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Use It or Lose It

Use It or Lose It

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From "Use It or Lose It" to "Exercise It and Improve It": The Latest Science on Brain Training
From "Use It or Lose It" to "Exercise It and Improve It": The Latest Science on Brain Training

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Published by: SharpBrains Market Research on Sep 12, 2010
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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Use It or Lose It
From "Use It or Lose It" to "Exercise It and Improve It": The Latest Science on BrainTrainingYou probably have read many times by now that a brain-healthy lifestyle requires a balanced nutrition, stress management, physical exercise and mental stimulation. Now, what exactly does "mental stimulation" mean? and, is all mental stimulation thesame? is doing your first crossword puzzle the same as doing crossword puzzlenumber one million?The answer: it's not all the same. Real mental stimulation or mental exercise isdifferent from "easy", routine, mental activity.Let’s take the example of physical activity. There is a clear difference between physical activity and physical exercise. Physical activity occurs whenever we moveour body or engage in a leisure activity that involves moving our body (e.g., playing pool). Physical exercise (e.g. jogging) refers to the repeated and structured activity of  particular parts of our bodies. While both physical activity and physical exercise may bring benefits, it is the latter that helps build capacity and muscles strength,contributing to staying fit as we age.Similarly, mental exercise (you can also call it "brain training"), goes beyond mentalactivity. Mental activity takes place whenever one is awake, ranging from merely daydreaming to reading a book or learning a new language. Mental exercise or braintraining refers to the structured use of cognitive exercises or techniques. Its aim is toimprove specific brain functions.Understanding the difference between mental activity and mental exercise is crucial.For instance, many people feel that they are doing the best for their brain after havingcompleted their daily puzzle. However crossword puzzles challenge a relativelynarrow range of cognitive skill and thus stimulate only a limited range of brainregions. A 1999 study showed that increased amount of experience in doingcrossword puzzles does not modify the effect of age measured in tasks requiringvocabulary and reasoning (Hambrick et al.,1999). Crosswords puzzles generatemental activity but they do not constitute a brain training program!This points out to the key word in brain training: variety. One needs a variety of challenging exercises in order to stimulate the whole brain. Recent recommendationsmade by a panel of experts reviewing a poll by the American Society on Aging (2006)stated: “A single activity, no matter how challenging, is not sufficient to sustain thekind of mental acuity that virtually everyone can achieve.” Even if one’s goal is toimprove memory functions, other brain functions need stimulation to achieve thatgoal. For instance, attention and concentration are essential to good memorization.Systematic brain training programs can be designed to lead to brain change in a moreefficient way that random daily activities may. A combination of both may be ideal.Learning a complex skill such as learning the piano helps train and develop some

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