A few weeks ago, I proposed a question: Is Your Brainware Out-of-Date? This post talked about the importance of learning. Not only keeping your realm of knowledge up-to-date, but dedicating time to learn completely new skills. But, even if your brainware is up-to-date, it’s still completely possible for it to be running slow. You might notice that as some very knowledgeable people age, it can still become harder for them to process new information or communicate already known information. This decline of cognition tends to happen as we age but it doesn’t necessarily have to. By challenging our brain and forcing it to process information faster than it needs to, it’s entirely possible to strengthen and quicken our cognitive abilities just as push-ups strengthen our muscles. In this post, I’m going to detail why our cognitive abilities decline and how we can train our brains to speed back up.
How We Become Cognitively Slow
The brain is made up of around 85 billion neurons. Each of these neurons develop a tree like branch structure. This branch structure is what receives and transmits information from one neuron to another, allowing cognition to happen. But, as we age, the size, complexity and efficiency of these branches and connections decline. Our brain shrinks and our cognition slows.
What does this mean for you? This means that your:
- Processing Speed Declines: In one study, participants were asked to substitute symbols for numbers as quickly as possible. The 20 year old participants performed the task about 75 percent faster than 75 year old participants. This slower processing speed means it takes older adults longer to formulate appropriate responses. A common problem associated with this is increased accidents when driving.
- Memory Declines: In another study, participants were asked to recall information from a story they read 30 minutes ago. The 70 year old group was only able to recall about 75% of the information that the 18 year old group could recall. A common problem associated with this is the inability to remember situations or experiences accurately.
- Problem Solving Declines: Another study had participants pick cards off of four blind decks. Each deck had a mix of gain and loss cards with a varying net gain or loss. The younger participants picked up on the highest net gain deck quicker than the older participants. This meant the younger participants were problem solving more efficiently than the older participants. A common problem associated with this is it’s easier for aging adults to get tricked into scams and deceptive advertising.
- Attention Declines: Lastly, a study had participants complete multiple computerized assessments involving reaction times, divided attention, resistance to distraction and attentive shifting. Participants over the age of 60 had a reduced capacity to disregard irrelevant stimuli versus those under the age of 60. A common problem with this is older adults get distracted easier and it’s harder for them to pay attention with noise around them.
And, a number of other abilities like emotional intelligence and language decline too.
But, the rate at which these abilities decline can be affected by a variety of reasons including environment, genetics, nutrition, physical activity, sleep and cognitive usage. Cognitive usage is what this post is focused on and is very similar to muscle usage. If you challenge your muscles with push-ups, those muscles adapt and grow to perform push-ups with more efficiency. If you challenge your brain with mental exercises, those neurons and neural connections will grow larger, more complex and more efficient. So, if we challenge our processing speed, memory, problem solving, attention and various other cognitive abilities, we can slow that rate of decline and maintain high cognitive abilities as we age.
3 Ways to Speed Up Your Brainware
The idea of brain training or performing cognitive exercises might seem unusual or odd at first glance. But, did you know Tom Brady (future Hall of Fame NFL Quarterback) performs consistent brain workouts nearly everyday and partnered with BrainHQ to market their services to people like him? Did you know that when Selena Gomez performed a digital detox, one of the only apps that she kept was for brain training? Did you know that crossword puzzles, sudokus and puzzles are regularly recommended by doctors for people with declining cognition and cognitive diseases? Although the concept of brain training isn’t popular yet, it’s growing and the science behind it is expanding. And, the best part is that brain training can not only be effective but it can be super fun too!
Here are a few effective ways to challenge your brain and reap the rewards:
- Games and Puzzles: Sudokus, crosswords and puzzles have been shown to increase memory and recall. Board games involve learning new rules, developing new strategies and can involve social stimulation too. Any sort of game that challenges you can provide a number of benefits.
- Brain Games: Specifically designed brain training apps like Peak, Lumosity and Elevate provide games that target your memory, attention, problem solving and processing ability. They offer a variety of games that increase in complexity and speed as you progress too.
- Competition: Various activities like recreational sports, cup stacking, charades or anything competitive is great too. It challenges your brain to think faster, problem solve more and hold a narrow focus/attention.
In my opinion, I think recreational sports might be the gold standard. If you’re playing a competitive game of soccer, you’re performing physical activity, social coordination, strategy development, fast thinking and a narrowed focus all at once. So if I have the option to play hockey, soccer or basketball then this is my first choice.
My second choice is board games. I love competing with friends and family while still utilizing a lot of brain power to create strategies, process multiple pieces of information at once and force myself to think quicker than it needs to. A few of my favorite board games include Ticket to Ride, Settler’s of Catan and Ghost Blitz.
Finally, on days where rec sports and board games aren’t an option, I like using Lumosity, Elevate and Peak to challenge my brain. The variety of games means I’m constantly challenging different areas of my brain and the score keeping pushes me to improve each time. These are fun games that I recommend if you have the time.
With worldwide lifespan expanding every year, cognitive decline is becoming more prevalent. Our body is surviving longer while our brains are struggling to keep up. This means our cognitive abilities like processing speed, memory, problem solving and attention are declining. This is causing real life issues like driving accidents, inaccurate memories and constant distractions. The good thing is it’s easy to slow this decline with activities that are fun and productive. Games and puzzles are easily accessible and challenge your memory and problem solving abilities. Brain training apps are free and provide a variety of games that target different parts of your brain. And, competitive games like rec sports provide a stimulating experience that incorporate physical activity with social coordination and difficult cognitive challenges. So if you’re looking to stay sharp and effective, I recommend you start challenging your brain with games like these to prevent cognitive decline.
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Hey, I am Brandon Zerbe
Welcome to myHealthSciences! My goal has always been to increase quality-of-life with healthy habits that are sustainable, efficient and effective. I do this by covering topics like Fitness, Nutrition, Sleep, Cognitive Health, Financial Independence and Minimalism. You can read more about me here.
- Cognitive Skills and the Aging Brain: What to Expect
- 6 Ways that Memory & Thinking Change with Normal Aging (& What to Do About This)
- Brain Neurons & Synapses
- Attention and Aging
- The One App Selena Gomez Has On Her Phone
- TB12 & BrainHQ
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