In recent years we’ve seen the emergence of a multi-billion brain training industry based on the notion that you can improve your memory, attention-span, concentration and reasoning through the ‘right’ mental exercised. Software companies, websites and phone apps marketing games designed to increase cognitive abilities have flooded the market – and potentially conditioned its users that the brain can be ‘trained’ via games to perform more optimally. Apps, such as Luminosity, have catered a large portion of their marketing power to older demographics, claiming that its users will remain sharper, longer.
A study by Cambridge University has concluded that there is “no evidence to support the widely held belief that the regular use of computerised brain trainers improves general cognitive functioning in healthy participants.”
So what can we go to improve or maintain our mental sharpness?
A number of scientific studies have been published, holding that physical exercise, as oppose to mental exercises improve cognitive abilities, from childhood all the way through old age. Charles Hillman, Professor of Kinesiology at the University of Illinois, found that those who regularly exercise “displayed substantial improvements in executive function” and “they were better at “attentional inhibition,” which is the ability to block out irrelevant information and concentrate on the task at hand…with heightened abilities to toggle between cognitive tasks.”
The Chicago Tribune conducted a study in 1995, concluding that “exercise triggers the production of a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor, or BDNF, which helps support the growth of existing brain cells and the development of new ones.” The benefits of exercising later in life are overwhelming, “with age BDNF levels fall; this decline is one reason brain function deteriorates in the elderly. Certain types of exercise, namely aerobic, are thought to counteract these age-related drops in BDNF and can restore young levels of BDNF in the age brain.”
Michelle Voss, from the University of Iowa, research found that there is a positive role of cardiorespiratory fitness, beyond habitual physical activity, on brain health as people age. This study provides strong evidence that fitness in an adult population can have substantial benefits to brain health in terms of functional connections of different regions of the brain.
Some notable facts:
- People who exercise are 50% less likely to develop dementia
- Half an hour after strenuous exercise, the prefrontal cortex works harder to resist distracters and improve attention
- Physical exercise promotes the production of nerve-protecting compounds, increases blood flow to the brain and decreases your risk of heart and blood vessel diseases that can impair brain function
Yet another reason to get off our phones and get moving! While memory-based games can be a fun tool to supplement your efforts to maintain your cognitive health, don’t underestimate the power of a good sweat.
Remember, sweat is magic!
We’d love to hear what you think! Have you had any success with memory-game apps? Or do you opt to exercise to mental health?