Exercise the Brain with Brain Games
When people think of workouts, they often associate them with physical activity and exercise. However, an often overlooked but equally important area of the body that needs to be worked out is the command center of the body: the brain. Even when working out, like working your legs with squats, the brain is responsible for sending out signals to your muscles, telling them when and how to relax and contract so that the exercise can be performed. As important as muscles are for the human body to function properly, no movements can be accomplished without the brain. Below we’ll talk a little bit more about why the brain is so vital and some ways to improve one’s cognitive ability.
Why the Brain?
The brain is like an engine to a sports car. The outside of an expensive car looks nice and shiny, but if the engine doesn’t run properly under the hood, the car will have trouble performing well on the road. Similarly, even if someone is physically fit, they need to maintain their brain and mental capabilities in order to excel in whatever tasks they need to accomplish. 1Granted, studies show that regular exercise may improve some memory and thinking skills. However, physical exercise is only one piece of the puzzle in improving one’s cognitive abilities.
Benefits of Physical Exercise
Physical exercise and overall cardiovascular health are not only important for staying fit, but they help improve one’s cognitive performance. On the behavioral side, exercise helps release hormones that produce antidepressant effects, like a runner’s high for example, and is often associated with a drop in stress hormones. 2A recent study showed that the antidepressant effect of running caused an increased production of cells in the area of the brain responsible for learning and memory. 3Similarly, another recent study from UCLA showed that exercise makes it easier for the brain to grow new neural connections. 4On top of all of this, at the minimum exercise provides oxygen to the brain, which it needs to stay functioning.
Benefits of Brain Exercise
Brain exercises, often referred to as “brain games,” are a great way to sharpen the brain. 5Although scientists still aren’t 100% how much brain games improve the brain’s performance, they are obviously in high demand as the brain-health industry surpassed $1 billion in revenues in 2012. 6Studies show that brain games improve brain functions such as memory and awareness after they’ve been completed, but often times there is a drop off in such functions once participants stop taking time to train their brains. With that being said, cognitive decline is an unavoidable part of aging, so it doesn’t hurt to take some time to exercise the brain in addition to the body.
The Moral of the Story
Overall, it is clear that both physical and mental exercise contributes to an overall better brain and improved cognitive function. So why not try both? A combination of both forms of exercise is a great way to improve one’s daily life. Who wouldn’t want to be in better shape, with a sharper brain, and a happier overall mental state?
1) “Regular exercise changes the brain to improve memory, thinking skills”, Heidi Godman, https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/regular-exercise-changes-brain-improve-memory-thinking-skills-201404097110
2) “The Antidepressant Effect of Running”, Bjørnebekk, Mathé, Brené, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15769301
3) “Voluntary Exercise Increases Axonal Regeneration from Sensory Neurons”, Molteni R, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15159540
4) “Physical Exercise for Brain Health”, https://www.brainhq.com/brain-resources/everyday-brain-fitness/physical-exercise
5) “Mind games”, Kirsten Weir, http://www.apa.org/monitor/2014/10/mind-games.aspx
6) “Clinical Investigations”, George W. Rebok PhD, https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/jgs.12607
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