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Can Video Games Better your Brain Health?
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Hey, it’s Yuri Elkaim here and you might thing that playing a lot of video games might actually turn your brain to mush, but some new research actually shows the contrary, and that’s what we’re going to discuss in this episode of the SNA Health Class.
Now, if you’re like me, you probably spent a lot of your youth playing video games. In fact, I don’t remember going to school at all when I was young. I just remember playing Super Soccer and Mario Bros. and all sorts of cool video games when I was probably up until my mid to late teens. My whole youth was spent playing sports and playing video games; I think I went to school somewhere in there, but I don’t remember too much of it.
The cool thing is that there’s so much more research being done now in this area called neuroplasticity, which basically means the ability of our nervous system, our brain, to continually evolve and to remodel itself. The typical thinking is that at 30 years old, like with every other system in our body, our nervous system, our brain, our neurons, begin to decline. And just like with VO2 max or muscular strength, the same thing happens.
As soon as we hit about 30, there seems to be this decline. But the cool thing is that, like with strength training or running or cardiovascular training, you can actually improve your brain health by training it. It’s the age-old adage: Use it or lose it.
If all you do with your brain is do the same thing all the time, then come home and watch TV, I guarantee you; your brain will turn to mush. But if you challenge your brain with new and exciting and challenging games and puzzles and stuff like that, that is… Think about it this way: It’s kind of like your brain gym. It’s like working out for your brain.
Now, this new research—there’s so much research in this field, but I’m just going to highlight a new study that came out—it’s not even published but as of May 1, it’ll be published in the journal PLOS ONE. What they did here was, they compared crossword puzzles, a computer version of crossword puzzles, with a game called Road Tour, a road-tour video game, which essentially has participants increase their scope of vision to capture as many vehicles in a certain amount of time as possible.
That’s really cool because one of the markers of increasing age is a loss of peripheral vision. You know peripheral vision is like when you’re looking straight ahead, and whatever you see to the side while you’re focusing straight ahead is peripheral vision.
There’s a loss of peripheral vision as we age, and that’s one of the factors—there are two big factors, actually, that predict or that are part and parcel with aging. One is loss of peripheral vision; second is a loss of grip strength, which is kind of interesting. If you look at two things that can extend your lifespan, increasing your peripheral and improving your grip strength are two of the big ones.
Anyways, in this study they looked at ten hours of training. They had different groups. They had two groups and they further subdivided them, but, essentially, they were looking at people 50 to 64, then 65 and older who were playing these games upward of about 10 to 14 hours per week. They found that the individuals who were playing this Road Tour video game for about 10 hours a week improved their cognitive ability by three years. They gained three years of cognitive improvement. I don’t know how they measured that necessarily. And those who spent an additional four hours total, literally, they increased their cognitive health by four years. Really cool stuff.
Now, what makes a game more brain healthy than another one? Well, there are a lot of different possible theories, and stuff like—if you’ve ever looked at Lumosity, which is a cool online training software, it’s basically a Web site—you’ve probably seen commercials for it or online ads—and it gives you a lot of different, cool ways to develop better focus, develop better memory, recognition, all sorts of cool, little mnemonic devices that our brains use on a daily basis, and these games allow you to train that. I believe the Web site is Lumosity.com. I’m actually a member; I haven’t used it in a couple weeks, but it’s terrific.
What I found, actually, is that I would start my mornings with about five minutes of Lumosity training, and then I would get into my work and I would find I was much more focused and a little bit more productive, so that’s a really cool thing. Plus, you’re working out for your brain, so it’s awesome.
I have a good friend, Dr. Eric Cobb, from Z-Health. If I sound a little stuffed up, it’s because I have a Kleenex stuffed n my nose right now, trying to avoid this runny nose, so I apologize for the weird sound of my voice. Anyways, Dr. Eric Cobb from Z-Health—you can check them out at ZHealth.net—unbelievable stuff they’re doing. They’re all about showing how you can improve performance and decrease pain by changing the communication between your brain and the rest of your body.
