(Science photo library)
Brain training games may not provide the benefits to brain health they claim to, according to experts.
Instead, a report from the Global Council on Brain Health recommends that people engage in stimulating activities such as learning a musical instrument, taking up tai chi, designing a quilt or gardening.
It said the younger a person started these activities, the better their brain function would be as they aged.
Age UK said it was never too late to learn something new.
The council – which is a collaboration of international scientists, health professionals and policy experts – has produced a report on the best ways to stimulate the brain and reduce cognitive decline.
It said that although many people thought playing online games, such as puzzles and mind games, designed to improve brain health was important, the evidence regarding the benefits was “weak to non-existent”.
“If people play a ‘brain game’, they may get better at that game, but improvements in game performance have not yet been shown to convincingly result in improvements in people’s daily cognitive abilities,” the report said.
For example, there was no evidence that playing sudoku would help you manage your finances any better, it added.
Tai chi and photography
The report recommends seeking out new activities that challenge the way you think and are socially engaging, while leading a healthy lifestyle.
- practising tai chi
- researching your family tree
- photography classes
- learning new technologies
- creative writing
- art projects
James Goodwin, chief scientist at Age UK, which helped set up the Global Council on Brain Health, said brain decline was not inevitable.
He said: “There are plenty of activities that we can start today that can provide benefits for brain health, if they are new to you and require your concentrated attention.
“They may even be activities that you do regularly in your life, such as playing with grandchildren, gardening or playing cards.
“Even though it’s never too late to learn something new, the overwhelming message from this report is that you shouldn’t wait until later life to try to maintain your brain health.”
(BBC News 02/08/17)
The health and wellbeing benefits of tai chi have been acknowledged over the centuries. The Harvard Medical School Guide to Tai Chi is where I refer people to, who appear to have a need to understand the benefits of tai chi and qigong from a scientific perspective. For myself, I try to listen to my body and feel the benefits. But each to their own. In a nutshell, the physical benefits are summarised here. But that’s only part of the story – the emotional and psychological effects vary from person to person. Feedback from weekly classes, and from our WoW retreats in Mallorca often include the following: “I feel more relaxed – less stressed – more alert – more aware of my body and how I move/hold myself – less anxious – sleeping better – less depressed – feel “grounded” – physically tired, in a good way – better able to concentrate – feel accomplished – enjoy life more – have fun!”
No pain, big gains
Although tai chi is slow and gentle and doesn’t leave you breathless, it addresses the key components of fitness — muscle strength, flexibility, balance, and, to a lesser degree, aerobic conditioning. Here’s some of the evidence:
Muscle strength. Tai chi can improve both lower-body strength and upper-body strength. When practiced regularly, tai chi can be comparable to resistance training and brisk walking.
“Although you aren’t working with weights or resistance bands, the unsupported arm exercise involved in tai chi strengthens your upper body,” says internist Dr. Gloria Yeh, an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School. “Tai chi strengthens both the lower and upper extremities and also the core muscles of the back and abdomen.”
Flexibility. Tai chi can boost upper- and lower-body flexibility as well as strength.
Balance. Tai chi improves balance and, according to some studies, reduces falls. Proprioception — the ability to sense the position of one’s body in space — declines with age. Tai chi helps train this sense, which is a function of sensory neurons in the inner ear and stretch receptors in the muscles and ligaments. Tai chi also improves muscle strength and flexibility, which makes it easier to recover from a stumble. Fear of falling can make you more likely to fall; some studies have found that tai chi training helps reduce that fear.
Aerobic conditioning. Depending on the speed and size of the movements, tai chi can provide some aerobic benefits. If your clinician advises a more intense cardio workout with a higher heart rate than tai chi can offer, you may need something more aerobic as well.
Come and join us on our 12th Annual WoW Week of Wellness on October 27th and see what tai chi does for you! And if you already play with tai chi, let us know how it makes you feel, and leave a comment. We’d love to hear from you.