Train Your Brain For A Long And Healthy

Brain training is in fashion as evidence suggests such activity helps us stay mentally sharper for longer. But the type of training needs to challenge in particular ways for it to be effective.

Learning new skills

In recent years the idea of older people learning new skills has gained in popularity, as it is seen as a way to stay active during the aging process. Evidence suggests that in old age the brain remains receptive to learning new things and retains its ability to be flexible. Given that we all now live longer there is a growing desire to stay physically and mentally active. The benefits of physical exercise are already well established and a similar focus is now placed on maintaining a fit and healthy brain.

The concept of ageing is changing as we work longer, live longer and stay active for longer than ever before. Science is helping push the boundaries by highlighting the benefits of stretching the brain and not accepting that it plateaus at a predetermined level. The brain has the ability to rewire as seen with patients who recover from injury by activating new pathways to address damaged areas. And such experiences suggest the brain like the body needs exercise to function at its best. Just as the body gains from specific training the brain follows a similar pattern, as more is understood about how different activities affect different functions. The big breakthrough comes from the realisation that the right type of stimulation triggers changes in the brain.

Improving performance

Armed with such knowledge the attention has shifted to how we improve the performance of the brain, as we get older. There is evidence that social interaction, physical exercise and new challenges enhance and prolong performance. Exercises that increase the supply of blood and oxygen to the brain improve function. And the active learning of new skills helps performance, as the required effort forces the brain to concentrate. Musicians are cited as an example of those who focus during practice in a way that keeps the brain engaged and stimulated. Such behaviour affects the brain but only when undertaken in a way that creates challenge. In a similar, albeit negative way, behaviours that fail to test the brain allow it to do less and therefore lose function.

It may be simplistic to compare training the body with training the brain but the idea opens a range of possibility. Whatever future research finds about how to look after our brain today’s advice is to engage socially, get physically active and engage in new challenges regardless of age.

So, training the brain just like training the body is in fashion and looks like it is the best way to stay physical and mentally active for longer.