I’ve been a friend of his for a while now, and I’ve done a bunch of their programs. It is awesome. I’m talking about improving vision, proprioception, strength, it’s crazy. Let’s say you wanted to become stronger. Well, you can do vision drills that will make you stronger.
Let’s say you wanted to—when I was initially doing the first couple flights for my pilot’s license, I was getting really bad vertigo, so I sent Eric an e-mail. I said, “Eric, do you have any exercises for vertigo?” He sent me a number of vestibular system—the vestibular system is the inner-ear system that accounts for our balance—he sent me a number of drills to do for that.
It was a couple times a day, three or four minutes. Within one or two flights, it was gone. We’re doing spins and spirals and all this crazy stuff in the plane, and I’d been wanting to throw up in the cockpit. With these drills, it’s so much better now.
The other thing is that in order to pass the medical for my pilot’s license, I had to do a pretty extensive eye exam. I was a little bit worried because when I was a kid, I was diagnosed, if you want to call it that, with red-green colorblindness. The optometrist said, “You’re never going to become a fighter pilot.” I loved flying and I was like, “This is the worst.” I couldn’t become Maverick from Top Gun. That was something I was a little bit concerned about when I went to do my medical.
However, when I went to do the medical and I did those red-green color blots that they show you and you try to find a number or something inside, when I was 12 or so, when I first had it done, I couldn’t see them at all; it was like I was blind. This last time when I did it, no problem. I was identifying numbers in seconds.
The coolest thing is that—when I was in university, I also had glasses for farsightedness. I couldn’t see very far. If I was in a big class, I couldn’t see the screen, so I had to get glasses. With, I think, the combination of improving my diet, as well as doing the visual-training drills that I was doing with Z-Health, my eyesight has improved tremendously. I have better than 20/15 vision in both my eyes, which is better than 20/20, and I attribute a lot of that to the training.
Again, this is not over, like, ten years; this was over a couple weeks of doing some basic vision drills that take me two minutes a day to do. Incredible stuff. It’s awesome.
Again, where this is coming back is it’s all coming back to our nervous system. The visual system, if you know, is tied very intricately to your brain; it’s not just your eyes working independently. There are so many ways of improving your brain health as you age, and I really recommend it; this is so important to do.
It’s unfortunate when I go to retirement homes—not that I do it that often, but I remember when my grandfather lived in one. You just see elderly people sitting there, watching TV, and just turning to mush. It’s really, really sad. Then you’ve got other elderly people who are out, they’re active, they’re vibrant, they’re socializing.
I want to give you a couple really cool tricks that have been shown in science to really improve the health of your brain as you age, no matter what age you are, whether you’re 20 or 50 or 70 or 90. It’s all about challenging your brain, as I mentioned earlier, with things that get you into a state of deep focus and they hurt your brain. Like Sudoku. Sudoku, when I first started doing it a couple years ago, it was really hurting my brain ’cause I was really focused on trying to figure this out.
That’s the kind of stuff you need to engage in as often as possible, because what that does is it creates new neural connections, new pathways in your brain for it to function better. If some die off, you create new ones, and that’s how you do it. The crossword puzzles, Sudoku, these kinds of video games or online games that challenge you and challenge your brain to recognize colors or images or shapes or whatever as quickly as possible to keep you sharp, very important.
As I’m recording this, I live in the country, small little town. I’m actually looking to move back to the city—and I think I mentioned this before—but one of the things I’ve noticed living in the country is, the quality of driving out here is horrendous.
Now, I’m a pretty aggressive driver, but I’m a very good driver. Yeah, I’ll leave it at that. I enjoy driving fast; that’s just the way I am. I like cars, whatever. But the people out here drive so slowly and so poorly that it frustrates the living daylights out of me. I have this theory that people who live in the country are exposed to less stimuli; therefore, they are not as “trained” to respond quickly as if they lived in the city.
