, so knowing what’s good for yours and how to keep it sharp is important information. But, if you get behind the wheel of a car every day, you’re already participating in a very healthy brain-workout!
Driving may seem like second nature to you, but when you get behind the wheel, your brain is working hard.
Here’s what’s happening
First, your occipital lobe and temporal lobes are taking in the visual and auditory information constantly feeding through your eyes and ears. This information – along with the rest of your sensory information – is being collected and integrated into one experience by the parietal lobe. This same area is also very important for judging spatial relationships, and quickly switching focus – a critical component to driving.
All of that information is then integrated and sent to your frontal lobe for interpretation and decision-making. This is the area of the brain our parents couldn’t wait to finish developing. Once a decision is made, the cerebellum then coordinates your voluntary movement, which will act on the command of your frontal lobe.
Therefore, while your occipital, temporal, and parietal lobes receive information, your frontal lobe is perceiving, and making judgements on the best course of action to follow, which it then commands to the cerebellum.
That’s a lot happening at once, and whether you realize it or not, your brain is working hard.
How it’s making you smarter
For starters, just the simple act of using your brain to complete a task is good for it. It’s kind of like a car. If you let a car sit for a long time, its fuel and air pathways stagnate and even clog. You’ve got to run the engine to keep it in good shape, and the same goes for your brain.
But even more important to your brain’s health is cultivating the ability to focus. Focus is no simple task, but it is one that you can practice and improve upon. It also is critical for making good decisions quickly, connecting neural pathways, and growing grey matter.
Grey matter is responsible for memory, speech, coordination, and muscle control. The coolest feature about grey matter is that it can be increased. New science on neural plasticity has found that what we used to consider fixed (our capacity for brain function) is actually a fluid and malleable thing. Focusing on one task at a time, learning new skills, and repeating particular actions over and over again has been shown to increase grey matter in the brain. Just like our bodies, we can train our brains for better performance.
So next time you’re behind the wheel, give it your full attention. Don’t pull out your phone and make a call to grandma, just focus on the road ahead, and try to be the best driver you can be. If we all took the time to train our brains while we drive, we’d undoubtedly have fewer accidents on our hands.