Brain Fitness

Understanding and enhancing brain fitness could be the key to bettering mental performance, and eventually, mitigate the risk of neurological dysfunction.

In the last decade, it has become apparent that physical fitness is integral to our health. Exercise can help prevent heart disease, diabetes, and even help us become more alert. Brain fitness describes the enhancement of cognitive abilities through “exercising” the brain, and refers to the actual cognitive capacity a person possesses. It encompasses everything from the coping mechanisms we use to address challenges (ie: pain and tragedy) to our mental performance over day-to-day tasks. During critical performance in highly focused jobs and when thriving in stressful environments, we are testing our brain plasticity. Therefore, plasticity refers to the brain's ability to change as a result of experience.

These brain-boosting exercises consist of a variety of environmental influences, which come in the form of puzzles, mastering new skills, and even physical exercise and nutrition. Neurologic fitness also helps the brain's essential control over the body as well as the regulation of reactions and adjustments at all times; it is crucial for our health. Not surprisingly, fitness has to do just as much with our physical health (ie: spinal pain), as our mental well being. In fact, most disease states of bodily ailments compromise our brain-fitness and vice versa.

As a child develops, neurogenesis (the creation of new neurons) occurs at a very rapid rate. The process involves forging connections in the synapses between axons (the signal sender of the neuron) and dendrites (signal receivers of the neuron). Neurogenesis is believed to continue into adolescence, but to cease shortly thereafter. As we grow older, some synaptic connections are strengthened, and some connections die from lack of use. However, the ability of the human brain to recover from brain injury is enough to suggest the possibility that new connections between brain cells can be formed in adult life. Functional plasticity describes when the functions of a damaged brain section are moved to an undamaged area, thus continuing proper functionality. Structural plasticity, as seen with professional musicians who have increased grey matter in several areas of their brain, is the process of physical change due to learning. Many believe that neuroplasticity research is integral to noninvasive methods of brain disease treatment.

Thought-controlled computing is an important topic for the forward-thinking scientific community, focused on the ability of an individual to interact with the world using her or his mind. In a Ted Talk focused on this subject, Ariel Garten, CEO of InteraXon, demonstrated a sensor that she placed on her forehead that reads brainwaves (the sum total of electric activities). Different thoughts and emotions (for the most part), lead to different brain wave readings. For example, beta waves signify what is described as a "focused state," lacking in those with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). During a relaxed state, alpha waves become predominant. The technology that reads and computes these waves through the scalp is called electroencephalography (EEG). Using a portable electronic device, such as a cellular phone, we can monitor our own brain waves and thus eventually be able to train ourselves to make adjustments to negative behaviors or emotions. In the workplace, we can track our "brain state" throughout the day in order to track our productivity: when we are most engaged, when we lose focus, etc. In babies, we are already beginning to measure the difference between images the brain simply takes in, and imaging data that the brain consciously sees, all via EEG. In the future, thought-controlled computing will play an integral role in enhancing our brain fitness.

There is some controversy behind the idea of brain fitness and exercises leading to the prevention and treatment of diseases like Alzheimer’s. We do strongly believe this sector will make significant contributions to the field of prevention. While many companies and entrepreneurs are actively trying to make “brain games” for such purposes, there is still speculation as to whether these can actually reverse the onset of such diseases. The ACTIVE Study, the largest study on cognitive training ever performed (funded by National Institutes of Health) experimented with 2,832 participants aged 65 to 94 years and showed “significant cognitive improvements with appropriate cognitive training and practice.” On a digital level, many are questioning the long-debated notion that video games cause damage to the brain; on the contrary, some scientists believe that certain games can bolster cognitive and motor skills. Brain fitness and neurologic vitality are possible solutions to these life-threatening ailments like Alzheimer’s and dementia.