The term cognitive training is nothing new, but it’s been misused by many online courses and apps that claim how they can help you train your brain to prevent mental deterioration. However, there is currently insufficient evidence to back these claims, as science still can’t explain what makes our brains work.
While the FDA has approved some brain training programs that proved useful for treating mental disorders such as Alzheimer’s, there is still not enough evidence that shows which brain training games really work. A study done by using over 18 computerised brain training programs found that only one of them was backed by a high-quality study.
What Does Cognitive Training Look Like?
Even though there isn’t a large enough body of evidence to clearly show that cognitive training provides real-world applications and mental activity, some studies
showed signs of progress. The two training programs underlined as the most successful by Australian scientists provide some real insight.
They have a positive impact on improving the processing speeds of the brain as well as accuracy.
Mahncke’s BrainHQ program trains the brain by focusing it on visuals. It involves a series of images shown only for a second. One image is always in the centre, while the other one is way off in your peripheral vision.
After seeing the pictures, you have to pinpoint the image in your peripheral vision that shows the same object as the main image. With practice, your visual system’s speed and accuracy will improve, allowing your brain to complete these tasks faster. The training will challenge your brain as you progress, in essence, improving its neuroplasticity.
Neuroplasticity - The foundations
As your brain tries to resolve things and find explanations, it’s constantly switching between the central picture and the one in the back. Over time, that leads to neuroplastic changes
allowing it to find solutions faster. In reality, the brain structure changes and creates new synapses that enable it to deal with this particular visual challenge faster and more efficiently.
By forcing your brain into overdrive, new neural pathways are formed between individual brain cells, changing the brain’s entire structure. Compared to the relatively simple “brain training” apps and games, which might help you improve your memory for certain things, these more advanced exercises build strong neural connections and improve overall speed and accuracy.
By activating the chemicals in the brain using additional demands and rewards, our brains undergo a change that has a huge impact on overall function. These chemicals also impact the way we feel and how fast we learn.
The science behind BrainHQ showed that the people who try plasticity-based cognitive training programs reported feeling sharper, more agile, and the ability to notice more details in their everyday lives. They were able to remember phone numbers by heart, see more objects in the peripheral vision, and hear more sounds everywhere around them. The man behind the test states that everyone could improve their cognitive thinking using a few simple exercises that offer similar results to his program.
As the research is still out there and the debate over specificity looms, are there any things we can be doing right now to ensure we’re treating our brains with the same performance demands as our bodies?
How to Effectively Train Your Brain
Although the evidence is currently lacking when it comes to preventing cognitive decline
what we do know is that our brain retains a capacity to change in response to experience until late adulthood, so to not stimulate an organ that is so reactive to stimulus would seem absurd.
Learning something new and learning new skills contributes to our overall sense of independence. It sharpens our mental skills for everyday life applications and ultimately ‘cognitive training’ at present simply points to us exercising our grey matter through learning, observation, reading, listening and learning to process all of that in better and more efficient ways.
Here are a few tips that will potentially help you improve how your brain works:
1. Learn Things Outside Of Your Comfort Zone
Repeating the same action or skill won’t do much in helping your brain build new neural links. The key is to continuously learn new skills that are outside of your comfort zone. Something completely different from what you already do.
Initially, this will be challenging, but if you stick to it and repeat the same exercises a few times every week, you will get better, and your brain will become sharper and more accurate. Learn how to play an instrument, learn a new language, do anything that makes your brain face new challenges. Don’t forget also that many of us are on a spectrum in which we favour analytical thinking or creative thinking. If your day is lacking in either, embrace the alternative style.
2. Explore The World Around You
Travelling is an excellent exercise for your brain, as you will encounter new cultures, mindsets, and locations that will help you change the way you think about everyday things. If you don’t have the time or resources to travel worldwide, you can tap into new cultures and experiences using modern resources. Also for many of us the worlds outside our doorsteps are often unexplored.
The idea is to create new paths for your brain. Simply find a new way to get to the grocery store or head on to your favourite gym using streets you don’t normally use. On the way there, focus on your surroundings, sounds smells, and create a mental map of your surroundings. When you learn all details by heart, change the route and kickstart your brain’s hippocampus to promote learning and improve memory.
Stop and take a look around once in a while. The world around you is full of stimulus outside of a screen on a device.
3. Stay Active And Watch Your Diet
Your brain is only as good as the rest of your body, which is why you should make time for exercising regularly and improve your diet. Physical activity will help you train your brain faster, and eating so-called brain foods
will help you maintain good health, which also helps your brain work faster.
Without physical exercise and a healthy diet, your brain will struggle to cope with the bad stuff happening in your body, making it harder to focus and stay on top of things. Make movement a part of each and every day. Go out for a walk or a run every day, observe the world around you or get engrossed in a podcast or audiobook. Pick new routes every few days, and your brain will thank you for it.
Switch an episode of your favourite mind-numbing show off and use 30 minutes to watch or research something educational.
Whenever you see an app or a cognitive training program that seems too good to be true - it almost certainly is. There’s simply not enough scientific evidence to back those claims up. However, if you still want to train your brain and improve cognitive functions, remember to stay active, eat right, and put your brain in unfamiliar situations to promote the creation of new neural pathways. Most of all keep it stimulated and feed it constantly with new information.
We endorse purposeful activity at HMN24, both physical and mental. Get them both into your schedule and execute them.
It’s simple things like these that will make the most significant difference in your brain’s structure.