There has been decades worth of brain training teasers in the puzzle section of newspapers, games on Nintendo and now apps on smartphones, all claiming to help make us smarter or more alert.
They may claim to improve or expand our minds, however there was very little evidence about how or why they work, which is fair enough considering the complexity of the brain and its chemistry.
The Science in Brains
Consider that doing the same type of task over and over might refine one part of the brain, that may do no good for the rest of our minds. So, it is interesting, if not exciting to see some science come along that might help explain this.
The research focuses on our glial cells which do the job of keeping our neural pathways clean, helping get rid of unwanted clutter and generally maintaining our brains in tip top shape. Regular tasks are boosted as the pathways linking the parts of the brain associated with them are swept clean.
They work while you are asleep to provide that rebooted feeling first thing in the morning, which explains why a lot of creative thinkers are at their best early in the day. While we do our best big science is still keen to investigate how we can improve our brains.
Another example comes from food giant Nestle, which last year opened a new “hub” focused on nutrition, metabolism and dementia to feed innovation in brain health. In concert with medical diagnosis and treatments, there is a growing nutraceutical-based approach that will help us avoid and slow down the effects of brain diseases.
Researchers are finding or refining compounds from super foods, those rich in antioxidants including fish, fruit, vegetables and seeds, to improve brain health and fight disease.
Think Harder For A Healthy Brain
The trick to keeping certain thoughts and memories first place in your mental podium is to make a conscious effort to keep them active. That familiar feeling when you return to an earlier task is those well-honed synapses firing into action.
There are many ways to keep the brain healthy, these include:
- For the young or old, doing new, physical things is great for the mind. Going out and doing new pastimes, going to events or meeting new people all help us keep our minds fresh and learning new things.
- Even if you don’t need to do a task regularly, running in your mind through the processes you use for that task help the brain stay fresh.
- Ensure there’s a reward at the end of a task: brain chemistry is wired to enjoy receiving rewards.
- Enjoy a power nap. Experiments show that those who take a little 10-20 minute nap have better recall than those who don’t nap, or take longer 45 minute snoozes. While a good night’s sleep is vital to a clean brain, a short nap gives the glial cells the chance to perform a quick service.
- Stretch yourself. Don’t stick to doing the same old crossword in the hope of improving your brain, try math puzzles like Sodoku.
- Play video games. While your kids may dominate on Nintendo, don’t let them hog the games console, playing any reactive or high speed game helps get the game moving. Even gentler games like adventures help stimulate the cortices, strengthen cell connections and improve your reaction times.
- Keep taking the fish. As well as super foods, oily fish has long been proven to be a healthy lifestyle choice, but as well as helping the joints, omega-3 fatty acids are vital for keeping the brain healthy. Eating fish just twice a week can substantially reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
- Write a letter. The art of letter writing may be dying, but your brain can benefit from the fine muscle control that taxes us, while recalling memories, thinking of people and places, or trying to find words to write – all stimulate the mind, and the recipient will benefit too.
- Exercising the body exercises the brain. Getting the blood pumping, even gently with a brisk walk, is good for the brain as well as the heart.
- Don’t dwell on the negative. If glials keep the good in your mind awake, it can also bring back the bad if you dwell on the negative. The mind is a flexible thing. So, if you’ve had a bad experience during your day, move on quickly and start thinking about something happier. This will help your mood brighten, and your positive choices will make whatever is troubling you not look quite so bad.
Any or all of these tips will help you keep your brain healthy and those glials hard at work!