Use it or you’ll lose it!
Many myths about the brain’s potential and its ability to improve have been debunked over the last couple of years. Today we know as a matter of certainty that our mental capacities are not fixed but fluid and the neuroplasticity exercises can significantly improve brain functioning and enhance our abilities to focus, memorize, solve problems or think creatively. And, most importantly, the brain’s abilities to develop are not limited by age; what the science of neuroplasticity teaches us is that the brain can be physically changed at any time, and this physical change in the number of neural connections and its strength implies a change in our mental skills and abilities. When it comes to our mental capacities, there’s a lot of room for improvement for all family members, regardless of age. That’s because our brain is an organ but it works more like a muscle that, depending on how we use it, can either grows or loses.
Benefits for all
In the case of children, a bit of brain fitness everyday helps them improve focus and increasing the ability to concentrate. They will enhance memory and will be able to retain a great deal of data and easily access complex information. Implementing some neuroscience-based tips and strategies also helps optimize the brain for better decision-making, problem-solving, and thinking ‘out of the box’. And for the older family members, regular brain exercises will not only result in higher productivity and performance level but also (in the long term) in the prevention of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
Where to start
There are countless brain exercises that each family member can perform daily, all of which come down to one fundamental idea: you need to continuously learn new skills and try new things every day. Repeating the same activities in the same way without challenging the brain to go beyond what’s already known, familiar and easy, won’t develop the brain much. Yet it doesn’t mean you need to start learning Chinese or climb Mount Everest in order to keep yourself mentally sharp. Start with something as simple as brushing your teeth using your left hand, try an exotic dish you haven’t eaten before, or take a new route on your way back home.
New does not have to be scary
In order for the brain to change (meaning to secrete chemicals that drive positive change in the brain structure), a new activity needs to absorb the brain’s full attention, and engage its all sensory channels (hearing, seeing, smelling, tasting, and feeling). Also, in order to develop the brain, the new activity should give a chance to progress, to start on the basic level, and gradually pushing you further and further (any sport, new language or multi-level course will work great here). And last but not least, a skill you decide to learn or improve has to be rewarding, giving you the satisfaction of finally succeed with what has originally seemed so hard to achieve. Satisfaction with success activates the dopamine system in the brain that makes us feel great and motivates us to try even harder.
I would like to conclude with one more important point: while continuous learning is the fundament for improving cognitive skills and mental sharpness, there are also some other aspects no less important. As countless studies have shown, physical exercises, nutrition, proper sleep, and regeneration, as well as significant and deep relationships and satisfying social interactions bring invaluable benefits for the healthy brain.
Written by Dr. Anna Kaminska