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Brain Training to Keep Your Mind Young

By: Hsin-Yi Cohen BSc, MA, MSt - Updated: 18 Dec 2010 | comments*Discuss
Brain Training To Keep Your Mind Young

Although the brain is not a muscle, it can be described by a similar maxim: Use it or lose it. For those worried about losing their mental abilities as they get older, the key is to keeping the brain active and continuing to use it for a range of different mental and physical activities.

In fact, research suggests that keeping your brain active can actually halve the rate at which your brain shrinks. Certainly, keeping mentally active helps the hippocampus – an area of the brain which controls memory – from deteriorating as we age and slow the onslaught of degenerative mental diseases such as Alzheimer’s.

Brain Training Games

There are now several brain training video games which claim to help boost brain function and slow down any mental decline associated with ageing. They involve activities which practise attention, processing speed and memory and recent studies seem to suggest that they produce a significant benefit.

It is already well known that elderly people who remain mentally active are more resistant to degenerative brain diseases and dementia (New Scientist, 17 December 2005). However, now specific studies suggest that by actively training certain cognitive functions and challenging specific parts of the brain, those regions can be encouraged to grow and develop more.

A good example is London taxi drivers who develop larger hippocampuses than normal – something that not surprising given that the hippocampus is responsible for spatial memory and taxi drivers require good working knowledge of their way around the city without constantly referring to maps.

More recent clinical trials by the manufacturers of several brain training games show that participants noticed significant improvements in their memory and processing speed and over 75% felt that this also led to improvements in their every day lives.

Brain training games can certainly do no harm to the brain and can be a fun – and mentally beneficial – way to pass the time. In the UK, Dr Kawashima's “Brain Training: How Old Is Your Brain?” Is available through Nintendo and encourages players to follow a daily regime of brain-enhancing exercises such as solving simple maths problems, counting people going in and out of a house, drawing pictures on the Nintendo DS touchscreen, and reading classic literature aloud into the device's microphone. Dr Kawashima himself is a leading brain expert in Japan, working at the Tohuku University School of Medicine as one of the country’s top researchers on brain imaging.

Other brain training games have also quickly entered the market, such as mobile phone developer, Upstart Games’s “IQ Academy”, which provides tasks of recognition, spatial resolution and logical prediction. Overall, games which can challenge individuals from a mental perspective but do not necessarily rely on action figures, role-playing or other games genre clichés are proving very popular.

Other Ways to Train The Brain

If you don’t enjoy playing video games, don’t worry – there are plenty of other more “old-fashioned” ways to train your brain. Anything which engages your mind and challenges your mental abilities is a good way to fight brain ageing. Keeping involved in a diverse range of activities and constantly learning new things seem to be the ideal recipe for training your brain to stay young.

Therefore, anything from learning a new language, taking up a new hobby, do daily Tai Chi, travelling to visit new places to simpler activities like reading and playing bingo can all be good for boosting and maintaining brain function.

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