Brain Training Exercises

Bet you thought brain training exercises meant something like memorizing the NYC phone directory?

Well, there are memorization tools available that could be part of your brain training exercises, but these days brain training has much more to do with neurogenesis and neuroplasticity, two recently discovered capacities of the human brain.

Until about 12-15 years ago, no one knew that we humans grow new brain cells which is the process described by the term neurogenesis.

Those new cells grow daily, if we bring them to a hospitable environment, which means we are attending to what the experts are calling the pillars of brain fitness.

Most of those experts are indicating that the new neurons migrate to the hippocampus, a very important part of the memory keeping circuitry of your brain.

Want an overview of the whole brain training exercises process?

I suggest you read Brainfit for Life by Simon Evans,Ph.D., and Paul Burghardt,Ph.D. for a non-jargon guide to a foundational understanding of the entire brain fitness concept.

Evans and Burghardt make the concepts of neurogenesis and neuroplasticity and how to work out the brain to enhance them very easy to grasp.

By the way, the term neuroplasticity is the term the experts use to describe how the brain reorganizes itself, sometimes within minutes of learning something new.

That's right, we do not need to wait for there to be an overwhelming weight of new information stuffing the cranium until a tipping point is reached, and a big shift occurs.

The brain reorganizes itself as we learn, but we do need to review that learning perhaps, and remember to take care of the brain fitness pillar called 'getting-enough-sleep' because that is when memory consolidation happens.

OK, So What Are The Pillars of Brain Fitness and How Do I Train Them?

The pillars of brain training exercises are; physical exercise, nutrition including antioxidants and omega 3 fatty acid, the above mentioned sleep, stress management, and novel learning experiences.

Physical exercise is perhaps the most important of the pillars, which may be bad news for the couch potatoes amongst us.

However the good news is that the level and intensity of physical exercise required for neurogenesis and neuroplasticity does not have to involve an olympic training regimen or even a gym membership.

We need to be able to generate deeper faster breathing for about 10 minutes a couple of times per day to increase blood flow to the brain. That deeper faster breathing can come from doing more and a bit faster walking than you already do.

However, physical exercise does not preclude joining a gym and working out there also, perhaps while listening to a challenging lecture on your ipod.

But you can be very successful at the physical exercise pillar with tools like an exercise ball and couple of five pound dumbbells, like those used by 89 year old Bill and 82 year old Pat to keep themselves in shape for their international travel adventures.

Of course, nutrition is going to be a big part of your brain training exercises, which means you have to put aside the processed food, and increase the fruits and vegetables. Surprisingly though, there is a significant role for omega 3 fatty acid in your brain fitness regimen, which needs to be taken in through what you eat, since your body does not manufacture it very efficiently.

According to Evans and Burghardt about 70% of the membrane of our neurons is composed of omega 3 fatty acid, and if it is not replenished, those membranes become brittle and communications between neurons becomes garbled.

The best source of omega 3 fatty acid is fish, but if you do not like to eat or cook fish, then perhaps a supplement is in order.

As mentioned above sleep is a very important part of your brain training exercises, and that is good news for most of us, but you have got to remember to allow your brain enough REM sleep, which means a full nights sleep.

Brain Training Exercises For Stress Management

Stress management is very important to neurogenesis and neuroplasticity, as too much and too frequent exposure to to stress hormones will kill those newly born neurons and inhibit neuroplasticity in the remaining neurons.

Most folks do not think that they need to attend to stress more that a few times per week, but I want to suggest that you need to attend to stress heart beat by heart beat.  

Sound impossible? Not true if you learn how to do Heartmath or heart rate variability biofeedback, which trains your heart to make itself coherent whenever you engage in a cue thought and a breathing pattern.

A great heart rate variability biofeedback side effect? It opens up the higher perceptual centers of the brain. A better brain through relaxation rather than effort? You bet. (Please see the Heartmath link in the right column).

Novel Learning Brain Training Exercises

And the last pillar of brain fitness is the novel learning experience pillar.

The experts say that they most effective novel learning experience for neurogenesis and neuroplasticity is the kind of novel learning experience we get when we learn a new language or new instrument.

Not sure about you, but I do not have a lot of time for a new language or for practicing a new instrument, so I am going to check out some of the computerized brain fitness programs.

I really like what the IMPACT study has to say about the Posit Science Brain Fitness program and the PNAS research is equally exciting about the impact of the Mind Sparke Brain Fitness Pro.

Those are programs that I can do at my computer, and I can make time for that kind of brain training exercises much easier than I can for Spanish lessons.

Do these for a brain tingle. Best brain training exercises around. 

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Mind Sparke Brain Fitness Pro - Software that makes you smarter

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