We know what kind of exercise to take to keep our bodies fit and active and what kind of food to eat, but is it possible to exercise and train our brains to stave off the decline of our cognitive skills?
Never before have we had as much information about how to stay younger for longer than we do today.
A recent video shown on SciShow, aimed to find out whether it is possible to train our brains, with host Michael Aranda investigating certain ‘brain training’ games that claim to have the ability to improve our memory, attention and reasoning skills. Some even go as far as to claim that they can prevent the onset of dementia.
The theory behind these brain training games is based on the concept of neuroplasticity, that is the idea that the connections in our brains are not fixed, but rather are plastic and changeable, meaning that they can adapt to new ideas and stimulus. As studies have shown that aging brains, and brains of patients with dementia may have changed due to a loss of this plasticity, these brain training programs come with claims of being able to stop, or even reverse this process, by training the brain as you would the muscles of your body.
In theory it sounds like it’s possible, but do the claims hold up?
A 2010 study involving over 11,000 people and published in the journal Nature, found that after six weeks of being involved in tasks which were aimed at improving reasoning, memory and attention, the participants had only become better at those specific tasks. Their new skills were not transferable to other tasks, even if they were of a very similar nature. As a result of these findings, the researchers and the scientific community in general, believe that brain training doesn’t have the ability to significantly change our brain’s ability or health, and that they are unable to decrease or undo cognitive decline. So far, there has been no further convincing scientific evidence to suggest that they do.
So does brain training work at all?
While brain training doesn’t improve our overall brain health, it can prove helpful in certain areas, such as remembering names or counting change, and certainly this kind of training has proved very successful at helping people with Alzheimer’s to improve their skills in those areas. In the meantime, scientists are still trying to find ways to further understand the effects of aging on the brain and the causes of dementia, so until they make a breakthrough, we might as well concentrate on exercise and a healthy diet to keep our brains healthy.
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