Three Simple Ways To Boost Your Sense Of Smell
We go about our day not thinking much about what we smell. We just do it. As we breathe, we smell. We take in odor molecules and our brain decides what actions we need to take. Sometimes we take in odors of foods we like and get hungry. Sometimes we smell someone’s stinky body odor and move away in disgust.
These are passive reactions we have to the everyday odors we encounter.
Our brain is wired to take in the olfactory (smell) information from the outside world and make split-second decisions based on what we perceive.
Every millisecond olfactory neurons are firing information up to the brain based on what we are experiencing around us. With this, the brain is building something called neuroplasticity.
We have many routines throughout our day. And these everyday things we experience, and smell, build reinforced neural pathways in our brain. Over time, the repetitive olfactory messages become automatic, a part of our everyday life.
Just think about how many things you smell every day that you don’t even consciously acknowledge - your partner, your office, the tree outside your house, the car you spend too much time in commuting to work, or shuttling kids to their activities.
Neuroplasticity - these neural connections in our brain - are constantly changing, becoming stronger or weaker, depending on how often we have an experience, in this case smelling the same odor.
But as we age, the olfactory receptors (what captures the odor from the outside world) naturally don’t regenerate as quickly, and thereby the signals sent to the brain are not as sharp. The brain loses some of its plasticity and we become more fuzzy about what we perceive.
But the beauty of what we’ve learned about the brain is that we can take actions to consciously and actively boost our sense of smell as we grow older, by keeping our olfactory neural circuits active and, thereby, lessening the impact of time.
Here are 3 simple things you can start doing today to boost your sense of smell:
1. ACTIVELY SNIFF THE WORLD AROUND YOU
From the moment we wake up, think about using your sense of smell. In the shower, close your eyes and focus just on the scent of your shampoo and soap. At breakfast, take a whiff of your coffee or tea, make a note of the scent of your toast as it pops out of the toaster or the aroma of the cinnamon in your oatmeal. When you walk from the car/train to the office, notice the smell of trees and flowers along the way.
In each case you give your world more dimension because you intentionally smelled it - and you’ve connected with your surroundings in a new way. You are being mindful of the moment and actively creating (and with repetition reinforcing) neural connections in your brain.
2. COOK WITH AROMATIC WHOLE SPICES
Your sense of taste can only perceive five basic tastes - sweet, salty, bitter, sour and umami (savory), but because of your sense of smell, you can perceive lots of flavors, which gives tremendous dimension to your food experience.
So, try this - when a recipe calls for adding whole spices like pepper, cumin, allspice or coriander to your food, try first heating them in a dry skillet to bring out their essential oils. It smells amazing and completely heightens the perception of flavor to make the dish more delicious.
Or even more simply - instead of using ground pepper, use a pepper grinder to make fresh ground pepper. Again, you are releasing essential oils in the pepper as you grind. The aroma you actively sniff is creating, and by repetition, reinforcing olfactive neural connections in your brain.
3. CREATE ODOR MEMORIES
Try actively smelling natural materials in your everyday world - herbs and flowers in your garden, twigs, needles, and wood from trees and shrubs on your morning dog walk. Make mental notes about what you’re smelling. Even better, try to say what you’re smelling out loud. Use language to describe the scent. Do this every day when you take your dog for a walk. Consistently smelling the same things is important. The odors you actively sniff are creating, and by repetition, reinforcing olfactive neural connections in your brain.
With patience, practice and, most importantly, repetition you’ll start to notice smells around you like never before. Your improved sense of smell will enhance your everyday experiences and improve your overall wellbeing. You’ll feel alive and engaged with your surroundings in ways you haven’t before.
So, always remember to stop and smell the roses. You’ll be thankful you did.