Does playing games to improve working memory work? If so, since my brain is only so big, would other parts of my brain reduce in functioning to accommodate for increases in working memory?
The literature on this is very mixed – some reports show that these games can lead to increased working memory and other measures of cognitive function, whereas other studies show no difference in performance.
For example, in a paper published earlier this year in the online journal PLOSone, researcher Rui Nouchi and colleagues asked 34 volunteers to play either the brain training game Brain Age (which the authors created and profit from, it should be noted) or Tetris. They played for 15 minutes a day, 5 days a week for 4 weeks. The participants were then tested on cognitive performance before and after the training period. Interestingly, both groups performed better after the training than before, and the Brain Age group showed greater improvements on executive functions, working memory, and processing speed compared to the Tetris group, while the Tetris group showed greater improvements on attention and ability.
So these results seem to support the idea that brain training exercises can improve some aspects of cognitive function. However, another paper published in 2013 in the journal Computers in Human Behavior (which is a real journal, and actually looks pretty awesome) showed no improvement in cognitive function after 3 weeks of training. In this study, volunteers were asked to play either Brain Age, Dr. Kawashima’s Brain Training (a game they designed themselves), Phage Wars (an online strategy game), or no game at all. They were tested on cognitive performance before training, immediately after training, and a week after training had ceased. Most of the groups showed no significant difference in performance, positive or negative, across all time points, the one exception being the Phage Wars group, who performed significantly worse in the follow-up test than they did immediately after the training period.
That is only two papers, there are many more out there, some showing that these brain training games do improve cognition, and some showing that they do not. Basically, science still hasn’t figured this one out yet.
So you don’t think there is nothing you can do to make your brain work better, there is one activity that has been shown to improve working and long-term memory, improves mood, staves off dementia in old age, and in general, makes your brain and body happy – cardiovascular exercise. Exercise triggers a molecular cascade in the brain that ultimately results in an increase in synaptic plasticity, that is, the ability of the synapse to strengthen or weaken in response to stimuli. This, in turn, is believed to improve learning, memory, and other forms of thinking.
Exercise also results in an increase in the birth of new neurons in a part of the brain important for learning and memory called the hippocampus. Which brings me to the second part of your question, whether improving memory would result in a decrease in function of another brain area. Cardiovascular exercise does in fact result in an increase in the volume of the hippocampus by about 2%, and it is a reasonable assumption to think that would draw resources away from another brain area. But as we saw with the early-trained musicians, increasing a brain structure could result in better functioning of neighboring regions as the new neurons make more connections. It’s unknown what the limits of this is, though, and as far as I could tell, no one has gone looking for deficits in other brain regions following the increase in hippocampus size, so it’s definitely possible. Here are thirteen things you can do to help train your brain.
1. Have fun with a jigsaw puzzle
Whether you’re putting together a 1,000-piece image of the Eiffel Tower or joining 100 pieces to make Mickey Mouse, working on a jigsaw puzzle is an excellent way to strengthen your brain.
ResearchTrusted Source has shown that doing jigsaw puzzles recruits multiple cognitive abilities and is a protective factor for visuospatial cognitive aging. In other words, when putting together a jigsaw puzzle, you have to look at different pieces and figure out where they fit within the larger picture. This can be a great way to challenge and exercise your brain.
2. Try your hand at cards
When’s the last time you played a game of cards? Researchers who conducted a study in 2015Trusted Source on mentally stimulating activities for adults, say a quick card game can lead to greater brain volume in several regions of the brain. The same study also found that a game of cards could improve memory and thinking skills.
Try learning one of these tried-and-true card games:
3. Build your vocabulary
A rich vocabulary has a way of making you sound smart. But did you know you can also turn a quick vocabulary lesson into a stimulating brain game?
Research shows that many more regions of the brain are involved in vocabulary tasks, particularly in areas that are important for visual and auditory processing. To test this theory, try this cognitive-boosting activity:
Keep a notebook with you when you read.
Write down one unfamiliar word, then look up the definition.
Try to use that word five times the next day.
4. Dance your heart out
The Centers for Disease Prevention and Control notes that learning new dance moves can increase your brain’s processing speed and memory. In other words, bust a move on the dance floor and your brain will thank you.
Want to test it out? Give one of these dance activities a try:
Take a salsa, tap, hip-hop, or contemporary dance class.
Try a Zumba or jazz exercise class.
Watch an online video with fun dance moves you’ve always wanted to learn.
Grab a partner and learn to ballroom dance.
Gather your friends and go line dancing.
5. Use all your senses
A 2015 research reportTrusted Source suggests that using all your senses may help strengthen your brain.
