Train Mentally and Physically to Improve Brain Function

28 03 2015

This post was intended to be published in February, however, other priorities trumped this one.

Scrabble and anagram type word puzzles are two games that I enjoy immensely. I would say that I look forward to the comic section of newspapers not for the comics, but for the game Jumble. This is where you have to rearrange letters of five different words and then using the encircled letters of the solved words, create a set of words to answer the question at hand. This pastime allows me to ward off early stages of dementia as research has indicated. However, newer studies also suggest that my time in the gym and on the streets pounding the pavement have similar affects on my neural pathways and can assist in reducing the likelihood of memory loss.

For decades, scientists had believed that our brains are at the mercy of time. As we aged, they believed that the neurons within the synapses of our minds would slowly deteriorate and those pathways that allowed us to carry simple tasks like memorizing the name of your best friend would be lost forever. We lived within the false pretense that our minds would slowly degenerate until we were on our death beds peering out through our tired eyes at strangers. No one in their right mind would wish this upon themselves and luckily there are ways to prevent it from happening.

Articles in the recent decades have acknowledged the use of games such as crossword puzzles, word searches, and Memory to improve the brain’s ability to stay focused and retain the pathways for information to flow. Attention and memory improving apps for tablets and smart phones have littered the search engines. Websites developed specifically for improving brain function such as Luminosity have also surfaced. These types of games all are great for keeping our minds flexible.

At first, neuroscientists had believed that each component of the brain was designed to carry out one function. In the unfortunate event of an accident such as a stroke, the damaged part would be permanent and the corresponding function associated with the part would no longer happen. The mentality was “use it and lose it” as we aged. Recent studies have now disproved this myth and through mental and physical activity, the brain has the ability to adapt and create new pathways to provide function to a damaged area. With this new insight to the neuroplasticity of our brains, the new rule is “use it or lose it,” (which I must say,  sounds awfully familiar.)

What’s surprising about our brain’s plasticity is how exercise positively impacts the brain. Regular “exercise triggers the release of ‘neurotrophic growth factors’—a kind of brain fertilizer, helping the brain to grow, maintain new connections and stay healthy” (Doidge, N., 2015). When we exert our bodies mentally or physically our brains must adapt to the new stimuli and create new pathways to keep the brain plastic for new information. This phenomenon in turn reduces the risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia. Exercise has also been linked to an improvement in the symptoms of Parkinson’s patients. With vigorous exercise, the patients recorded higher connectivity of the neurons which sent signals from the brain to the person’s limbs.

No matter how you exercise, remember one thing: your workouts today will provide you the memory to last your lifetime.

 

Reference:
Doidge, N. (2015) Our Amazingly Plastic Brains. The Wall Street Journal retrieved on March 27, 2015 from http://www.wsj.com/articles/our-amazingly-plastic-brains-1423262095


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