Feeling a little less mentally quick than you did a few years ago? Here are six proven ways to boost your brainpower.
A study, led by Arthur F. Kramer of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, involved well-educated men and women aged 55 to 79. Their fitness ranged from sedentary to very fit, competitive-ready athletes.
While older adults show a real decline in brain density in white and gray areas, the researchers discovered that fitness slows that decline.
Exercise programs involving both aerobic exercise and strength training produced better results on cognitive abilities than either one alone.
Learn a new language
Researchers at University College London studied the brains of 105 people, 80 of whom were bilingual, and found that learning a new language altered gray matter the same way exercise builds muscles.
Moreover, those who learned a second tongue at a younger age were also more likely to have more advanced gray matter than those who learned later, the team said.
Play a musical instrument
Playing an instrument can go straight to a musician’s head, scientists have revealed.
A study by researchers at Liverpool University has shown that practice and performance prevent a vital part of the brain from shrinking with age.
Musicians in the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra were found to have an average of 15 percent more gray matter in the brain region than nonmusicians. The part of the brain involved, called Broca’s area, deals with memory, language processing, and organization.
Learn to juggle
University of Regensburg neurologist Arne May and colleagues asked 12 people in their early twenties, most of them women, to learn a classic three-ball juggling trick over three months until they could sustain a performance for at least a minute. Another 12 were a control group who did not juggle.
All the volunteers were given a brain scan with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) at the start of the program, and a second after three months.
The scans found that learning to juggle increased the volume of gray matter in the mid-temporal area and left posterior intra-parietal sulcus by about three percent. These are parts of the left hemisphere of the brain that process data from visual motion. Students who had not undergone juggling training showed no such change.
Drive a cab
A study in London has found that an area of the brain associated with navigation was larger in London’s famed taxi drivers than in other people.
London taxi drivers are renowned for their encyclopedic knowledge of the capital’s streets. They spend an average of two years learning the layout of the city’s roads before taking a test to get their licenses.
The drivers’ brains adapted to help them store a detailed mental map of the city, shrinking in one area to allow growth in another, according to the study.
Give your brain a workout
In the same way that regular physical workouts keep the body limber and healthy, regular mental and neurological workouts help keep your mind and nervous system in good working order.
University of N.S.W. neuroscientist Michael Valenzuela and colleague Perminder Sachdev conducted the first systematic review of research on brain reserve. Having integrated data from 22 studies of possible links between people’s behavior and their subsequent brain health, they concluded that people with high brain reserve have almost half as much risk of developing dementia as those with low brain reserve. In one sense the brain appears to be no different from the muscles of the body, says Valenzuela: “It’s a case of use it or lose it.”