As I announced a month or so ago, I am starting up an arcade of mind games that are not my own. I have decided to provide this content to diversify the sorts of challenges this site can offer and also offer something to those of you who are looking for fancier graphics or more complex game play. Anyway, I have just spend a few hours working on this (and by that I mean playing a lot of games ) and I now have 15 games up there in 10 different categories of cognition. There’s a great game of attention and reaction speed, a 3d memory puzzle, and some neat physics-based problem solving games. Please check out this new brain fitness arcade and share it with your friends!
From my perspective, brain fitness is popping up everywhere and the industry seems on the brink of a popularity explosion. However, at the same time I am constantly amazed at how few people in the general public have heard of this concept. While I see articles, studies and programming everywhere I look, others don’t seem to notice it at all. I guess it all comes down to where you are looking and what you are looking for… Anyways, since I am paying attention, I figured I should share some of the things I have found in my virtual wanderings and explorations:
I have blogged about the benefits of juggling before in my section on brain fitness tips, but the article Juggle Heads article goes more into detail about just how very good it might be. It groups it with chess and dancing as great ways to engage both sides of your brain. Which is good because you never know what could happen and one day you might not have use of part of your mind and you’ll want to have strong reserves on hand!
A new study “finally proves” what I already considered to be a fact: practicing regular meditation can transform not just your experience of the world, but it can also physically transform the structure of your brain.
Oh yeah, neuroplasticity has a dark side; we call it pain and neurosis. Just like positive thoughts can become entrenched through repeated use, so can the perception of pain. People can also dig themselves deep mental ruts that they cant escape and instead get stuck in a world of paranoia or obsession.
Speaking of popping up, more and more physical brain fitness / cognitive training centers seem to opening around the country. Here’s one I have not heard of called LearningRX
More to come soon!
Ok so there probably is no such thing as the perfect brain, or at least its definition would be very subjective. But that fact aside, it is interesting to think of the brain and personality as something that can be designed. In a way, we are incredibly aware of this; when seen through the lens of parenting, it is obvious that we are taking an active role in designing a child’s personality. In other ways though, I think we are way behind the curve of science when it comes to accepting just how powerful this role can be. In the way our brains work, genetics is seeming less and less important while experience is appearing more influential by the day.
Now, if you take this idea a little further and you can start asking things like Don Tapscott asks in his article Designing Your Mind. I love this article as I have has many similar thoughts given my proclivity towards neuroplasticity and design! I’ve even thought about it a little through the principles of permaculture design and had a lively discussion with my sister about the role of cognitive sculpting in mainstream education. It seems like in time people will try to develop formulas for cultivating certain kinds of minds – peaceful, ambitious, organized, analytical etc – and try to effectively start reprogramming the populous. I wouldn’t actually mind being in control of that program, come to think of it
On this website I talk a lot about neuroplasticity in the context of brain fitness and brain training. I describe it often as a process which can be consciously harnessed and used to better ourselves. I sometimes also speak of an unconscious process that goes on behind the scenes in which we are constantly shaping our minds through our thoughts and experiences. However, I rarely mention the most demonstrative and well publicized role of neuroplasticity, its role in healing/recovery from brain trauma. Not long ago victims of strokes and other traumatic brain injuries were considered lost causes. But these days, it seems like there are few limits to what the brain can recover if left with enough healthy tissue and connections. Whole regions of the brain that were destroyed can be reassigned to other areas over time through the magic of neuroplasticity. These things take time and effort, but amazing recoveries are becoming more and more commonplace.
I bring this all up because I just read an article on the role of neuroplasticity in the case of Rep Gabrielle Giffords and her gunshot wound to the head. It goes through different areas that may have experienced damage and explains the prognosis for recovery in each case. Poor woman has a long road ahead of her but as the article points out she has a lot going for her.
Here is a great video describing the difference between direct and indirect brain training techniques. I had not heard of this distinction before, but it makes perfect sense. The idea is that there is a difference between exercising an application of a particular cognitive skill and actually working to master the whole skill and be able to apply it in any situation. That is, if you are looking to improve your ability to focus, you are better off targeting focus more generally (like through meditation) than very specifically (like in a game).
Anyway, this guy seems to lay out a pretty straightforward approach to developing concentration and focus in your daily life. It’s definitely a very important aspect of brain training (your behavior and attitude in day-to-day life) to be aware of, and likely much more effective than just playing games. So if you have 8 minutes, check out this video on brain scultping
A soon-to-be-published study coming out of UCSF is claiming to reveal a direct link between brain training through a cognitive fitness program and improved mental functioning in day to day life. This particular study targeted working visual memory – something we are using on a constant basis in our everyday lives – and found that this skill improved nearly 10% in the period following the training. From the lead researcher, Adam Gazzaley, MD, PhD, director of the Neuroscience Imaging Center at UCSF :
“This confirms our understanding that the brains of older adults, like those of young people, are ‘plastic’ – the brain can change in response to focused training”
“The study shows that perceptual improvements with simple discrimination training can transfer to improved working memory in older adults, and it also shows that this increase in memory accuracy is linked to changes at the neural level.”
New evidence towards the efficacy of brain fitness is now emerging from Australia where they just completed their Brain Fitness Pilot Program. Among their findings were:
- Participants found improvements in their memory and were able to follow conversations better.
- Brain has the ability to change in response to new learning.
- Exercising the brain reduces the risk of developing dementia in later years.
