As we Americans live longer, we are increasingly looking to scientists like Fotuhi for guidance on how to keep our brains as fit as our bodies while we age. In a sense, research on cognitive decline is on the cutting edge. Researchers have conducted many of the most important studies in this field, just in the last 20 years. And while they have made some progress, there are several areas of this study where the jury is sill out.
Still, effective interventions that measurably improve the brain health, have emerged from the myriad old wives tales, about how we can keep our brain fit. In many cases, the answers may actually run against the grain of traditional wisdom. Indeed, the most-advertised, very best-marketed tricks for preventing cognitive decline may very well be great at making us better at those games, however, are they really making our minds sharper, are they really a good brain workout.
For now my friends, the experts say, we should focus on health interventions that are seemingly unrelated to the brain workout (exercising) frequently, by eating healthfully and doing what you can to take the edge off chronic stress. However, by challenging the brain to learn new things, will not hurt either. Some of our money seeking marketers have taken advantage of the consternation of America’s aging population to sell a large variety of products that imply-if not outright claim that they can slow or stave off cognitive decline. Brain workout games, a billion-dollar industry, according to neuroscience-market-research firm SharpBrains.
SharpBrains, represent perhaps the biggest example of this style of marketing. Which is why you would be forgiven for believing that by regularly visiting a brain-games website for a brain workout or downloading the right app, you’ll be on your way to fighting the inexorable decline of your mental functions. However, existing research suggests that’s miles from being true.
In fact, concrete proof about the benefits of these brain games is hard to come by, the experts say, when it comes to measurably improving aspects of mental fitness, such as having sound reasoning or a good memory. People would love to believe that you could do a brain workout like this and make your brain better, make your mind better, says Randall W Engle, who is the primary investigator at the Attention & Working Memory Lab at the Georgia Institute of Technology. There is just no real solid evidence.
However, that’s not to say the brain games are without some benefit altogether. The experts say this kind of mental exercises can change your brain, just not in a way that necessarily slows its aging. Our brain changes with just about everything we do. including mental training exercises. But numerous studies have shown that brain games lack what the researchers call transfer. In other words, repeating a game over and over again teaches us how to play the game and get better at playing the game, but not necessarily much else.
It is like, you walk through fresh snow, you well leave a trace. If you walk the very same route again, the trace become deeper and deeper, says Ursula Staudinger, a professor of sociomedical sciences and a professor of psychology at the Robert N. Butler Columbia Aging Center at Columblia University. The fact that structural changes occur (in our brain) does not imply that in general the brain has become more capable. It has become more capable of doing exactly the tasks it was practicing.
Still, the brain-game industry has continued to grow and the skepticism has grown right along with this kind of brain workout. More than 70 prominent brain scientists and psychologists signed a withering statement on this subject in 2014. The open letter, organized by the Stanford Center on Longevity and covered by media outlets around the world, argued that claims on behalf of brain games about improvement in cognition were frequently exaggerated and at many times misleading. These scientists also laid out criteria that the games would have to meet to persuade them of their merit for a brain workout.
Brain-game producers may one day develop effective methods for a brain workout for their users to improve their cognition by playing online games, however, until then, the scientists say, other practices will slow the aging of the brain. Infact, a study in the prestigious Lancet journal found that up to half of the cases of Alzheimer’s disease may very well be triggered by factors determined by lifestyle: high blood pressure, diabetes and cognitive inactivity, just to name a few. But your ability to influence your brain health goes beyond ceasing negative behaviors. There’s a whole host of practices associated with improved brain functioning that we can actually do now.
Most scientists well agree that the intervention most clearly proven to slow down the process of aging in the brain is aerobic exercise. Working out triggers a whole slew of processes and yes, changes in the brain. Perhaps, most obviously, exercise increases the size of the hippocampus, which is a part of the brain that plays a major role in memory storage. Participants in a highly cited 2011 study experienced 2% growth in the size of their hippocampus after completing a one-year exercise regimen that consisted of 40 to 45 minutes of aerobic exercises daily. Control-group participants, whose exercise consisted only of toning and stretching, actually saw the size of their hippocampus shrink by the end of this study.
We now know that physical activity does wonders in the brain for really making a burst of new neurons, Eli Puterman says, an assistant professor at the University of California, San Francisco, School of Medicine. The question is how much exercise do you actually need? Puterman bases his research on the relationship between exercise and aging on the federal guidelines that adults need 150 minutes of moderately intense aerobic exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic exercise per week. Many of the commonly recognized benefits of working out, well also improve brain health. As I have always explain, to all of you, working out helps with diabetes, obesity and heart problems, which are without a doubt, worth addressing in their own right-and which are also risk factors for cognitive decline. Working out the body, is also a brain workout.
May you be always in good health, humbly your Paul Earl.