Learn Ways to Keep Your Brain Sharper than Ever
Did you know that in the last two decades, scientists have discovered that the brain can create new neurons and build neuropathways? Known as neuroplasticity, the brain’s ability to change and modify neuron activity is something that researchers have only recently started to understand. But it indicates that with a little work, the brain can be exercised, sharpened, and improved. By targeting certain weak areas in the brain, you can develop them through various exercises known as “brain training.”
What is Brain Training?
Brain training is a way to enhance your ability to learn faster, easier, and better. It targets an individual’s specific weaknesses, and strengthens those weak cognitive skills. The result is improved learning and retention.
Dr. Ken Gibson, founder of LearningRx, has identified seven key areas that can be addressed through brain training. These are:
• Attention span
• Short-term memory
• Long-term memory
• Processing speed
• Logic and reasoning
• Visual processing
• Auditory processing
“All of these key areas affect how efficiently we learn,” says Michelle Hecker Davis, executive director of LearningRx.
Who Can Benefit?
People of all ages can benefit from brain training – from students struggling with math or reading retention to older adults who need to keep their mind sharp. It’s been proven that when it comes to training your brain, age isn’t a factor. Davis gives an example of someone who could benefit.
“If you have a weakness in short-term memory, you might find that when you’re copying something you have to keep looking back and forth again. Or, you might find that when someone gives you instructions, you have to get them to repeat it multiple times,” she says. The solution? “If you train short-term memory and improve it, then you find you’re not having those issues anymore. It makes processing information and doing day-to-day things easier and faster,” Davis explains.
You can boost long-term memory with brain training, too. If someone is struggling with math, for example, weaknesses often come in the form of fact memorization or logic and reasoning. Targeting that weakness and building long-term memory skills often result in improvement in mathematics for that individual.
Digital vs. One-on-One
Brain training on a computer might seem simpler – you can do it on your own time from the comfort of your own home. But Davis says it’s important to remember that brain training is like going to the gym – if you do it by yourself, you don’t have anyone to hold you accountable. “It’s like having a gym membership versus having a personal trainer,” she says. Training one-on-one pushes you beyond your limits and motivates you, which in turn yields bigger results. If you’re looking to significantly improve a weakness, one-on-one training is the more effective choice.
What Does Brain Training Involve?
Brain training is all about finding a cognitive weakness and targeting that weak skill in order to strengthen it. But how is that accomplished? “A key part of what we do in treating the cause of any difficulty is game-based activity,” Davis says. “For instance, we’ll show a paragraph that has the words of colors, but the word is written in a different colored ink. We’ll have someone read the color of the word, without reading the word. We’re re-training the brain to change what it automatically wants to do,” she explains.
Another brain training method is to add a metronome to improve speed. A quick beat is played, and questions have to be answered on every beat. According to Davis, it’s the equivalent of having a trainer at the gym.
How Can you Brain Train?
It’s easy for everyone to incorporate brain training in one way or another. If you haven’t noticed a weakness, you may not need a one-on-one trainer, but that doesn’t mean you can’t exercise your brain. Simple brain training routines can be incorporated into day-to-day activities.
For example, instead of plugging an address into your GPS, try to use your visual processing skills, logic, reasoning, and memory to get from point A to point B. Or, instead of writing down all the things you need to pick up at the grocery store, try to remember your list and shop from memory. And next time you park in a large garage or lot, try to remember where you left your car based on your surroundings. Consciously pay attention and observe your surroundings, and challenge yourself to find your way back. “We live in a time where our phones do everything for us and we don’t use these basic skills as much,” Davis says. “Exercise your memory a little bit. There’s a place for brain training in everyone’s life.”