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Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Maintain good cognitive health

We should use our minds fully as mental inactivity can hinder our development mentally, emotionally, physically and socially.

TAKING good care of cognitive health is something unthinkable for many. The majority of us would find it strange with what cognitive health is, and some would even be wondering what cognition has to do with health and well-being.

What is cognition, why is it necessary to take good care of one’s cognition or cognitive status, and what are the steps to maintain good cognitive health?

Cognition is a hypothetical construct, accepted as one of the most fundamental elements of human beings, besides emotional and physical components. Generally, cognition is understood as a platform where all mental processes take place.

The platform resides within the most delicate and sensitive human organ, i.e., the brain. Upon cognition rest mental processes such as attention and concentration, perception, remembering, thinking and reasoning, decision-making, problem-solving, planning, and so on.

They are also understood as higher-order cognitive processes, because they help humans to function as they are supposed to, they help define what humans are and thus, differentiate between humans and non-human entities.

The mental processes are highly important to ensure the survival of humans in this life. Therefore, for the cognitive processes to be functioning effectively and efficiently, they have to be well managed, and their health status always in check.

This is similar to physical health and emotional well-being that are required so that humans can function as well as they possibly can. For this reason, everyone should bear in mind that cognitive health is defined as the ability of the brain to function and perform all mental processes required with full capacity, healthily, and efficiently.

Cognitive health is not mental health or mental illness, but it determines the health of everyone’s mental, emotional and physical health. One’s physical and emotional states affect cognition and vice-versa.

Similarly, when cognition is not healthy or is dysfunctional, one cannot function as one used to, because one’s mind has lost its ability to guide one to behave as a human.

Even so-called normal human beings may have their cognitive abilities dysfunctional, which affects their life for the worse. In addition, weak cognitive functions and abilities may affect the pattern of human relations and interaction negatively.

Why does human cognition become dysfunctional? There are many reasons that are responsible for the dysfunctioning of human cognition and mental capacities that later affect general human health and well-being.

One of them is cognitive inactivity. This refers to the inability of a person to fully utilise his mental capacity in order to promote productivity and bring or create an energetic environment for his life.

Mental inactivity occurs when someone does not stimulate his mental ability as required and that will result in mental lethargy and later on hinder the full functioning of a person mentally, emotionally, physically, as well as socially. Even the milliseconds of mental inactivity may lead to some damage to the person and his environment.

For example, while driving in a car on a massively congested road, when someone is not fully attending to his environment or being distracted, it may lead to an accident. In fact, long periods of mental inactivity are proven to damage brain plasticity and deterioration of brain functions.

Furthermore, a situation when a person is, to a certain extent, perplexed with personal or social issues that limit their mental capacity from functioning fully is dangerous since it may lead to sad consequences and even fatalistic phenomena.

An example of such a situation includes personal emotional distress, or when one is being inflicted with emotional and mental health issues. Among them are depression and anxiety attacks.

In fact, outbursts and impulsive and uncontrollable anger also incur bad consequences for humans due to the limited mental capacity they bring on. One with depression runs out of one’s productive time by thinking a lot on the dark side of his experiences and throwing away the bright side of his life.

As Muslims, we have been taught to fully utilise our minds and faculties of reasoning as signs of obedience and worship that will finally develop into righteousness and kindness. Indeed, for this reason, as humans we should be able to stimulate our mental abilities in order to maintain healthy cognitive functions all the time and by using this ability as endowed by God, we will be enriched and rewarded.

For Allah has said in the Quran, in Chapter 8 (Al-Anfal), verse 22, that “Surely the worst of beasts in God’s sight are those that are deaf and dumb and do not reason”.

Khairul Azhar Idris is a Fellow with Ikim’s Centre for Economics and Social Science. The views expressed here are entirely the writer’s own.

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