Lifestyle strategies to promote healthy cognitive and physical aging are of great importance. Physical exercise has significant health benefits for the body and mind in improving our general wellbeing. It prevents or reduces risk of developing diseases and other health issues often associated with aging. Physical activities also help you to stay fit, look good, be healthy, and have more energy. For example, strength training helps to strengthen muscles and prevent osteoporosis, the cardiovascular training supports overall health, yoga maintains overall body strength and keeps you supple, and balance exercises help to prevent falls and injuries. According to the WHO, you need a minimum of 150min of moderate or vigorous exercises throughout the week to maintain a “balanced” health. If your life becomes sedentary, your body will not build muscles (after the age of 30 muscle mass decreases approximately 3-8% per decade (1) (2) and your cardiovascular maximum and endurance will decrease (3). If you don’t use it, you will lose it!
Did you know that the phrase “use it or lose it” not only applies to our physical body but to brain and cognitive health as well? The mind and body are strongly related when it comes to healthy aging. Research is clear that working on our brain health is equally important and performing regular, brain directed exercises can increase your brain’s cognitive reserve – your brain’s ability to “improvise and find alternate ways of getting a job done” (4).
Studies show that engaging in activities that are cognitively, physically, and socially demanding is related to improved brain performance and reduced risk of cognitive decline and dementia as well as other cognitive challenges associated with an aging body and mind. You must have heard names associated with targeted brain exercises like “brain gym”, “brain fitness” or “brain training” – they are all related to a specific type of training – a training that boosts brain performance and cognitive health.
Brain gym improves the brains functions and trains them like any other muscle in your body. It enhances high-level brain cognitive functions such as executive functions (flexible thinking, problem-solving, planning, organising, working memory), processing speed, attention, and long-term memory.
At Sparkd, we use cognitive training computerized technologies that have a proven record of boosting brain performance and overall cognitive health. So, let’s look at some of the benefits of brain fitness and how it can improve different aspects of your life:
Sports performance and endurance training requires a well-functioning body and “a bunch” of cognitive functions such as attention, decision making, and working memory for the athlete to “be functioning at optimal levels in stressful and demanding environments” (6). Brain gym focuses on training the brain to function efficiently while parallel placing a visual, cardio, strength, motor, and skill demand on the body (7). It helps to improve hand-eye coordination, peripheral vision, impulse control, mobility, balance, reduces injury, speeds up eye tracking and reaction speed, and improves focus. Several technologies used at Sparkd, are used by elite sport personalities in NFL, NBA, or even Formula 1.
Dual-task training enhances high-level cognitive functions, and these play a vital role in defining how well we can perform at any job. Through brain training, we can expect increased productivity, noticeable changes to processing information more efficiently and accurately, better attention and focus, brain clarity, mental flexibility, and resilience to work related stress (what may suggest less burnout chances associated with being overworked and feelings of underperforming). Brain gym increases mental awareness and resilience in the face of dynamic changes.
The desire for a happy body and a strong brain has a deep connection with physical and mental well-being. Improved health, both physical and mental, means better productivity. While low stress levels can improve performance, endless stress and poor mental health can impede the brain’s performance and impair your cognition (e.g. deficits in working memory, attention, processing speed and executive functions). Just like in mindfulness that involves training our attention to stay in the present moment without getting distracted, brain training helps us to be more focused, robust to external stressors, more confident and gain mental agility (8).
Daily life activities like multitasking family life (planning, scheduling, cooking, task switching), conversations, and driving a car will only get easier with cognitive work.
The Association for Psychological Science organisation agrees that driving a car, one of the most complex cognitive tasks in our daily life, requires highly demanding cognitive skills such as executive functioning, information processing, visual processing, and memory. They also mention that a risk of having a car accident rises with age because as we age the cognitive skills tend to decline, “making driving more difficult and dangerous over time” (9).
Scientifically validated cognitive training technology NeuroTracker (9) performed three car driving studies that have showed that people with lower cognitive abilities “have a significantly increased chance of being in an accident and crashing”. A team of psychological researchers led by Jerri D. Edwards found that at-risk of cognitive decline older drivers who had received cognitive processing training were still driving at the same rates as older drivers who were not at risk of such declines. Working on your mental skills with regular brain training could have life changing consequences, resulting in driving more safely on the road (10).
Our brains are constantly being shaped by experience, learning and adaptation and are continuously adapting to the demands that are placed on it, especially when we focus on different tasks or multi-task, process sensory information, or even think and imagine. We can clearly see that training your body and brain will pay off in your overall well-being and will boost your brain health in many areas of work and life. A strong brain, happy body and a resilient mind is the basic recipe for a healthy life.
1. The age-related loss of skeletal muscle mass and function: Measurement and physiology of muscle fibre atrophy and muscle fibre loss in humans. Wilkinson, D. J., Piasecki, M. and Atherton, P. J. November, 2018, Aging Research Review, Vol. 47, pp. 123-132.
2. Volpi, Elena, Nazemi, Reza and Fujita, Satoshi. Muscle tissue changes with aging. Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care. 2004, Vol. 7, 4, pp. 405-410.
3. Forbes. [Online] 1 December, 2016. https://www.forbes.com/sites/quora/2016/12/01/if-you-stopped-exercising-today-heres-how-long-it-would-take-your-body-to-notice/?sh=754421c914d3.
4. Harvard Health Publishing. Harvard Health Publishing. [Online] Harvard Medical School, 21 September, 2020. https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/what-is-cognitive-reserve.
5. The Potential Role for Cognitive Training in Sport: More Research Needed. Walton, Courtney C., et al. s.l. : Frontiers Psychology, 3 July, 2018, Movement Science and Sport Psychology.
6. SmartFit. [Online] https://www.smartfit.rocks/sports-performance-market/.
7. Isbel, Ben. [Online] 1 March, 2019. A Gym Workout for Your Brain: How Mindfulness Can Help Improve Mental Health.
8. APS. Driving May Help Prevent Cognitive Decline. Association for Psychological Science. [Online] https://www.psychologicalscience.org/news/motr/driving-may-help-prevent-cognitive-decline.html.
9. Neurotracker. [Online] https://www.neurotrackerx.com/.
10. The Longitudinal Impact of Cognitive Speed of Processing Training on Driving Mobility. Edwards, Jerri D., et al. 4, s.l. : Gerontologist., 2009, Vol. 49, pp. 485-494.
11. NINDS. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. [Online] 2021. https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/Patient-Caregiver-Education/Life-and-Death-Neuron.
12. McEwen, Sarah and Glatt, Ryan. Brain Health Trainer. 2021.