When You Rest, Do Something Restful
What could be more relaxing than a marathon session of cheesy TV? Any number of things, finds new research about mental fatigue. "People may think watching TV is relaxing, but it actually seems not to be," says psychologist Marc G. Berman, Ph.D., of the Rotman Research Institute, in Toronto. Anything that demands your mind's attention will mentally tire you out, even if you're enjoying it. And yet it turns out that feeling bored also exhausts our brain. What's genuinely restful and restorative, according to studies in cognitive psychology, are soothing but interesting activities like envisioning ocean waves, preferably in solitude so your thoughts can wander.
When your brain is fried, try taking a quiet walk. In a landmark study that Dr. Berman conducted at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, volunteers were invited to stroll through an arboretum and also to walk along the more chaotic city streets. When walking through nature, the participants' short-term memory improved by 20 percent. But when they were in an urban setting, volunteers showed no consistent improvement, possibly because distractions like crosswalks kept their mind on high alert.