Brain health: Writing in longhand is good for you

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Full disclosure: Because of my Mediterranean ethnicity and the fact that my paternal grandmother had Alzheimer’s, I worry about dementia. The thought of it scares me. In addition to my Nonna, I’ve known several people who suffered from mental decline in old age. In all cases, it was heartbreaking to witness. Beautiful, vibrant, funny, intelligent, strong women I knew became feeble, confused, sometimes infant-like, other times aggressive and violent people. I no longer recognized them and they no longer recognized me. Perhaps, this explains my passion for learning how to improve brain health. I love word search puzzles, Sodoku, crosswords and other such games. I use mental math instead of calculators whenever possible. This lengthy introduction is meant to lead in to some good news: I recently learned that writing in longhand is tremendously beneficial to brain health.

When is the last time you wrote something with pen or pencil on paper? I’m not really talking about a grocery list. In fact, most people nowadays use phone apps for that as well. When is the last time you wrote someone a letter? How about poetry or writing in a journal? Another article I posted here on Hot Mess Press discussed old fashioned learning tips, including why writing essays is better than always typing them. Today, I’m happy to tell you more about the positive effect writing in longhand has on your brain health.

Memory recall is part of brain health

Younger readers might not be all that concerned about their memory recall capabilities. Those of us who have crossed the threshold into our 50s or beyond definitely have an interest in the topic. Then again, younger women too, such as those in the height of their childbearing years who have “pregnant brain syndrome” can likely relate to not being able to remember much. The human brain is an amazing thing with both short-term and long-term memory ability. Taking notes in a lecture hall or during a video, etc., can help improve memory recall, especially if you take notes in longhand.

It turns out that the process of putting pen to paper helps provide cues to your brain. These cues help you remember what you heard in the lecture, class, video, etc., better than if you had tape-recorded or used digital means to take notes. Writing in longhand activates the part of your brain you use for thinking and remembering things.

Critical thinking is crucial to good brain health

When someone’s brain is afflicted by dementia, his or her critical thinking ability is impaired. Critical thinking means you can assess a situation or issue and form a judgment based on what you see or hear. Writing in longhand is good for your brain health because it activates the part of your brain you use to improve critical thinking skills. My daughters will be delighted to learn that writing different sections of longhand in different colored inks improves brain health even more. (Oh, the rainbow essays I foresee in my homeschooling future!)

The pen you use might make a difference

I have always enjoyed writing in longhand and particularly enjoy writing letters. When I use certain types of pens, I notice they feel better in my hand. Not only that, but the actual process of writing or the way the pen feels as it glides across the paper feels better with some pens than others. As I researched the topic for this post, I learned that this is a “real thing.” It’s not just me. Because writing in longhand is a neurosensory activity, your brain might prefer the feeling of some pens more than others. This, I think, can be very important information for parents of children whose special needs include sensory issues.

Your brain health improves when you process your longhand notes

When you take notes in longhand, you don’t necessarily write in complete sentences. That’s okay because it’s actually good for your brain. When you write short phrases and notes, your brain has to choose which words and phrases to write so that you will be able to relate the notes regarding the topic. In other words, when you take notes, your brain helps you take notes in a way that maximizes your ability to process what it is you’re trying to learn or remember. Cool, huh?

Find a balance between longhand and technology

We need to find a balance in our lives between using advanced technology to our advantage and keeping our brains healthy. That is not meant to suggest that you cannot improve brain health when using advanced technology. You can; however, studies show there are certain brain exercises that get lost in the shuffle if you only use technology and stop writing in longhand.

It’s a new year. Your resolutions or vision boards likely include a desire to increase good health, right? Don’t forget about brain health! I challenge you to set a goal of writing something in longhand at least once a week, be it a letter, academic notes, essay, a journal entry, songs, poems and more. Do you have a favorite type of pen you like to use? Do you prefer using manuscript or cursive? Share your thoughts in the comment box!





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