The study consisted of a variety of older participants, people in their 60s, 70s and 80s who spent just two hours a week doing structured brain exercises. After an 8-week period, a majority of participants reported an improvement in their train of thought and could remember names and shopping lists better, while another 70 percent found an improvement in their hearing and their ability to follow and remember conversations.
Encouraging news for anyone worried that their mind might be slipping! Would you be willing to spend two hours a week doing brain training if it meant a healthier sharper mind? That’s just 20 minutes a day!
If the following tip sounds more like preaching than advice, that’s because it is: lace up your shoes and go dancing. Not only is dancing great exercise (which increases blood flow to your brain), relaxing (reducing stress), and fun (improving mood), it also serves to exercise your balance, coordination skills and sense of timing/rhythm. It can also be a great vehicle for socializing (which, as discussed in a previous post, is one of the most important aspects of brain fitness), and a way to channel your artistic/creative abilities. You get all this from something that you can pretty much do anywhere, anytime, for free. In my personal experience, dancing is just about as good as it gets, and if there is one thing I would like to encourage others to do, it’s dance. There are so many different styles so you should be able to find something that works for you, regardless of your experience level or your musical tastes. Just do it, your mind and body will thank you.
And that doesn’t even consider the affects the music itself has on your brain, aside from the movement aspects:
A few interesting quotes I came across:
Researchers who followed nearly 500 people for 21 years found that ballroom dancing was the most protective physical activity. It reduced dementia risk by 76 percent.
A recent report from the Changing Age Partnership confirms that dancing may be a key to successful aging. Dr. Jonathan Skinner of Queens University Belfast recently presented research findings that strongly suggest regular dance sessions offer mental, physical and social benefits to seniors. These benefits seem to hold back the overall declines normally associated with aging: The seniors who dance seem to stay more engaged and motivated, have reduced aches and pains, combat the common sense of social isolation, even stimulate their immune systems in multiple ways.
And here’s a great article from the brain fitness experts at SharpBrains: Waltzing your way to physical and mental fitness
The brain games on this website have been specially designed to maximize the benefit of your training session. Each game targets specific mental faculties (such as attention, memory, visuospatial skill, reaction time, etc) in simple and straight-forward ways. Most importantly, the games automatically become harder as you make progress, ensuring that they always provide an appropriate degree of challenge.
TLS Brain Training entertains and challenges you with a mix of exciting new games and proven, well-loved favourites. Unlike our competitors, our puzzles are fun and have staying power; each is playable many times without becoming tedious or repetitive. With a simple, elegant and content rich interface, we have the ideal product to help train your brain!
This is possibly the ultimate brain fitness tip. So few of us make the effort to explore meditation or to practice it regularly, yet it can have such a profound and positive impact on the brain. Thanks to new advances in neuro-imaging technologies, scientists are now able to observe the effects of meditation on the mind, and the results are staggering. Prolonged meditation has the capacity to physically transform the organization of your brain and can empower you to become more attentive & relaxed, among other things (like eliminating bad habits and negative thought patterns)
But don’t just take my word for it! Check out these links to learn more about the myriad benefits of meditation.
The Sharp Brains Guide to Brain Fitness: 18 Interviews with Scientists, Practical Advice, and Product Reviews, to Keep Your Brain Sharp is a thorough and comprehensive review of the brain fitness industry. In compiling together scientific findings, interviews with industry leaders, product reviews, and emerging trends, it examines the subject from many different angles and paints the broadest picture to date of this emergent notion of cognitive fitness. It discusses what it means to be brain-fit, what tools and techniques we can use to get there, and why it is important to do so.
The guide begins with a great dedication (“to your Unique Brain, and your Unique Mind”) and then goes on to debunk 10 ‘brain myths’. From there, it is organized into seven chapters:
- The Brain and Brain Fitness 101
- The 4 Pillars of Brain Maintenance
- Mental Exercise vs. Mental Activity
- Brain Training Software
- A Growing Range of Applications
- Ready for the Future?
- Opening the Debate
As you can see, the book covers a lot of ground. Yet, it is an easy read and well organized. Many of the chapters begin with a bulleted list of topics covered, and most of them end with a series of interesting interviews relevant to the chapter’s content. The interviews are numerous and an excellent addition to the book as they cover a wide range of topics and give you a good sense of the many different aspects of brain fitness.
The book concludes with a guide for using it with a book club, providing a bunch of topics for discussion. It goes on to invite you to continue the discussion online as there is now a forum on Facebook for talking about the ideas put forth in the guide.
Of course, this sort of thing is right up my alley, so I very much enjoyed it and recommend it to anyone looking to learn more about personal brain health, the science behind cognitive training, or the brain fitness industry. The only downsides of this book are several typos (something I can hardly complain about considering how prone I am to those myself) and the fact that it does not mention playwithyourmind.com among its quick picks for brain fitness (maybe I’ll make the next edition…). All in all, it’s an easy read and, considering the magnitude of the topic, a very important read as well. Pick up a copy, read it, and pass it on to a friend.
A blog on all sorts of brain fitness topics, from cognitive training & meditation to cardiovascular health & diet.
Check out this engrossing 20 minute video lecture on neuroplasticity by pioneer Michael Mezernich:
Sharpen your memory. Stay focused longer. Increased alertness & awareness. Make quicker & wiser decisions. Boost your productivity. Fun, fast & convenient. Function better overall. Feel better about yourself