Here is the third installment of questions from Brain Fitness 101: Answers to Your Top 25 Questions. To download the complete version, please click here.
What is brain fitness?
- Brain fitness is the state of having quick, efficient, and flexible cognitive processing.
- Brain fitness is likely to be a consequence of increased number of neurons, functional connections between neurons, and processing speed.
Brain fitness grew out of the study of neuropsychology and neuroscience, and is the science of maintaining and training cognitive abilities through neuroplasticity and stimulating neurogenesis, the creation of new neurons, neural connections, and brain vascularization. Cognitive abilities like attention, stress and emotional management, memory, visual/spatial processing, auditory processes and language, motor coordination, and executive functions like planning and problem solving diminish over time unless they are used regularly. It is evident in an ability to assimilate information, comprehend relationships, and develop reasonable conclusions and plans.
Brain fitness can be developed by formal education, being actively mentally engaged in life, continuing to learn, and exercises designed to challenge cognitive skills. Healthy lifestyle habits including mental stimulation, physical exercise, good nutrition, stress management, and sleep can improve brain fitness. On the other hand, chronic stress, anxiety, depression, aging, decreasing estrogen, excess oxytocin, and prolonged cortisol can decrease brain fitness as well as general health.
Brain fitness can be evaluated by behavioral performance as seen in cognitive reserve, improved memory, attention concentration, executive functions, decision-making, mental flexibility, and other core capabilities. Scientists are also beginning to learn how to measure brain fitness physically at the cellular level by studying neurogenesis, the creation of new neurons, and increased functional connections of synapses and dendrites between neurons.
New technologies and brain imaging devices have shown that active brain function results in an increase in blood flow to the areas of the brain involved in carrying out the task, bringing with it oxygen and nutrients for the cells. Additionally, stem cells concentrate in the areas where there is greater brain activity and learn to function in the same capacity as the surrounding cells. In essence, the cells grow in the active areas of the brain.
A great deal of research has shown that practicing cognitive skills encourages their preservation and development at all ages. Research into cognitive reserves found that the more education people had and the more their minds were occupied, the less they suffered from age-related decline. People who remain intellectually active and engage in hobbies reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease by one third. All of these facts show that cognitive training — exercising your brain — protects your brain against decline in memory, concentration and information processing.
- Willis SL, Tennstedt SL, Marsiske M, et al. Long-term effects of cognitive training on everyday functional outcomes in older adults. JAMA. 2006;296:2805-14.
- Scarmeas N, Stern Y. Cognitive reserve and lifestyle. J Clin Exp Neuropsychol. 2003;25:625-33.
- Mental Fitness: Exercises for The Brain
- Brain Fitness Programs