This Is Your Brain on Games

One of the only storefront “brain gyms,” vibrantBrains offers some Posit Science programs, as well as memory tests from UCLA, speaker series, and reading improvement for teens. Schoonerman estimates they have helped close to 1,000 people over the years, including a woman in her 60s who met her husband after taking a class because she felt “confident and less shy with people she thought were smart and interesting,” Schoonerman says. An amateur-ranked tennis player who went through a program said she became competitive with people 20 years her junior because she “could process the moves more quickly.” A musician in his late 20s who had suffered a brain injury used their program and recovered his ability to play music.

Although most of their clients are older, some younger people are coming in to become more mentally and athletically competitive, and others are coming in to sharpen their brains before heading back to school or into the workplace.

Staffed by three people, vibrantBrains is considering opening more branches. For Schoonerman, 42, it’s been very rewarding. “When we started doing research on this, I wasn’t 40 yet — I’m not old enough to have serious memory issues, but I felt like I slowed down.” Now, after working at vibrantBrains and doing the programs they offer, she feels much better. “I feel like I’m back,” she says.

Brain Fitness Tips from Posit Science

Get exercise

Both cardio and weight-bearing have positive effects on the brain, for learning and memory. It can even help your brain create new cells.

Eat brain-healthy foods

Foods that contain nutrients like antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to boost memory and alertness and have other benefits for brain health. Dark chocolate and red wine make this list!

Stay socially engaged

Interacting face-to-face with other people engages all senses and requires attentiveness to both visual and auditory cues. Recent studies show that active social lives lead to lower risk of dementia. Dialogue is often unpredictable and requires active listening and response.

Exercise your peripheral vision

Actively challenging your peripheral vision improves brain performance and helps you navigate the world safely. Recent studies shows that drivers stay on the road longer and have fewer accidents after actively training their useful field of view.

Memorize a song

Developing better habits of careful listening will help you in your understanding, thinking and remembering. Reconstructing a song requires close attentional focus and an active memory. When you focus, you release brain chemicals such as the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which enables plasticity and vivifies memory.

Learn to play a new musical instrument

Playing an instrument helps you exercise many interrelated dimensions of brain function, including listening, control of refined movements and translation of written notes (sight) to music (movement and sound).

Don’t rely solely on crossword puzzles or sudoku

Heavy crossword players show the same rate of cognitive decline as people who do few crossword puzzles.

Turn down the volume on your television

Think of this: You can’t get rid of radio static by turning up the volume. Many people raise the volume because their listening has become “detuned” — a little fuzzy. Matching TV volume to a conversational level can help you catch every word when talking with others.

Reacquaint yourself with the ball

Practice throwing a ball in the air and catching it. If you’re good at it, take up juggling. People who master these kinds of sensory-guided movement activities can hone their brains’ visual, tactile and hand-eye coordination responses, with widespread positive impact on the brain. This type of activity has been shown in MRI studies to thicken parts of the brain’s cortex.

Learn to use your other hand

If you’re right-handed, use your left hand (or vice versa) for daily activities such as brushing your teeth and eating. Doing such activities can drive your brain to make positive changes. Think of millions of neurons learning new tricks as you finally establish better control of that other hand.

Choose bumpy surfaces

Walking on bumpy surfaces, such as cobblestones, improves the vestibular system of the inner ear, which plays a central role in balance and equilibrium. Cobblestone-walking challenges the vestibular system in ways that improve its function, which translates into better balance — the key to preventing serious injuries.

Get a good night’s sleep

If you have trouble falling asleep, make sure your bedroom is quiet and dark, learn some deep relaxation techniques, and avoid alcohol and caffeine after 7 p.m. Scientists believe that our brains consolidate learning and memories during sleep. Studies have shown that people who don’t sleep enough have more trouble learning new information, while sleeping well after learning something new helps the brain effectively put that information into long-term memory.

This article was originally published in the Summer 2010 issue of Brain World Magazine.

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