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The verdict on ‘brain training’ is in, and it’s not good. According to researchers, there is currently no evidence to suggest that brain training games convey any benefits which translate to the real world. Practising brain training exercises might make you better at brain training exercises, but that may well be as far as it goes.
Now for the good news. There are things you can do to halt, and even reverse, neural decline. Here are 7 evidence-backed ways to start improving your memory, refining your motor skills and harnessing your creative potential today, no matter how old you may be.
Scientists often describe physical exercise as the single most important thing you can do for your brain. It boosts blood flow whilst releasing proteins and hormones which help to forge new neural connections, protect against degeneration and even trigger the growth of new brain cells. Just 30-45 minutes of walking, three times a week, can boost creative thinking, delay the onset of dementia and stimulate growth in areas of the brain associated with reasoning, problem solving, learning and memory.
Struggling with focus? Taking regular breaks from work to get physical can help. Keep it up and you’ll become better and better at multitasking and ignoring distractions. Learning a language? Listening to vocab whilst walking or cycling can help it stick.
2. Stand on one leg
The ability to stand on one leg is an important marker of brain health, according to experts. Boost your balance by standing on one leg while you brush your teeth (remembering to swap halfway through). Your ankles, ligaments and core muscles will also reap the benefits.
3. Use your non-dominant hand
The more regularly we use our dominant hand, the more frequently the brain hemisphere it’s linked to (i.e. the left hemisphere for right-handers) is activated, say scientists. But should we be leaving the other side untapped? Researchers believe that performing everyday activities, including eating, brushing our teeth, writing and even opening jars, with our non-dominant hand could fire up the neglected side of our brain and forge new connections between the two hemispheres.
4. Look shifty
Incredibly, research has found that simply spending 30 seconds shifting our eyes from left to right (and back again) can improve performance on tests of creativity. Scientists believe that the process enhances communication between the left and right hemispheres of the brain.
5. Get out of your comfort zone
We might not be able to abandon our day-to-day routines entirely, but doing, seeing and even thinking about new things encourages our brains to grow and forge new connections. Take a new turning when walking along a familiar route, or dabble in a new hobby. Learning to speak another language or play a musical instrument can increase grey matter volume and enhance neural connections between the left and right hemispheres.
Mindfulness meditation can increase the volume of grey matter in the brain and may guard against degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s. Meditation seems to stimulate growth and connectivity in areas of the brain associated with focus, reasoning, learning and memory, whilst shrinking areas associated with fear, stress and anxiety.
Spending some quality time with a favourite book could do more to enhance your brain’s connectivity and functioning than any number of hours spent consciously ‘training’ it. Why? Researchers believe that new neural pathways form in our brains as we absorb new information. Reading is also thought to enhance our imaginative capacities and socio-emotional intelligence.