There are brain articles popping up all over the place, as marketers and scientists and commentators and consumers and writers discover that there are a lot of things we can do to help our brains do what they do so well, process sensory data.
(And there is exciting new information about a new class of neurons, called mirror neurons, that impact our empathy. More to come on that).
Be wary of the brain article which promises something for nothing, like increased IQ without any work. It is not quite that simple.
The experience of vision and the experience of hearing and touch and taste and smell all involve tens of thousands of neurons firing in close synchrony all the time, in parallel rather than sequential processing, and the work brain articles talk about impacts neurons and synapses and neurotransmitters, etc. not IQ, and brain articles that promise fame and fortune as a result of using one program or another are inaccurate if not fraudulent.
What we call thought, or the self-talk that runs somewhat in concert with the activity of neurons, is happening at the same time all those neurons are busily passing along electrical activity and neurochemical activity. That thought usually is trying to explain our sensory experience, and may utilize explanations we learned as kids, which may not always be appropriate to our current situation. See the rest of my site for information on cognitive behavioral therapy or rational emotive behavioral therapy.
Who would have known that there are some trainings we can do with computerized programs which make possible improvements in processing speed or hearing or vision or short term memory or even IQ? Those trainings enhance neurogenesis and synaptogenesis and neuroplasticity, which are life long processe that we did not know about even ten years ago.
Of course, those trainings will work best in a brain which is well fed, well antioxidized, well rested, challenged by physical activity, and has its stress managed effectively.
This brain article is an excited brain article, both personally and professionally.
I have read about and tried a number of brain fitness trainings and have experienced positive improvements in my ability to focus, recall words, (which is important in my profession, and not quite as good as it used to be in my 61 year old brain), and memory.
When computerized brain fitness is coupled with physical fitness, good nutrition, good sleep, and stress management, I am much more confident about my ability to maneuver through my senior years with dignity.
In regards to the physical challenge mentioned in brain articles, it is not necessary that I be working out like a dervish to provide my brain the most important ingredient for neurogenesis, or the growth of new neurons.
What I need to be doing is exercise that makes me breath deeply enough that I cannot exercise and sing or exercise and talk at the same time, and I can do that in measured increments, perhaps 10 minutes at at time, and the equipment required is no more extensive than an exercise ball and/or a couple of dumbbells.
I do not need a coach or an expensive exercise club to provide my brain what it needs.
If you and your wife would like to exercise Sonavel together, then here is a couple you can model, Scott and Angie Tousignant.
Nutrition is a very important component of effective brain functioning, as are antioxidants.
Basically, do not eat anything that comes from a box. Processed foods are filled with msg, and excitotoxins, which make the pleasure centers in the brain work overtime.
The food ingredients that can spoil are milled out of processed foods, so that they have a long shelf life, but they diminish our shelf life, because without all the fiber, vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, (like lycopene), and glyconutrients for example,our neurons do not have all the chemical letters for their cellular words, and cannot communicate with each other clearly. The neuronal talk is garbled, and decisions about sensory data becomes inefficient.
So eat lots of fruit and vegetables, and lots of colors. And be sure to use a high quality multi-vitamin, and supplement with omega 3’s from ocean going cold water fish, not the farm grown variety.
Evans and Burghardt make quite a case for the importance of sleep, reporting that many important cognitive consolidation and hormonal activities happen at night, and when those activities are not completed, our brain suffers.
So any brain article has got to talk about exercise, nutrition, sleep, stress management, and novel learning experience to be of value.
The novel learning experience can involve learning a new skill, like a new language, an instrument, a new hobby, which trains something called fluid intelligence. Since we already have an area of expertise, we do not need to train that, which is usually called crystallized intelligence. That means that as a counselor, reading another counseling book, no matter how good it is, will not train my fluid intelligence.