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Have you noticed how “Brain fitness” is becoming more of a buzz word?

And as part of being brain fit we need to provide our brain with ongoing challenges.

As children our brains are like sponges, mopping up all the new and wondrous experiences and learnings from every day. As we get older we continue to learn with new skills whether it be through tertiary education, TAFE, apprenticeships or a new job.

But then sometimes our rate of learning may slow down. Sometimes there is less incentive to be relentlessly pursuing new knowledge, we can get a bit mentally lazy and easily fall into a bit of a rut.

You know, doing the same job day in day out . We function on many automatic behaviours, using the same language, the same skill sets, the same old, same old.

And guess what – your brain starts to get bored and a bored brain is a degrading brain.

Our brains’ natural plasticity means we are lifelong learners, capable of learning new skills, new information and laying down new memory across our lifespan.

But if we choose not to engage our brain, we are denying ourselves the opportunity to build or maintain our cognitive reserve.

Cognitive training is now being talked about and practiced by thousands of people around the globe. This is especially true for the older portion of society who are keen to keep their memories and thinking sharper for longer.

Many studies have investigated the benefits of cognitive training for those with memory impairment or early dementia. Now a new study from Shanghai in China reveals whether cognitive training is beneficial to healthy brains too.

In this study the participants were all aged between 65 and 75 years with sufficiently good eyesight, hearing and communication skills to be able to participate adequately in the training. They undertook a one hour cognitive training sessions twice a week for 12 weeks and were also given homework.

For one group the training included a multisystem approach for tackling memory, reasoning, problems solving, map reading, handicrafts, health education and exercise. Another group focused on reasoning only. The effect of booster training given 6 months later was also tested.

And the results?

Compared to the control group who received no training, the subjects all improved in their mental abilities and those who participated in the multifaceted training did better over the longer term. This group also saw ongoing benefit 12 months later and those who in addition received the booster training had an additional improvement on mental ability scores.

So, from this study it would seem that yes undertaking cognitive training even when mentally brain healthy does appear to provide cognitive benefit.

If this means that a person can continue to function independently for longer because they remain able to mentally participate in all ADL’s that has to be a good thing.

So if you are worried your brain is getting a little rusty around the edges, there’s no excuse not to get going with some brain training and re-sharpen your mental acuity. And even if your brain appears fine, brain training will ultra-tune your brain to function even better. From BMW to Ferrari – now there’s something to aim for.

Yan Cheng, Wenyuan Wu, Wei Feng, Jiaqi Wang, You Chen, Yuan Shen, Qingwei Li, Xu Zhang, Chunbo Li. The effects of multi-domain versus single-domain cognitive training in non-demented older people: a randomized controlled trial. BMC Medicine, 2012; 10 (1): 30 DOI: 10.1186/1741-7015-10-30

Dr Jenny Brockis

Dr Jenny Brockis is a medical practitioner and internationally board-certified lifestyle medicine physician, workplace health and wellbeing consultant, keynote speaker and best-selling author. You can now pre-order her new book ‘The Natural Advantage’ due for publication in October 2024.

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