Is Your Brain in Shape? Exercise Your Mind to Boost Brain Health

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Brain health is crucial | Source: iStock

Most people experience days that can only be described as foggy. On these occasions, keys get misplaced, appointments are forgotten, and trying to problem solve only seems to create more problems. We often look to healthy foods to keep ourselves sharp, but even a nutritious diet might not get your mind where you want it to be. What you need is a new exercise routine. One designed for your brain health.

No matter what your career, the ability to work your way through problems is one of the most crucial skills. While it’s easy to think this ability is something you either have or don’t, some research suggests it’s a lot less set it stone. One 2008 study set out to see if there was any correlation between training working memory, which allows you to remember relevant information in the middle of performing a task, and fluid intelligence, the technical term for the ability to solve problems. In short, the answer was yes. What’s more, the researchers found more training led to greater gains.

Now for some controversy. You may have seen advertisements for certain web-based services geared toward brain training, like Lumosity. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) certainly is, and the organization recently slammed Lumosity with a $2 million fine for misleading consumers into thinking engaging in the subscription games could improve their work performance or ward off dementia down the road. According to NBC News, more than 70 experts in the field of psychology and neurology said theses types of companies usually employ greatly exaggerated marketing.

Man thinking as he sits | Source: iStock

Man thinking as he sits | Source: iStock

The problem isn’t so much that the companies offering these paid services are lying, but that they just don’t have enough evidence to back up their claims. So why should the above study stand up to the discussion around boosting your brain any more than these websites? Because the researchers aren’t trying to sell a product that will cost you $14.95 every month.

The good news is science does seem to suggest certain types of mental practices could ward off cognitive decline, but it’s not as easy as playing a few fun games every week. Recent research published in Restorative Neurology and Neuroscience found engaging in mentally challenging activities may have a protective effect on aging brains.

But here’s the catch, the activity really does have to pose a challenge. Researchers had some participants engage in quilting or digital photography programs that required individuals to continuously build upon their skills while others engaged in less mentally tasking activities. Only those who were part of the challenging tasks enjoyed the brain-boosting results.

 

Couple running along hte beach | Source: iStock

Physical activity can benefit your brain | Source: iStock

Fortunately, you don’t need to start signing up for costly classes to keep your mind at its best. Many health professionals suggest the real key is continued learning later in life. Harvard Health Publications said even involving your other senses and maintaining the belief that you’re in control of you cognitive function can keep you sharp.

It’s also worth mentioning physical activity plays a role. There’s a growing body of research that’s linking regular exercise to a reduced risk of cognitive decline, or at least buying you more time. Some research suggests even those who’ve succumbed to dementia can lessen negative symptoms associated with the disease, like depression, with exercise.

All this isn’t to say you can vastly improve your IQ and eliminate the risk of developing dementia later in life. Still, the possibility to achieve modest improvements in your cognitive abilities isn’t a bad deal.

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