Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Exercise Your Brain!



the effects of exercising
Improve brain strength with physical
and mental exercise.
We exercise to lose weight, increase strength, or increase health, but what about exercising your brain? Recent brain research indicates that there are ways to improve your mental capacity or mental longevity through exercises, both physical exercises and brain games. 

Pump Iron to Flex Your Brain?

Physical fitness, it turns out, equates to mental fitness as well – that there are mental benefits of exercising. According to John J. Ratey, MD, author of A User's Guide to the Brain. physical exercise affects not only physical fitness but mental fitness as well, including alertness, mood, and vitality. Other doctors report that one of the effects of exercising is that it appears to diminish symptoms of adult and child attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and may even generate stem cell growth, which stimulates the brain. Brain research has also revealed that exercise positively affects the nervous system, releasing serotonin and dopamine – the feel-good chemicals –  into the body.

mental fitness
Fun brain games may improve thinking skills.
In a 2001 mood study reported in the Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness, volunteers who did aerobic exercise for an hour reported a reduction in depression, fatigue, anger, and tension.  And a Duke University study on clinically depressed adults 50 and older showed that, after four months of regular exercise, participants had improved as much as those on the study who were either treated with the antidepressant drug Zoloft or a combination of Zoloft and exercise, and that those who had only exercised maintained the antidepressant benefit longer, as determined in a six-month post study checkup.

So, if you you want to think more clearly, perform better, improve morale, and decrease depression, try physical exercise! Even a single low-to-moderate exercise effort can reduce anxiety for hours. For a lasting effect, doctors recommend at least 30 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise, such as walking or swimming, at least three times weekly, with even better effect if you perform 30-60 minutes of exercise up to five or six times per week. While the experts suggest that, generally, more sessions per week are better, they note that exercises involving extreme exertion may actually show a decrease in certain mental faculties directly after the effort, but that the delayed effect is just temporary. 

Brain games to increase memory and critical thinking skills

Is it possible to improve a brain with mental games? Many experts say yes, that fun for the brain is good for the brain. 

brain quizzes
Brain quizzes and games contribute to
mental fitness.
In the past, scientists believed that our mental capacity solidified after childhood – that what you've got is all you’ll ever have. But neuroscientists are now finding that our brains are constantly changing, generating new neurons and developing synaptic connections, regardless of age, and that certain types of mental fitness games and memory tricks can capitalize on this development to boost brain power.

These brain games, developed by companies such as Lumosity, and Cambridge Brain Sciences Inc., offer online tools for measuring and improving brain function, zeroing in on cognitive processes such as memory and attention. 

One peer-reviewed study reported in the Mensa Research Journal showed that some of these brain games can significantly improve short-term memory. In another study using an adaptive, computerized program, participants demonstrated significantly increased basic math skills, including number sense, and calculation, as well as processing speed, cognitive flexibility, and visual-spatial processing skills. Other research indicates that simply being social – interacting with others – boosts mental health by stimulating several areas of the brain.

All this developing evidence suggests that the right kind of mental exercises can reshape the brain to become more efficient. While there are conflicting opinions within the medical field on the effectiveness of brain training exercises, and even conflicting study results, there is no harm in trying these brain stimulation games, especially since many of the games that mentally stimulate are actually fun brain games. Some of the brain-fun memory games resemble arcade games and board games, modified to stimulate certain types of brain activity, and then measure the results. 
While most of these scientifically proven brain-quiz sites are not free, you can try them for free, such as the engaging brain games at Luminosity.com. There are ways to gain access for free, such as the Lumosity Education Access Program (LEAP), providing educators with Lumosity memberships for their students. If you or an educator you know is interested in participating in LEAP, you can fill out their online application. Through the Clinical Access Research & Engagement (CARE) program, clinicians such as psychologists, occupational therapists, physical therapists, speech pathologists and neuropsychologists can also get sample memberships to these brain quizzes for their patients. 

The brain strength game exercises influence a range of practical and usable cognitive functions, such as remembering names after the first introduction, remembering the location of objects, multitasking, learning new subjects quickly and accurately, and solving problems faster, even with just three to five 15-minute training sessions per week. That’s a small time investment for measurably improving the brain’s function.

Add on some regular physical exercises to build some brain muscle and you’re on course to be smarter and more alert for a long time. 
fun brain games
Gain brain strength by building brain muscle
with physical and mental exercises.

Ric Moxley
Contributing Writer

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