Neuroplasticity: Brain Training for Every Day
Have you heard about brain training? Maybe you’ve tried one of the many brain training apps available, or you’ve simply started to challenge yourself with a cryptic crossword or a Sudoku puzzle every now and then? If this sounds like you, you might just be dipping your toe into the exciting field of neuroplasticity without even realising it!
Neuroplasticity, despite its complexity, is not just something for scientists and psychologists to be concerned with. Increasingly, this interesting and quickly developing field of study is being better understood by the average Australian – perhaps without us even knowing it. These days, with many people concerned about bettering their brains, brain training is a popular topic of discussion and an activity that more people are beginning to participate in. In fact, brain training is something that each of us can do every day, to improve the health of our brains. In this article, we will help you to understand why brain training can be so good for your brain and show you some of the simple brain training exercises that you can do at home or from anywhere.
What is brain training and why is it important?
As the average life expectancy for humans increases around the world, there is a worrying trend towards the increase of brain diseases such as dementia, as well as serious mental health concerns such as depression and anxiety. It appears that, as our bodies are lasting longer, our brains are beginning to suffer. Whether this is as a result of simply older brains (when people were dying much younger from now-preventable diseases, the brains simply didn’t grow old enough to develop these diseases), or that lifestyle factors are increasing the incidences of dementia and things like depression and anxiety, is still unclear. What is for certain is that brain health has become a major concern for the medical field over recent decades.
“According to the latest findings in Neuroscience, your brain reaches its peak performance at 16-25 years, and thereafter cognitive functioning declines” – NeuroNation
Dementia, in all its forms (Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s being the two most high-profile), is a cruel disease which can affect almost anyone. The same can be said for depression and anxiety, as well as many other mental health concerns.
Although certain types of dementia can be treated, and symptoms reduced, there is no cure currently available. As many sufferers of depression and anxiety will attest, it too can be a lifelong struggle which is difficult to fully overcome. The good news is that the fascinating study of neuroplasticity has resulted in promising techniques which can delay or even prevent the onset of dementia and other forms of cognitive decline, and can treat and even eradicate depression, anxiety and more!
The term ‘brain training’ can be best described as exercise for the brain. We are all used to hearing about the benefits of regular exercise for our bodies, but what about our brains? Just like any other organ in the human body, the brain can benefit from a healthy diet and regular exercise. Brain training can not only improve the health of the brain, but can result in:
- Reduced stress, anxiety and depression
- Better moods and increased self-confidence
- Improved memory
- Better concentration
- Enhanced motivation
- Faster thinking and improved reaction times
- Enhanced cognitive ability (intelligence) and brain flexibility
And the best part? Brain training is suitable for all ages, and can be practiced anywhere, at any time!
Simple brain training techniques for every day
- Puzzles and crosswords
Perhaps you’ve been doing the crossword in the weekly paper for years? Without even realising it, you’ve been training your brain with an exercise that keeps it on its toes. Challenging the brain to puzzles and problem-solving exercises can increase your brain’s function and keep it fit and fighting!
- Test your recall
Testing your recall is like a gameshow that you can play by yourself at any time. Try remembering the list of items on your grocery shopping list while you’re at the supermarket, or try remembering the last 3 number plates you passed when walking through the car park. Anything that involves remembering a detail that you’re not already familiar with will help to strengthen your brain. You can even reward yourself with something each time you improve (but of course, keep it healthy!)
- Learn a new language or learn to play an instrument
Neuroplasticity, as we discussed in our recent article, involves creating new neural pathways to both enhance and repair the brain. Learning a new skill, such as a language or playing an instrument, challenges the brain and creates new pathways within the brain. This is great for longevity and for keeping your brain nimble and active – just like your body.
- Switch hands
This seemingly simple concept can actually be quite difficult for most of us. Using our least-favoured hand to conduct tasks such as writing, eating, and even cutting with scissors can train the brain to be flexible and adaptable, and can strengthen our brain over time.
- Challenge your thoughts
Brain training is not only helpful for increasing the brain’s longevity but can also be used to improve our mental health. If you suffer from self-doubt, anxiety, stress or a lack of confidence, try challenging your brain whenever you have a negative thought. Studies show that neuroplasticity is an important factor in overcoming these types of things – and you can do it from anywhere, at any time!
- Positive self-talk
In the same vein as challenging your negative thoughts, encouraging positive ones can also have a beneficial impact on your brain. Want to become more confident? Less stressed? More motivated? The key lies within your brain, and brain training by repeating positive self-talk and affirmations can have a very real effect on the way you feel about yourself! Try it today by creating a simple affirmation like “I am confident and capable” or “I can manage the stress of my day with ease”. It’s important to make it about the ‘can’ and not the ‘will’ – use ‘I can do…’ rather than ‘I will do…’.
Brain training has remarkable implications for our brain’s health and our own mental wellbeing. Of course, it can take some practice! At Integrated Health Specialists, we’re big advocates for the effects of neuroplasticity on our lives, and we can help you to develop brain training exercises which make you both healthier and happier. To find out more about neuroplasticity or to explore our anxiety or depression programs, get in touch with us today.