Everyone should do brain exercise
What is brain exercise?
Brain exercise is something everybody should do to maintain and improve brain function. And just as with regular training, brain training is something you need to maintain – but it doesn’t have to be boring. There are countless exercises, games and tasks you can practise.
Your brain is spectacular and it is incredibly good at adapting to the challenges you provide it with. The more stimulation it gets, the better it gets at coping with and solving the situations you face.
Improve brain function
There are many reasons why you need to exercise your brain but here are three good ones:
- It increases mental capacity. If you do your weight training properly, the connective tissues in your muscles will be reinforced, making your muscles stronger. The same thing happens in your brain if you train it properly; you improve the connective tissues between the neurons in your brain to help them work better and faster. This phenomenon, called neuroplasticity, is the brain’s unique way of growing and expanding its capacity. By challenging your brain with well-designed exercises, you can actually improve and maintain neuroplasticity to overcome the natural decline in cognitive function that occurs with aging.
- It can improve your memory. Challenging your brain to learn new things forces it to work harder while increasing memory capacity. A 2006 study carried out among London taxi drivers found that this group had a larger hippocampus (the part of the brain responsible for creating and accessing memories) than London bus drivers. The theory was that taxi drivers are continuously challenged to navigate thousands of streets and landmarks on demand, while bus drivers follow a given route. As a result of this constant stimulation, the hippocampus and memory capacity of taxi drivers grows.
- It may help to postpone cognitive decline. Although there’s very little we can do to actually prevent this when it happens, engaging in stimulating activities can help to delay the onset of symptoms.
How to exercise your brain
Just as there is a wide range of exercises for strength, fitness and cardio, there is no shortage of programmes that claim to exercise your brain to improve cognitive function. The key is not only to find what works, but also what works best for you – in order to reach your specific goals. Here are some examples of how you can find the right exercises for you.
Decide how to prioritise. Do you need help with short-term memory, to learn a new skill, increase your focus, improve decision-making or keep Alzheimer’s at bay? Remember that your priorities might change with age and circumstances, which may necessitate changes in your regime over time.
Eat properly, get enough sleep and manage stress. Just as eating fatty food and sweets can negatively affect the effects of physical exercise, an otherwise unhealthy lifestyle can reduce the benefits of a brain exercise program.
Evaluate the options. Technology has revolutionised brain exercise, which has led to the development of a number of high-tech brain training tools. There is also a range of commercial tools available to monitor brain function. But in order to be effective, brain exercise systems need to be translated into real world improvements. Look for systems that are interactive, engaging, show progress in your skills and are designed to meet your goals and priorities.
Keep it up. Just as going to the gym only a couple of times a month won’t get you the results you want, you won’t see improvements in cognitive function if you don’t exercise your brain regularly. You need a minimum of 15 hours per targeted brain function over an eight-week period if you want to see a real improvement.