What is intellectual health?

A dimension of health that is very rarely talked about, but no less important to our overall wellbeing, is our intellectual health.  This dimension of health is not just about academia or how “smart” we believe someone is.  It is multifaceted.  

Our intellectual health refers to: 

our ability to expand our own knowledge, skills and abilities through continual personal growth and development

Developing our intellectual health is important as it helps us maintain an active and open mind, seek out creativity to expand our minds and use problem solving skills. It also develops our ability to think critically, make responsible decisions, be objective in our reasoning, become life-long learners and embrace curiosity. 

When we enhance our intellectual health, we are continually looking to challenge ourselves.

Practices that show enhanced intellectual health include:

  • Learning for the sake of learning
  • Having a strong sense of curiosity
  • Developing effective study and time management skills
  • Being interested in the views of others 
  • Keeping updated on current issues

What are the benefits?

  • Improved cognition
  • Improved concentration and memory
  • Deepened critical thinking skills
  • Improved problem solving skills
  • Development of personal values and opinions
  • Open to new ideas and perspectives
  • Improved communication skills

By ensuring we take the time to work on our intellectual health, there can be quite a range of benefits that impact all of our other dimensions as well.  You will notice some of these benefits above also support our mental health and have been spoken about in depth in previous blog posts.

How to improve our intellectual health?

Just like with any other dimension of health, there are also ways we can enhance our intellectual health (train our brain).  The following is just a small selection of the many things we can do to support our intellectual health. 

Read – read widely and for fun. Doesn’t matter what you choose to read (though having a variety of forms is important), but ensuring that we read often helps stimulate our brain and, depending on what it is that you are reading, can kickstart our imagination and help us become lifelong learners.

Learn something new – when we learn something new, it gives our brain space to grow and evolve (increasing its neuroplasticity – letting the brain function at a higher level).  You could learn any new skill be it a new language, how to juggle, cooking, maybe even something outside of your comfort zone.

Practice self-reflection – this is a practice that involves looking internally at our thoughts, actions and/or motives.  Self-reflection can be a powerful tool and improves our self awareness, enables inner growth, provides deeper learning opportunities and can improve our confidence and perspectives.  One example to help practice self-reflection is through journaling.  Keeping a record can help us look at our thoughts over time and see growth areas.

Switch off – give your brain a rest through meditation, mindfulness and practices.  By doing these things, it gives a chance for greater emotional clarity and the ability to calm our thoughts.  Deep breathing in particular increases circulation and brings oxygen to our brain.

Be creative – creativity feeds curiosity and self exploration.  It provides an opportunity for your mind to open up and explore new ways to express ideas and possibilities.  You can choose any way to be creative, there are so many options, music, writing, drawing, painting, cooking, dancing, designing.  Any form of creativity that lets you come in with an open mind and heart.

Practice a healthy lifestyle – eat well, be physically active, get enough sleep/rest, stay hydrated and avoid harmful habits.  All of these examples that were spoken about in a previous blog post on enhancing our physical health are also prime examples to help support cognitive health.  Having a healthy lifestyle sets the foundation for us to be able to focus and provide us with the energy to complete everyday activities.

Engage in tough discussions – open your mind to differing opinions.  Having conversations with people that are complex and provide the opportunity to explore issues deeper can give us a chance to open our minds, actively listen to others and help develop differing or new perspectives that we may never have thought of.  This can provide opportunities to develop our critical thinking skills also and understand other opinions that we may never have thought of before.

Play games – games can help exercise your mind.  A lot have strategies that you put in place to help you complete them (or win if you are of the competitive nature).  You can play games with other people, which also helps our social nature, complete a good old fashioned jigsaw puzzle or participate in problem solving and puzzle type games like sudoku, crosswords and any of the multiple “brain training” games you can get on your devices (though keeping your screen time down is also something that should be remembered).

One key thing to remember about enhancing our intellectual health is that it comes down to each individual’s attitude. If we do not come to see things with an open mind or embrace the curiosity that we have within ourselves, we will never truly open up to the potential that we possess.

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