Like any of our muscles, our brain needs a workout too…scientists have been looking for ways to boost our smart factor ever since before the inception of the IQ test.
“Psychologists have been trying to come up with ways to increase intelligence for a very long time,” said D. Zachary Hambrick, a professor of psychology at Michigan State University. “We’ve been interested in increasing intelligence for almost as long as we’ve studied intelligence, which is over a century.” (Ref. 1)
These days, companies worldwide are taking advantage of both technology and our desire for a higher IQ by offering brain training games, which are marketed as offering cognitive benefits that can boost our brain power.
(Luminosity, one of the biggest, boasts over 50 million users.)
And while we may not find ourselves suddenly worthy of MENSA membership, our brains can certainly benefit from a workout now and then.
Could a crossword a day keep dementia away?
Keeping our brains active can keep them younger, experts say.
According to a 2011 study by researchers at the University of San Diego, doing crossword puzzles may delay the onset of accelerated memory decline for those in the beginning stages of dementia by more than two years. (Ref. 1)
The Alzheimer’s Association has long recommended keeping your brain active as a way to ward off dementia, and your newspaper’s daily crossword puzzle may be a perfect solution for a stagnant brain.
The mental gymnastics of keeping your brain active may not only strengthen the connections between brain cells, it may also generate new ones, creating a savings account to protect against potential loses in the future. (Ref. 2)
When it comes to brain games, the jury is out
So what about those brain game sites that tout themselves as a simple little home gym designed specifically to boost brain power?
According to psychologist Randall Engle, memory games can make it easier to learn difficult subjects, solve problems and pay attention, but it doesn’t really boost intelligence.
“This idea that intelligence can be trained would be a great thing if it were true,” Engle said.
Still, that’s no reason to throw the baby out with the bathwater, other experts say. Just don’t expect to see your IQ to suddenly shoot through the roof by playing a few games.
“I am not totally negative about the potential for brain training,” said psychologist David Meyer, director of the University of Michigan’s Brain, Cognition, and Action Laboratory. “What the brain-training games do is help you to get better at particular, relatively limited kinds of tasks that in effect are exercised by the game. The implication is that somehow you’re going to get better at everything that is mental, and there is no evidence to show that.” (Ref. 3)
But even a small improvement is better than none when it comes to intelligence, right?
A 2008 study from a team of scientists from the University of Michigan and the University of Bern in Switzerland found that spending 10 hours using brain-training tests that combine two different types of tasks, such as auditory and visual, did show some improvements in intelligence, and performed better at a reasoning task after the training session.
“The longer you train, the bigger the impact is,” said study coauthor Martin Buschkuehl, now the director of education research at the Irvine, Calif., nonprofit MIND Research Institute. (Ref. 3)
Games, tips, tricks and advice for a better brain
Given the many reasons why working your brain can benefit you not only now, but also in later years, there’s no reason not to get started challenging ourselves as soon as possible.
We’ve put together a few ideas to get you started:
Concentration: This one is a familiar game from childhood, and if you have a deck of cards, you can play. Spread out a deck of 52 cards, faced down, in even rows. One at a time, turn over two cards. If they match – a king of hearts and a king of diamonds, for example – remove the cards. If they don’t, turn them over and continue playing.
Go online and look for a class: Some studies have shown that low levels of education might lead to an earlier onset of Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia. Getting in a little mental stimulation now – learn to play the guitar, build a birdhouse, master Julia Child’s famous boeuf bourguignon recipe or delve into the works of Shakespeare – could help protect against memory loss for longer. (Ref. 4)
Learn the words to a song. This test of memory will boost your ability to retain information and recall it. Choosing something tricky – something technical with complex lyrics will fit the bill - as it requires close focus, and works several different parts of the brain. (Ref. 5)
Exercise: According to a 2009 study from the University of California San Francisco, aerobic exercise – which boosts oxygen to the brain - is a key factor in keeping the brain healthy. Researchers found that those who exercised moderately to vigorously one each week – way less that experts recommend for overall health – were 30 percent more likely to maintain cognitive function than those who didn’t exercise at all. (Ref. 6)
Nutrition for the brain: Hands down, the DHA in fish oil is one of the most important ingredients you can feed your brain. Our Xtend-Life family of fish oil supplements offers 600mg/day of DHA per day, which may help support brain health and function.
Play brain games: Like we said, the jury might be out on whether or not brain games really do help boost your brain power. Either way, though, they’re fun and challenging – and better than another mindless hour spent watching reality TV. For some fun brain games, check here.