Stimulate your brain to help it develop
Your brain needs stimulation to develop, says Kaja Nordengen, neuroscientist and author of Your Superstar Brain. Here she tells us why and how.
Learning stimulates the brain
The human brain has an impressive ability to adapt to change, even in old age. When we learn new things and challenge our brains, we form new connection points between nerve cells and thus form new neural networks. We also stabilise and strengthen existing nerve cell connections. Everything you learn, whether it’s physical or mental, is basically brain exercise.
If you are a parent, sibling or grandparent, you are a personal trainer of a child’s brain. Every time you respond to baby talk, lift a child up to what they are pointing at, or help them to eat by themselves, you help to exercise a child’s brain. We know that children who don’t get this stimulation will have under-developed brains even though they have enough food, clothes, and a roof over their heads. It’s not enough – the brain needs stimulation to develop.
Brain exercise to stay in good mental shape
As with so many things in life, the best achievements require effort. It’s great exercise for your brain to learn a new language, take a course, or learn to play an instrument. And just as with your body, a little bit of exercise is better than none. The best way to start is to break old habits because learning new things challenges your brain.
We do physical exercise just to stay in shape, not to win fitness competitions, and the same goes for the brain. It benefits from being used and sometimes the effect you are looking for is not a measurable improvement but instead a lack of deterioration.
Brain exercises have gained an undeserved bad reputation after some game developers sold games for millions of dollars. They promised that playing their games five minutes a day would make you smarter and speed up your thinking process. It’s not that simple. A small amount of general effects from a specific exercise is what works. If you practice solving a task, for example, you’ll become better at solving that specific kind of task. Chess players are good at remembering chess moves, not remembering in general. In the same way, you don’t get strong legs or stamina from training your biceps.
Environment stimulates your brain
Using IQ to measure intelligence is an interesting topic in this context. On the one hand, we have game developers who tempt people with increased intelligence despite no documented effect on the IQ. Perhaps it’s because intelligence is largely hereditary? Or perhaps the exercises are just a drop in the ocean? However, it now appears that intelligence is impacted by environment as well.
We face brain challenges all the time in our daily lives so we exercise our brains daily without realising it. The average IQ is defined to be 100, but to maintain that level, IQ tests have become more difficult. This is called the Flynn effect. We might seem to have become smarter over the last few generations but the leading theory is that environmental impact has affected our intelligence. So when we understand abstract symbols for turning on, say the stove or the washing machine, we exercise our brains. We are surrounded by so many abstract symbols and perform so much abstract thinking that we train our brain every single day throughout our lives.
Enjoy and stimulate your amazing brain
When it comes to almost every brain function, we are born with a starting point and we can train to progress from there. We can’t all be like footballer David Beckham, no matter how much we exercise. But this shouldn’t stop us.
In your brain, you already have an enormous amount of neural networks to solve known problems and to remember and perform known tasks with a minimum of mental effort. If this is all you do, you don’t challenge your brain to develop and keep it in general shape. You must break your pattern from time to time, participate in interesting discussions and enjoy your amazing brain in general. You’re supposed to enjoy it!