To give your senses and your brain a workout, try doing activities that simultaneously engage all five of your senses. You could try baking a batch of cookies, visiting a farmer’s market, or trying a new restaurant while you focus on smelling, touching, tasting, seeing, and hearing all at the same time.
6. Learn a new skill
Learning a new skill is not only fun and interesting, but it may also help strengthen the connections in your brain.
Research from 2014Trusted Source also shows that learning a new skill can help improve memory function in older adults.
Is there something you’ve always wanted to learn how to do? Perhaps you’d like to know how to repair your car, use a particular software program, or ride a horse? You now have one more good reason to learn that new skill.
7. Teach a new skill to someone else
One of the best ways to expand your learning is to teach a skill to another person.
After you learn a new skill, you need to practice it. Teaching it to someone else requires you to explain the concept and correct any mistakes you make. For example, learn to swing a golf club, then teach the steps to a friend.
8. Listen to or play music
Do you want an easy way to increase your creative brain power? The answer may lie in turning on some music.
According to a 2017 studyTrusted Source, listening to happy tunes helps generate more innovative solutions compared to being in silence. Which means, cranking up some feel-good music can help boost your creative thinking and brain power.
And if you want to learn how to play music, now is a great time to start because your brain is capable of learning new skills at any point in your life. That’s why you’re never too old to start playing an instrument like the piano, guitar, or even the drums.
9. Take a new route
Don’t get stuck in a rut when it comes to your daily tasks. Instead, be willing to try new ways to do the same things.
Choose a different route to get to work each week or try a different mode of transport, like biking or using public transport instead of driving. Your brain can benefit from this simple change, and you might be surprised by how easy it is to change your thinking.
Daily meditation can calm your body, slow your breathing, and reduce stress and anxiety.
But did you know that it may also help fine-tune your memory and increase your brain’s ability to process informationTrusted Source?
Find a quiet spot, close your eyes, and spend five minutes meditating each day.
11. Learn a new language
A 2012 review of researchTrusted Source has overwhelmingly proven the many cognitive benefits of being able to speak more than one language.
According to numerous studies, bilingualism can contribute to better memory, improved visual-spatial skills, and higher levels of creativity. Being fluent in more than one language may also help you switch more easily between different tasks, and delay the onset of age-related mental decline.
The good news is that it’s never too late to reap the rewards of learning a new language. According to researchers, you can boost your memory and improve other mental functions by becoming a student of a new language at any time in your life.
12. Take up tai chi
It’s no secret that tai chi can benefit your health in many ways, including your mental health. Plus, it can also help center you when life seems out of balance.
Taking up a regular practice of tai chi can help reduce stress, enhance sleep quality, and improve memory. A 2013 studyTrusted Source found that long-term tai chi practice could induce structural changes in the brain, resulting in an increase in brain volume.
Beginners do best by taking a class to learn the different movements. But once you know the basics, you can practice tai chi anywhere, anytime.
13. Focus on another person
The next time you interact with someone, take note of four things about them. Maybe you observe the color of their shirt or pants. Are they wearing glasses? Do they have a hat on, and if so, what kind of hat? What color is their hair?
Once you decide on four things to remember, make a mental note, and come back to it later in the day. Write down what you remember about those four details.
The bottom line
Focusing on your brain health is one of the best things you can do to improve your concentration, focus, memory, and mental agility, no matter what age you are.
By incorporating brain exercises into your everyday life, you’ll get to challenge your mind, sharpen your cognitive skills, and possibly learn something new and enriching along the way, too.
To get more information on training your brain to a higher level read Blog #2 – Spooky Action at a Distance or examine programs or training at Thought Genius.
1) Watch this video from NBC News on how our brain keeps us alive.
2) The underlying science of training your brain – performing an activity that simultaneously engages both hemispheres can improve thinking.
3) Scientists studied examples of people’s brains this is musicians who began training during early childhood.
4) Does playing games to improve working memory work? If so, since my brain is only so big, would other parts of my brain reduce in functioning to accommodate for increases in working memory?
5) The literature on this is very mixed – some reports show that these games can lead to increased working memory and other measures of cognitive function, whereas other studies show no difference in performance.
6) That is only two papers, there are many more out there, some showing that these brain training games do improve cognition, and some showing that they do not. Basically, science still hasn’t figured this one out yet.
There is hope for us all…Breaking Out of the Box is a way of changing, a way of creating the best version of ourselves. It is a way of breaking down the walls and barriers we have created for ourselves. It is a way of accomplishing your dreams, your desires, and all that you hoped could happen. In these blogs, I will explore, not only the reasons why, but also the tips, tricks, and solutions you need to break out of the box you have built which is keep you from progressing. You are encouraged to subscribe to the Breaking Out of the Box Blog. You can get more information or subscribe to the blog at Thought Genius.