Cognition and Movement, Is there one magic pill?
With new discoveries in how our brains function, it has become clear that we can continue learning and growing our cognitive abilities at any age.
And while it’s inevitable that, as we age, we’ll lose some abilities, there are ways to delay, and in some cases even reverse the decline.
One such method is using a program on a smart phone, tablet or computer that supposedly can help develop cognitive abilities. The prospect that you could sit on your sofa playing games on your tablet, and at the same time boost your brain power would be very enticing. Lumosity, a brain-fitness company that developed such an application claims that, “After 10 weeks, the Lumosity group improved more than the crosswords group on an aggregate assessment of cognition.”
However, the Federal Trade Commission found otherwise.
From the article, “So Far, There’s No Magic Bullet For The Mind (click here for link):
According to Jessica Rich, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, the brain-fitness company, “preyed on consumers’ fears about age-related cognitive decline, suggesting their games could stave off memory loss, dementia, and even Alzheimer’s disease.”
The claims the company made, it seems, are entirely without basis. As she says: “Lumosity simply did not have the science to back up its ads.”
So that leaves the question, what does it take to improve brain function and stave off the ill effects of aging?
Dr. Moshe Feldenkrais gave us a clue when he said,
“I contend that a brain could not think without motor functions.”
This means that there is no thinking without movement.
As I see it, the problem with only doing things like crossword puzzles and computer games to improve cognitive abilities is that there is very little movement and interaction with the environment involved. The more we can involve our senses, feelings, movements and thinking, the better the result.
In his book, “Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain,” author Dr. John Ratey makes clear the connection between exercise and improved brain functioning. The book is a meta-study of how exercise can enhance learning and alleviate metal health problems. Even though it’s clear that exercising is good, not only for your body but also your brain, there must be, as with crosswords and computer programs, some forms of exercise that are more beneficial than others.
As I wrote in my last blog post, “Meaningful Movement and the Mind,” much of the research on exercise and the brain is focused on the changes in biochemistry that bring about the positive results. While this is important, I think that there are other factors involved, which may be just as, if not more important than biochemistry.
To look into this, let’s use walking as an example. There have been enough studies showing that walking regularly can have positive results. But does it matter if you walk on a treadmill or outside, around your neighbourhood for example? When we come back to the idea of involving our senses, feelings and thinking, then it becomes clear that there must be a difference between walking on a treadmill and outside. With a treadmill, the walking surface is constant. Outside, there could be lesser or greater variations in terrain so your brain would sense and need to adjust for these. Walk in the forest and the changes become even more prominent.
Outside, you are navigating and need to remember (even if it’s subconsciously) where you are and how to get back. You would also need to look around to be aware of unpredictable elements such as oncoming cars when crossing a street or you might even be interested in taking in the surroundings. On a treadmill, you either stare at the wall or a screen in front of you.
Another comparison can be made between using weight lifting machines and calisthenics. The machines, for the most part dictate the path of movement and tend to isolate body parts. When moving yourself against gravity, you have infinite variations in direction, alignment and you must keep yourself balanced as well. When you begin to add movements like rolling and tumbling, the complexity increases and your brain must monitor timing, velocity and where you are in relation to the floor, making for a very intricate computational process. Add to that some fear of falling and the thrill of learning to roll smoothly and you’ve got brain training far superior to tapping your iPad with your two index fingers on the couch.
So, there is no one magic pill but rather many tools that you can use to improve cognition and health.
Some further examples:
- Dancing with a partner in a room full of other dancers
- Playing tag or catch with children, pets and other adults
- Attending a Feldenkrais Method, Awareness Through Movement class
The list goes on and hopefully you have several possibilities that interest, engage and move you, both in body and mind.