Ask Doug: Brain exercise

Doug Berry
Doug Berry.

THE Northglen News wants you to pick our local neurofeedback practitioner’s brain.

We are, in conjunction with Doug Berry, running a column in which the Durban North resident and professional counsellor, will answer all your questions related to difficulty studying, sleeping, or focusing at school or university or even emotional issues that you are struggling to overcome. 
Simply Ask Doug.

Fill in the form online at www.northglennews.co.za under the Ask Doug articles.We would love to know who you are, but if you want to remain anonymous, that’s okay, just mention that on the form.

Every week Doug will reply to these questions both in print and online. 

The deadline to submit questions is Thursdays at 1pm.

Hi Doug.

Thank you for your informative column in the paper each week. I was wondering if you could suggest some brain training games for children? My daughter is 16 now, so I am looking for games or exercises for her age. Lynette

Hi Lynette

THERE are a few different exercises or avenues, that I would suggest you look into, to help exercise the brain. Before I do so, I’d like to explain a little bit about why brain exercises can be important.

Importance of brain training

THE brain is made up of nerve cells called neurons, which are connected by synapses (microscopic spaces between the neurons, filled with chemicals called neurotransmitters), which transport information from one neuron to the other. Much like other muscles and organs, the brain changes with use or disuse. 

Connections become stronger or weaker, depending on how often they are exercised. A lovely analogy I was recently given to explain these neural pathways was that of an aerial view of a village: Initially, the homes in the village were separated by areas of long grass. The more frequently that neighbours visited and passed messages, the more defined became the pathways between the houses, among the grass, until there was a clear path between houses A and B. 

Now, when these pathways become disused or neglected, the grass grows back and the connection between A and B becomes obscured and difficult to travel. Another analogy that we like to use in practice is that our brain can behave like a muscle, in that the more it is exercised, the stronger it gets.

Brain exercises

THERE are several different ways that we can look at exercising the brain to different ends. 

For example, if a person finds a subject like mathematics to be particularly challenging, then exercises aimed at improving this area would be a good way to go. 

One of the easiest to suggest is Sudoku. Another suggestion is to play games that involve problem solving techniques, such as chess or even card-games. 

Dominance profiling is another method of assessing the brain in order to discover how your particular brain learns best. 

This involves an assessment and coaching techniques that help you to use your particular brain dominance most effectively. In our practice, we use neurofeedback to help to strengthen areas within the brain that are used for different functions, such as cognition, focus, attention, memory, emotional regulation and more. 

“Neurobics” is a term used to describe the method of exercising the brain as developed by Lawrence Katz and Manning Rubin. They have a great book called Keep your Brain Alive, which outlines daily exercises to help you exercise your brain. 

Physical exercise is also as important as mental exercise in this regard. Physical exercise not only invigorates the body and mind, but gets freshly oxygenated blood pumping into the brain to fuel it, as well as helping to release neurochemicals like endorphins, which make us feel happy and motivated to succeed.

Staying motivated

IN 2012, my colleagues and I attended a Neurofeedback conference in Florida and attended a very interesting talk on this topic. The speaker was a Dr. C. Shawn Green, an assistant professor at the University of Rochester. One of the most powerful things to come out of his talk was that we can play Sudoku, until the cows come home and what we will achieve is that we are able to solve such number problems quite efficiently, without much improvement in our linguistic ability. 

Alternatively, we can play word-searches or scrabble-based games and develop proficient vocabulary and word-finding ability, but be no better off in terms of our problem solving. 

The message was thus: if you wish to engage in mental exercise, to improve your academic ability, either focus on the area you need most, or for overall improvement, use a range of different exercises that challenge your verbal, problem-solving, reasoning, mathematical and memory functions.

In short, a person has to be motivated to make the changes they need in order to improve their functioning in whatever area. 

Added to this, they will need to be prepared to make the changes necessary to their routine and stick with them, if they want to achieve their goals.

Please feel free to contact me, if you need further information, and we can see how best to address any particular areas that your daughter is experiencing difficulty with.

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