You go for daily walks and engage in other physical activity, but are you exercising your brain? In the same way that you want to keep your body active, you also want to keep your brain active. But how do you do that?
“Brain training” has become a big industry recently, with programs claiming to improve thinking skills and/or prevent cognitive decline. However, does the research support these companies claims? In general, the answer seems to be no, or at best the results are mixed. Research indicates that you can improve at a single task/game, but carryover to improved cognitive functioning during your daily routine is likely limited. Despite this, we know that one of the main principles of neuroplasticity is “use it or lose, use it and improve it.” In addition, many research studies have demonstrated that people who engage in cognitively stimulating tasks regularly lower their risk of developing dementia or delay the onset of these symptoms.
There is some research to support the use of brain training to decrease episodes of freezing of walking. Also cognitive training studies using a computer or “pen and pencil” have shown improved executive function, working memory, and processing speed in Parkinson's patients and even reduced the risk of developing mild cognitive impairments. There is also research showing the benefits of teaming up brain training along with exercise to maximize cognitive function.
So what does this mean for you? I think everyone would agree that participation in cognitively stimulating activities is important. However, you don’t need to pay for a monthly subscription or download an app to give your brain exercise. Find things that you enjoy doing, which will also challenge your mind. For example, learn a new language, a new skill, or play an instrument. Socialize with friends/family, get involved in community organizations, and/or join a book club. There are endless possibilities, so find something that will engage your mind and keep you active!