The Human Brain is a creative organ, it rewires itself everyday by interacting with our environment through the six senses. Interestingly, the brain can build itself even in old age as new neurons are synthesized from stem cells. Severe mental decline can occur because of diseases of the brain. But age-related memory loss or motor skills can also result from inactivity and lack of exercise. Both physical exercise and mental stimulation improves brain function and protects one against cognitive decline. Physical exercise can even sharpen our brain.
The push-button world can create a sedentary world with inactivity resulting in a deteriorated cardiovascular system along with a decline in both physical and mental health. Children today spend a lot of time in front of the computer, watching TV or playing video games. They have no time for outdoor games or much physical activity. And this can reflect on their mental development.
According to Fernando Gomez- pinilla, a neurosurgery prof at the UCLA, exercise increases the levels of certain substances or chemical important for brain cognition. Research in lab rats has shown that exercise boosts the BDNF levels in the hippocampus, a part of the brain which is the center for learning and memory in the brain. A positive linear relationship was observed; the more was the exercise, the more changes were seen in the brain.
Similar to rats, fitness enhances cognition in humans too. In an interesting study incorporating a randomized clinical trial published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, 50 year old people with memory problems scored higher on cognitive tests after a six-month workout regimen than their sedentary counterparts. However, skeptics feel that much more research is needed before you can confirm a link between physical exercise and brain power.
Exercises show significant improvement in the higher mental processes of memory, those that involve planning, organization and multi-tasking. Also, it may delay the onset and progression of certain neurodegenerative diseases. The more you exercise the greater are the protective benefits for the brain.
Exercise Benefits for ‘Old-timers Disease’
Worldwide, more than 100 million people may have Alzheimer’s disease by the year 2050. Senior citizens most of the times are worried about memory lapses. Living longer is no fun when you forget your own home address or are unable to remember whether you have eaten your lunch or not. A lot of research is being carried out to understand the changes in the brain, which are associated with ageing and dementia. No medications have been effective for preventing Alzheimer’s disease as yet. But evidence is now pointing at other ways to bolster brain health and that is physical exercise.
Experts suggest that all those who exercise at least three times a week or those who are physically active in exercises such as swimming or walking have a lower risk of dementia than those who live a sedentary life. Also, aerobic exercises have been shown to improve cognitive abilities. Yet there have been several questions that need answers. Can regular exercise postpone the development of Alzheimer’s disease? More studies are needed to confirm the findings. Availability of newer brain scans can help in tracking whether exercise affects the progression of Alzheimer’s.
‘Elderobics’ or aerobic exercises for about 30 minutes such as walking, jogging, cycling or riding a stationary bicycle at least thrice in a week acts as medication for treating depression in the elderly.” A passive life is not good for the brain”, says Dr. Robert Friedland, University Hospitals of Cleveland, USA. Cardiovascular exercises such as aerobics are good even for people over the age of 70. Exercise improves the heart’s ability to pump blood and this increases the flow of oxygen-rich blood to the brain.
Research studies have revealed that working out in a gym helps you make new cells in the dentate gyrus, an area of vital memory in the brain; working out sparks off the production of more neurons.
Walking is one exercise that not only is good for the body but also for the brain. It improves blood circulation to the brain and increases the oxygen and glucose content reaching the brain. Walking can therefore clear your brain and help you think better. As you walk, your heart rate and breathing rate goes up. As more blood reaches the brain, there is an enhanced energy production and also waste removal.
Studies on senior citizens who walk regularly showed improvement in memory skills as compared to those who live an inactive lifestyle. It also betters their learning ability, concentration and abstract reasoning. People who walk regularly for at least 20 minutes a day experience less decline in mental abilities and memory. More than walking, running is a brain booster. Studies have shown that running may stimulate new cell growth in the brain.
Morning exercises as you wake up wakes your brain too. While still in bed, you can wiggle your toes, scrunch and stretch. According to neurologists, toe wiggling activates nerves that stimulate your brain. Likewise you can do a few physical exercises in the bed, which freshen you up.
Dr John Ratey, author of the book Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain Prefers dance and martial arts. He says, “Both activities require you to position different parts of your body simultaneously and in synchronicity; and with dance, you’ve got to move along to music. That’s a lot of mental stimulation.”
In addition to physical exercises, nutrition is very important for the brain. Antioxidants in the diet protect your brain and mop up free radicals associated with brain maladies. Certain micronutrients too help make your brain work well.
Mental Exercises for the Brain
Beginning in the womb and throughout life the brain neutral network continues to expand, adapt and learn. Your cerebral architecture is complete by the time you are four or five years of age. Until your early teens you can easily learn writing, new languages, mathematics, music, sports and dance. Young world is filled with wonders, discoveries and challenges and this is because of your brain, which absorbs countless bits of information to develop lifetime skills. Even later on in life you can continue to engage your mind into various exercise routines.
Human brain can continue to grow and improve with exercise. Every time you complete a task, move or think, several neural connections are made, reinforced or lost. An average brain cell makes about 10,000 connections with other cells. In order to keep them firing, brain researchers insist on promoting the neural motto—use it or lose it. Neuroscientists believe that learning and memory involve alterations at neuron-to-neuron synapses. These alternations are called long-term potentiation (LPT), which help connected neurons to communicate with each other to form memories.
Memory Exercises for Children
Word searches jigsaw puzzles, joining the dots, crossword puzzles are all a great family activity. Memory exercises work well with children. These are brain exercises, which can be done while travelling by car, bus, train or even at home. Memory exercises include teaching or taking up spellings, remembering names, phone numbers, reciting poems, singing songs or playing number games and reciting math tables. These exercises can help adults too.
There are obstacle courses for physical exercises. Similarly there can be obstacle courses for the brain too. Children can complete a series of mental tasks all lined up on the floor or on the table. Encourage children to use both hands to write or draw. That way both the dominant as well as the non-dominant hand can be used and both sides of the brain get exercised. Another option is to ask the child to draw a picture where one-half is done with the dominant hand and then afterwards ask him/her to copy onto the other half by the non-dominant hand.
Neuroscientists maintain that your brain can be trained and toned and toned very much like your train your muscles. Your children can sharpen their wits working with flash cards, mind games, word hunt and recall games. Take up a word. For instance, and ask your child to make up as many words as he/she can.