Brain fitness for fun and profit…and survival and creativity and…but you get it, right?
by Alvaro Fernandez
“Our brains and minds are far from set in stone due to genetics or age. Growing evidence suggests beyond a reasonable doubt that what we do at every single day has an impact on brain fitness that very same day and also later in life.”
An aspiring clarinetist begins by getting a sense of the way the instrument’s sounds are produced by the air she blows through it. A driver must be acquainted with various vehicle fundamentals, such as adding gas, accelerating, and reading the speedometer. It is no different with the brain. Maximizing your brain’s health and performance begins with a basic understanding of how it works and how it evolves across the lifespan.
The human brain evolved to help us operate in complex, changing environments by continually learning and adapting. Successfully doing so involves a variety of brain functions and abilities, including various types of memory, language, emotional regulation, attention, and planning. While these functions are often carried out by distinct neural networks, they are fundamentally interdependent and thriving in the environment we face each day depends on the functionality of all these brain functions, whether cognitive, emotional, or executive.
For example, imagine that you are discussing an ambitious new project with a client. The situation is difficult, both because the importance of the deal for your career means you are anxious to close it to your advantage, and because the client is being quite condescending. The pressure to succeed and the need to refrain from getting angry make it hard for you to “stay cool” and think straight. This turns out to be a good illustration of the ways that we depend on “emotional self-regulation”, and demonstrates the fact that emotional and cognitive functions are tightly interconnected.
Brain functions are not fixed at birth or after childhood, as our brains constantly change over a lifetime: over the short term in response to our daily thoughts, sensations, feelings, and actions, as well as over the long term, as we continue growing wiser – and older. The good news is that we are not relegated to passively watching these changes occur. Our brains respond to basic lifestyle factors that we have a large degree of control over, and neuroplasticity (the brain’s lifelong capacity to change and rewire itself in response to stimulation and experience) is at the core of the ability to actively improve specific functions through training. Genetics is not destiny.
In particular, it is important to keep in mind a few fundamental, and often overlooked, facts: