By now you must have heard about one of the hottest new trends in self-improvement – brain-training. The general idea is that you can improve your cognitive abilities such as memory and attention by performing certain tasks, such as crossword puzzles and memory games. Proponents of brain-training claim it can make you smarter and make your life better.It sounds great, in theory. But scientists are divided about whether brain-training is really as valuable as claimed. Brain-training programs typically have limited effects. Researchers have found that persons who participate in brain-training typically only improve the specific type of memory and thinking tested. For example, if you practice crossword puzzles, you’ll get better at crossword puzzles, but your memory may not improve.
Some studies in animals indicate, however, that learning and thinking of any type can improve the survival and function of young brain cells. So there is definite value in taking the time to train your brain. But if you’re putting in the effort to improve your brain function and memory, you want to get the biggest bang for your buck. How can you enhance the effects of brain-training and thereby increase the benefits you receive?
The key to boosting the effect of brain-training is exercise.
Exercise is known to literally change the size of your brain. Regular exercise has been found to boost the size of the hippocampus, the area of the brain that plays an important role in memory and learning. It does this via a process called neurogenesis, or the birth of new brain cells. Exercise can double or triple the number of new cells in the hippocampus. These new cells translate to a significantly better ability to learn new things and remember experiences.
Now let’s link this back to brain-training. Exercise helps produce brand new brain cells. Brain-training helps strengthen them. By combining exercise and brain-training, you can continuously produce and maintain healthy, strong brain cells. The two can work in tandem to improve your cognitive abilities.
According to an article in the New York Times, scientists in Canada conducted a 6-week study to test this theory. They split their study participants into three groups: one who neither exercised nor participated in brain-training, one who exercised, and one who both exercised and participated in brain-training. As you would suspect, the participants who exercised performed better on memory tests.
The improvement in memory was most noticeable among the participants whose fitness had improved the most, especially among those who had simultaneously practiced brain-training. Higher fitness levels resulted in stronger memories. Brain-training added to the effect, improving types of memory that weren’t even part of the training.
So if you want to improve your cognitive abilities and memory, exercise both your body and your mind. This doesn’t have to be complicated. Incorporate a short session of brain-training before and after your workout to see benefits. For example, take a moment to memorize a painting or a face, and then try to recall the details after you exercise.
To keep all parts of your life in healthy, productive alignment, take time to attend to your whole person. If you feel like any part of your mind, body or spirit is out of alignment, and it is causing you stress, please contact my office to make an appointment. I also offer online therapy.