Swap hands to exercise your brain
Kaja Nordengen, a neurology specialist and author of Your Superstar Brain, explains how your brain controls fine motor skills and how you can swap hands to exercise your brain.
Which side of the brain are you using?
The brain is divided into the left brain and the right brain, each with its own main task. The right brain controls the left side of the body and vice versa. Most people have a dominant hand they use, for example, when writing. This is often the right hand. In all these people the hands look the same, with the same muscles and skeletal parts. Despite this, they work differently, simply because the brain controls them differently. About one per cent of people can use and write equally well with both hands. This is called ambidexterity. It’s one thing to be born with it – it could say something about the task distribution between the two brain hemispheres in general – but it’s another thing to exercise your brain to learn it.
Swap hands to exercise your brain
In people who perform tasks that require superior fine motor skills in both the right and left hands, such as some musicians, we can see growth in the cerebral cortex controlling the non-dominant hand. The bundle of fibres connecting the two hemispheres, called the corpus callosum, is also physically thicker. Not everyone has the time or desire to play a musical instrument but that doesn’t mean we can’t exercise the fine motor skills of our non-dominant hand.
If you start by using the non-dominant hand (left for right-handed people and right for left-handed people) in routine tasks such as shaving, applying makeup, brushing your teeth, handling the mouse or remote control, it’s actually the brain you are exercising and not the hand. Although few people are born with the ability to control the fine motor skills of both hands, you can exercise to learn how to use both hands.
Some left-handed people, and especially older left-handed people, have been forced, directly or indirectly, to learn fine motor skills in the non-dominant hand. In many languages, we can see which hand was supposed to be used. In Norwegian, being left-handed was called “wrong-handed” and in English, the synonym for correct is “right”. Ambidexterity, the ability to use both hands equally well, means “both right”. Previously, many left-handed school children were forced to write with their right hands, and there were few alternatives to tools adapted for right-handed people. Today, people are much more open-minded and accommodating towards left-handedness, although we still see some remains of the old attitude.
Famous brains with superior motor skills
There are numerous great people who have trained themselves to be able to use both hands: Tesla wrote with both hands. Leonardo da Vinci learnt to paint with both hands after an injury to his right arm as a little boy. But it’s not only academics or artists who benefit from using both sides of the brain for fine motor skills. And it’s not only the hands that count. Ronaldo is a right-legged football player who has learned to use his left leg equally well.
We are entering into a time in which handwriting is becoming less and less important, thus which hand you use to write with is also becoming less important. However, more people want to be able to use both their dominant as well as their non-dominant hand; for example, when typing on the keyboard or performing surgery, but also in music and sports. Seeing how much da Vinci, Ronaldo and others have been able to train themselves is very motivating and inspiring.
So why not exercise your brain by breaking your habit of brushing your teeth with your right hand tonight?