May 18, 2015

5 Forms of brain maintenance

In a new article, Five ways to improve your brain power, Norman Doidge describes 5 ways to make and keep your brain fit: 1) walk two miles a day, 2) learn a new dance (or language or musical instrument), 3) do serious brain exercises, 4) pay close attention to your voice, and 5) get the rest your body requires. Below, I will briefly summarize what he says and add a view things myself.

1. Walk two miles a day: Doidge says that frequent physical exercise, such as walking or riding a bike, may lower the riks of developing dementia with 60%. He refers to this article: Healthy habits reduce dementia risk. He explains that the health benefits of walking are in large part due to the fact that walking makes the brain prepare for exploring new territory and in order to do that produces growth factors [so-called neurotrophins, CV], substances which enable the forming of connections between neurons. My comments: (1) there are many more physiological and cognitive benefits of walking (see 10 Advantages of walking, (2) It is also healthy to do highly intensive interval training, in addition to your moderately intensive exercises,

2. Learn a new dance (or language or musical instrument: Doidge explains that at an advanced age, we usually focus much less on learning new skills and we more and more limit ourselves to repeating our previously learned skills. Novelty and challenge, however are necessary for the maintenance of our brains. Doidge advises us to work with focused concentration for an hour a day on learning an new and challenging skill. By doing this, the nucleus basalis is activated which helps with the formation of new connections in the brain. My comments: the effects of learning new and complex skills at an advanced age go beyond forming new connections between neurons. Two examples are the emergence of new neurons in the hippocampus (neurogenesis) and the myelination of neurons (read more, here).

3. Do serious brain exercises. Doidge explains that ageing brains become more noisy due to which learning new information becomes harder. There are brain exercises which you can do every day and which strengthen various mental capabilities. Doing your daily crossword puzzle does not have the same beneficial effects. Doidge mentions as an example the exercises on BrainHQ. Research has shown that these exercises have measurable benefits (read this article). My comments: Another website which offers such exercises is Neuronation.

4. Pay close attention to your voice. Doidge dedicates a chapter of his book to the importance of listening to your voice. He explains that talking with a voice that gets people's attention is not a matter of your vocal cords but of your ears. People with voices we like to listen to can hear subtle differences in voices. Listening to your own voice can help you make your voice more energetic and subtle.

5. Get the rest your body requires. Doidge mentions research (this) which shows that during sleep glia cells open special gates through which waste products and toxic substances which have accumulated during the day can be eliminated. In addition to that, he says that new connections between neurons are consolidated during sleep. He says that many of us sleep less and less but we still need roughly 8,5 hours sleep per night. My comments: in 5 Tips for sleeping better I mention what Alex Korb writes in his book The upward spiral about the effects of good and bad sleeping on the brain and I mention 5 ways of improving your sleep.

Which of these tips do you like best?

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