If you live in the city, you’ve got a thousand things coming at you at once. You’ve got cars, you’ve got billboards, you’ve got ads, you’ve got people crossing the road, jaywalking. You need to be on the ball; you need to be sharp. In the country you’re just moseying along, watching the cows, driving the speed limit, there’s no one around you, and that’s the same thing as sitting gin a retirement home, watching TV ten hours a day. I don’t know if there’s research out there on this, but I’m going to…this is an area that, I seriously have this theory, and I think it’s really valid.
The less stimulus that you are providing yourself with, the less your brain, your nervous system, your body is needed to process everything. On the one hand, it’s a nice thing because you’re not storing all this subconscious stuff in your subconscious mind, but on the flipside you’re not creating new pathways, you’re not creating new challenges for your brain to figure out.
We went to the city, as I’m recording this, yesterday, just took the kids in for a day in the city. As soon as we got in there, just crazy traffic, it’s so ridiculous. Toronto is the fourth largest city in North America just in case you’re unaware of that, so it’s a very big city. There’s a part of it we really enjoy; that’s the part we’re probably looking to move back to.
It took us about half an hour to get off the highway to that area of the city, which was the span of maybe three kilometers, and that was the same amount of time it took us to get from our place down to the city more or less. It’s ridiculous. But nonetheless, you’re sitting in stop-and-go traffic, you’re trying to swerve in and out of cars, in and out of traffic, then there’s construction, and there’s all sorts of crazy stuff going on. People are honking their horns and it’s just busy.
Yes, it gets tiring and I don’t enjoy that stuff, but there is some value to that, I think just in terms of being sharp and staying on the ball, being at the top of your game. That’s kind of my theory on driving and where you live.
If you take that and you apply it to your life, you go to space. What happens when you go to space? Well, you lose a lot of calcium, you lose a lot of bone-mineral density because you’re not exposed to gravity, which means that your skeleton doesn’t need to support you, so it just says, “Hey, we don’t need this stuff. We’re just going to pee it away.” Your muscle mass decreases very, very quickly.
Astronauts have said upon returning to Earth after a couple weeks in space, it takes them, like, six months to a year to regain their muscle strength and their muscle mass and their bone density. It’s very, very important.
You use it or you lose it. Think about that in every single area of your life. If you’re in a job and you’re not continuing to learn or if you’re not challenging yourself with things that are of merit, you will be overtaken by someone else who does, right? Use it or lose it.
Same thing if you don’t work out; you’re not going to gain muscle strides, you’re not going to muscle strength, you’re going to become weaker. If you don’t actively engage in dynamic exercises or stretching, flexibility-type training, you’re going to get stiffer; you’re not going to become more limber.
You can think about it in every single area of your life: Use it or lose it. So, with your brain, use it or lose it. It’s very simple. Use it in new and challenging, exciting ways.
Instead of driving the same way to your favorite restaurant or to work, take a different route. Instead of brushing your teeth with your right hand, brush your teeth with your left hand. Instead of tying your shoes with the lace going right over left, go left over right. These are small, little things that can make a huge difference in the long-term, because now you are laying down new pathways in your brain, which is telling your brain, “Hey, I gotta figure this out now.” These are the small, little things that help us age gracefully and keep our brains healthy.
So, if you have any cool tricks, cool tips of brain-health training, let me know at the blog, SuperNutritionAcademy.com/blog. Find this episode, Episode 40 I believe we’re on, and leave me a comment. I look forward to hearing from you because it’s a really cool topic.
Also, if you have not taken our SNA quiz yet, I highly recommend you do so. On the blog you can find, there’s obviously at the bottom of every post or on the blog, on the right side itself, there’s a little banner that says “Test Your Knowledge.” Just click on that; it’ll take you to our 12-question Super Nutrition Academy quiz. This will take you maybe two or three minutes, but it’ll give you a really good indication of where you are with respect to this kind of stuff; maybe not so much the brain health, but more about health and nutrition in general. I really encourage you to take that quiz.
And that’s it for today. So, thank you once again for joining me. I look forward to seeing you in the next episode. It’s going to be a great one; do not miss it. We’ll see you then.
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