Sunday, 21 February 2010

Online Brain Training

So you have been reading about online brain training, and you are ready to go, you plugged those words into your search engine browser, and got taken to a site that says "buy our stuff", in so many words, and based on your life experience, you hesitate before pulling out your credit card, and you decide to read a bit, research a bit, before buying.

That is a good decision, because as always, the devil is in the details.

The details of online brain training being that you can increase your neuroplasticity (new connections between neurons after learning) and your neurogenesis (the growth of new neurons), which are the essence of the brain fitness explosion that you have been reading about, by attending to the pillars of brain fitness, which are physical exercise/activity, nutrition, including omega 3 fatty acid, getting good rest, stress management, and engaging in what are novel learning experiences for you.

Novel learning experiences are usually described by the experts as the kind of learning involved in learning a new language or learning how to play a new instrument, not listening to music, but making your fingers and brain practice it.

However, in regards to the novel learning experience, there are programs that you can do online that enhance your neuroplasticity and neurogenesis,  and others that you can buy and use on your computer at home.

Online brain training works best if you are attending to all the Pillars of Brain Fitness.

If you want an excellent primer on brain fitness, neurogenesis, and neuroplasticity, then I suggest you read Brainfit for Life written by Simon Evans,Ph.D. and Paul Burghardt,Ph.D. who are neuroscientists at the University of Michigan, and don't worry about the jargon.

They write for us lay people, so their language is less complicated than what most advertisers use in an attempt to impress us.

Evans and Burghardt lay out a blue print for online brain training which gives us the best chance of aging gracefully, which is very important to this 62 year old brain because I have two children, one 11 and one 5, and I want to be part of their lives for a long time.

They do begin with physical activity/exercise as the most important aspect of brain fitness, and there is good news on that front, if you are not interested in getting a membership at the local exercise club, and flinging around big barbells.

You can get the necessary exercise at home doing a little longer, a little faster walk around the block, for example, or take up your own version of high intensity interval training (HIIT) using very simple tools like an exercise ball.  HIIT workouts can be as brief as ten minutes, and believe me you will be breathing hard at the end of your ten minutes, which is what neurogenesis requires.

So even your exercise pillar can be taught to you online.

Then Evans and Burghardt talk about the other pillars of brain fitness, nutrition, including lots of omega 3 fatty acid for the membrane around neurons, good sleep, and stress management.

I have used a tool in my counseling practice called heart rate variability biofeedback for stress management since 2001, and it is an easily learnible skill, which we can cue on any given heart beat if we want, and it actually opens higher perceptual centers in the brain for...neurogenesis and neuroplasticity.

So now we have reached the novel learning experience pillar of brain fitness.

The experts say that maximizing neurogenesis and neuroplasticity with novel learning experience means giving my brain the kind of workout that comes with learning a new instrument or a new language.

However, I do not have the time to learn a new language or new instrument, so I have looked at the research like the IMPACT study which was published in 2009 and put the one of the leading  Brain Fitness Programs to the test, with surprisingly excellent results, to determine the value of using computerized brain fitness programs for their novel learning experience benefits.

Turns out there is other research about computerized brain fitness programs, in particular the dual n back task, which increases IQ, and Evans and Burghardt touch on that tool.

Online Brain training is an excellent way to build in challenging work which enhances neuroplasticity and neurogenesis.

Michael S. Logan is a brain fitness expert, counselor, a student of Chi Gong, and a licensed one on one HeartMath provider. I enjoy the spiritual, the mythological, and psychological, and I am a late life father to Shane, 10, and Hannah Marie, 4, whose brains are so amazing.
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