Let’s do a bit of physiology – Do you know the essential features of brain training?
Increasingly, scientific evidence tells us that we can dramatically increase the probability of staying mentally and physically fit throughout our lives.
Physical exercise, good nutrition, social connection with others, and mental stimulation all play important parts in insuring that our brains remain sharp and agile.
There are several physiological mechanisms to help keep your brain healthy:
1. Stimulated and therefore active neurons get more oxygen and nutritive elements.
2. Neural stimulation multiplies the number of connections between synapses.
3. Keeping your neurons active is the key to generating new ones, as well as developing them and helping them survive.
4. Even in adult life, neurons can regenerate with stem cells.
In other words, complex mental activity can help protect the brain by building cognitive and brain reserves. These reserves represent the increase in neurons and synaptic connections (as opposed to what was believed so far, new neurons can be generated at any age).
Furthermore, this reserve also represents an active process of neural plasticity allowing to optimize a person’s performances either by calling upon other brain regions or by adopting new cognitive strategies.
Thus strengthened, we increase our neural network’s capacity to face the effects of aging or neurodegenerative diseases.
Over the last 25 years, scientists and physicians affiliated with medical schools and universities all over the world have followed and tested large groups of people to try to understand why some people stay sharp and with-it and other people don’t, over the span of their lives. As a result, we now have a significant body of scientific research in an area called “cognitive reserve”.
Stimulate your brain to preserve your cognitive skills
The phrase “Use it or lose it” applies to muscles in our bodies as well as to neural pathways and connections in our brains. This proves to be true at any age. Scientists all over the world agree that the evidence is now overwhelming: mentally stimulating lives “boost brain power”.
However, retirement often also goes along with less brain stimulation. In order to avoid memory disorders and age related brain decline, cognitive functions should be stimulated as a whole. Indeed, maintaining a high quality of life requires a sharp brain.
Several studies support the hypothesis of cognitive reserve and reinforce the importance of good physical health in keeping the brain fit. There are several results citing challenging, interactive games as one effective method to keep the brain challenged and agile.
One such study is the very famous Nun’s Study described in Aging with Grace, in which Dr. David Snowdon, a neurologist, and his colleagues followed 700 nuns over more than 20 years. Two extremely important findings have come out of this study:
1. There is a link between vascular episodes, such as stroke and heart attack, and Alzheimer’s and dementia;
2. Stimulating intellectual activity can provide protection from many types of cognitive decline.
Several ongoing studies have come to similar conclusions. E.g. a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, led by Dr. Joe Verghese, a neurologist, has followed almost 500 people for more than 20 years, observing what they actually do in their lives and what the relationship is between these choices and brain health. The research found that people who participated in mentally stimulating activities, such as interactive games and dancing, four times a week had a 65 to 75% better probability of remaining sharp than those who did not participate in these activities.[SOURCE]