Science Says This Is The Activity That Engages Your Brain The Most (No, It’s Not What You Think)

I would never have guessed. And I do this a lot.
 By Chris Matyszczyk 
Owner, Howard Raucous LLC@ChrisMatyszczyk

 Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek.

You want your brain to function well.

You want to get the most out of it because, well, that's what every self-help book tells you to do.

But dragging your brain toward superior levels of activity isn't always the easiest task.

Yes, you could indulge in a math problem. Or perhaps you could slide a little Beethoven into your ears. Somehow, fine music makes the brain behave in a slightly cleaner and clearer manner, doesn't it?

New research, however, suggests that the one activity that I indulge in to switch my brain off is actually the one that engages the brain the most.

No, it's not lying in bed and wishing I was in Lisbon. It's wine tasting.

Please don't take my word for it. Listen to Yale neuroscientist Gordon Shepherd.

He recently released a book called Neuroenology: How the Brain Creates the Taste of Wine.

In it, he states with almost inebriated simplicity that wine "engages more of our brain than any other human behavior."

After all, when we let wine drift into our mouths, we're conscious of how it affects us. We seek out the beginnings of the taste, then the middle and the end.

Couple that with the sniffing that happens beforehand and suddenly you realize that there's a lot going on in your brain, as you're actually trying to relax with a decent glass of Sauvignon Blanc.

Shepherd explained to NPR that drinking wine is a lot like experiencing color.

"The objects we see don't have color themselves. Light hits them and bounces off. It's when light strikes our eyes that it activates systems in the brain that create color from those different wavelengths. Similarly, the molecules in wine don't have taste or flavor, but when they stimulate our brains, the brain creates flavor the same way it creates color," he said.

He says that when you sniff a wine, it's not a single external process. There's also air coming up through your throat that carries smells back toward your nasal passages. This is called restronasal smell.

Then there's your saliva. The minute you put some wine in your mouth, it gets mixed in with your saliva, creating new compounds that your brain experiences and processes.

In order to create the best overall brain-stimulating sensations, Shepherd suggests never filling your glass too high. You have to leave room for your nose to dip inside and experience the aromas.

Chugging isn't a good idea either. You'll kill your perceptive antennae. You'll also get drunk far too quickly. That last part is actually my own advice.

I confess that in my role as Wine Ambassador for Napa's Honig Winery, I venture wine-tasting quite a bit. Especially as I'm constantly seeking out new wines for my occasional Alcohol By Volume column.

It's heartening, therefore, to know that I'm inadvertently exercising my brain at the very moment when I finally think I've got away from everything that plagues it daily.

My only worry now is that the next time I go wine-tasting, I'll start thinking about it.

The real secret of wine-tasting, you see, is that if you go to a winery during the week, there are fewer people. You have more time, too, to savor the wine and chat to the people behind it.

Yesterday, for example, I tasted at the very fine Medlock Ames winery. There, I didn't just enjoy a highly engaging Sauvignon Blanc, a very uplifting rosé and some distinctly refined reds.

I heard the multi-faceted tale of Dan the Wolfman and other legends of local lore.

Now those are going to get my brain thinking for days.

The opinions expressed here by columnists are their own, not those of

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