More and more we hear and read about the supposed powers of mental exercise. While this seems to make sense it is natural to wonder how and why “brain fitness” is beneficial.
We have learned within the past decade that the human brain has the ability to generate new brain cells (neurogenesis). The hippocampus, a structure that lies deep in the middle of each temporal lobe and serves functions of memory, learning, and spatial representation, is the site of such neurogenesis. Interestingly, this is the exact site of neurogenesis established in rodents in the 1950s. There appears to be something critically important about the hippocampus with regard to new brain cell development.
Similar to rodent brains the human brain reacts to environmental input in generally predictable ways. Damaging, punishing, and negative input can do structural and functional damage to the hippocampus. In contrast, positive, nurturing, and stimulating input can help to foster structural and functional enhancements. As we noted earlier on this blog, the human brain seeks and enjoys mental stimulation and exposure to the “novel and complex.”
A daily brain workout (e.g. brain games) can help to provide the brain (cortex) the stimulation it seeks. Environments that are considered complex and novel by your brain will provide the most benefit particularly when compared to input that is rote and passive. Daily brain games that challenge the cortex will also help to build new cellular connections (synapses) that in turn reflect “brain reserve.” Recall, brain reserve is believed to delay the onset of neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s Disease.
One of the greatest fears of the baby boomers, those born between 1946 and 1964, is the loss of memory and onset of dementia. A proactive approach to try and delay the onset of such loss and disease is a lifelong brain health lifestyle, part of which includes daily exposure to the novel and complex.