Give your brain a proper workout

Everywhere you look nowadays, there are businesses touting the means to extend your brain power. One that is clearly courting favour, judging by their advertising campaign, is ‘Lumosity’, which describes itself as a ‘leader in the science of brain training’. It brings us a slew of apparently much-needed digital games in the areas of memory, attention, speed of processing and problem solving, promising to ‘train our brains’ to be more effective.

Amidst the hype of such novelties, it might be easy to forget the basics – that mental health (and therefore cognitive ability) is intrinsically linked to physical health, since we are whole persons, as opposed to brains on legs.

A recent study out of Boston University Medical Center has underscored this reality by showing that older adults with relatively greater cardio-respiratory (CR) health also have enhanced memory recall and cognitive abilities. On some parameters they even score as well as their younger counterparts.

The researchers compared thirty-three adults aged between 18 and 31 and twenty-seven aged between 55 and 82, with a wide range of cardio-respiratory fitness levels. All completed exercise testing to evaluate their CR function, as well as psychological testing to assess their planning, memory and problem-solving capacities.

Among the older group, those with higher CR levels performed as well as the younger group on planning and problem solving i.e. executive functions. On measures of memory, the young adults performed better than the ‘high fitness’ older group, who, in turn, performed better than the ‘low fitness’ older adults.

Scott Haynes, PhD and Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at the Boston University School of Medicine, said of the results:

“Our findings that cardio-respiratory fitness may mitigate age-related cognitive decline is appealing for a variety of reasons, including that aerobic activities to enhance it (walking, dancing etc) are inexpensive, accessible and could potentially improve quality of life.”

So, before you enrol in the latest ‘brain-training’ programme (and I defy anyone to successfully strip that  terminology of its Orwellian undertones), consider committing to a regular programme of cardiovascular activity. Simply a walk in the park every day – or even every other day – will help keep your brain in order, as well as conferring the many other well-known benefits, too numerous to list here. Aside from all the academic proofs, it’s sheer common sense.

For those who suffer with physical limitations or are out of the habit of regular exercise, we have a dedicated gym attached to the practice at 96 Harley Psychotherapy, and a Physiotherapist and Exercise Physiologist who can work with you to get you moving. We stand by this holistic approach and know from experience the inextricable link between physical and mental health. Speak to John Rutherford or Giles Webster whose contact details you’ll find here.

What do you think about the new brain training programmes that are making their way onto the government and media stage? Are ‘mind games’ really the answer to sustained brain effectiveness?

As ever, your thoughts welcomed.

Written by Jacqui Hogan