Friday, March 18, 2011

Brain Exercises ; The New Caffeine

Are you one of those people who cannot start the day without your caffeine fix? It’s what gets you going, gives you energy, sets you up for the day and starts your motivation clock.

If you are worried you may be addicted or that it has become a habit that’s costing you too much money, then brain exercises may be worth trying. The claim is that they produce the same, or even better, effect.

Leading professional and corporate organisations are seriously engaged with brain exercise and its value in the workplace and there has been increasing publicity about this “new caffeine” in many business and professional publications in the last few months, including “The Financial Review” and “BRW”.

So Why Would We Do Brain Exercises?

Everybody today is very aware of how important physical exercise is, even if we can’t always meet the challenge it poses! Some of us have made a real commitment to keeping ourselves fit. Some of us have built exercise into our lives and it is as much a habit as showering and brushing our teeth. We have an exercise program we do each week. There are gyms all over the place and almost every month a new exercise craze takes hold. Let’s not forget the range of exercise equipment on the market and advertised on TV.

The adage: “If you don’t use it, you lose it”, has been popularised and many are taking it seriously. We are living longer and many of us want to be active, mobile and fit in the later stages of our life, avoiding walking frames and nursing homes.

While this emphasis on physical exercise has been around for a few decades now, the same “use it or lose it” message is, in recent times, being applied to the brain. There is now a movement towards exercising the brain with exercises that improve memory, attention, language, decision-making, cognition and visual-spatial capacities.

Until recent times, it was believed that the brain was fixed by genetics and early development in childhood. We now know that is not so and the science of neuroplasticity has emerged, exploring the way the brain can change and reorganise itself and become more effective and efficient. A book that has highly popularised this view is Norman Doidge’s international best-seller book “The Brain That Changes Itself” which is full of amazing stories of just that.

Doing brain exercises is not just about preparing for old age or preventing the brain deterioration that sometimes occurs as a result of the ageing process. They are being used in every age group. An area particularly relevant to all of you reading this is in the workplace.

Brain Exercises In The Workplace.

A number of organisations are now offering corporate programs in brain exercises. They are focused on and target the improvement of particular areas of brain functioning, for example, problem solving or quick thinking or performance.

One of the organisations offering these brain training programs is Spark! developed by The Brain Department. It has pilot programs in Australia at the moment. This program is only for organisations and its employers and costs $150 per employer for 6 months or $200 per employer for 12 months. Employees do the exercises for 15 minutes a day 3 times a week. Spark! claims you will be able to concentrate better, remember names, react quicker, increase focus and think sharper.

If you want to explore what brain exercises are like without making a financial commitment, another organisation is Lumosity. You can get access to a free program there and then upgrade to a paid program later if you wish. On their website is a very good PDF you can download called “The Science Behind Lumosity” which is really the science behind brain exercises. It has research results that they have compiled of their work.

Is It As Good As It Sounds? Is It Really The New Caffeine?

As with everything there are the skeptics and some with solid credentials. Some believe that people can become good at the exercises but question if it translates across into changes in their daily activities.

Certainly Naomi Simson believes it does. Her organisation “Red Balloon” is using the Spark! program. She speaks highly of the results for her organisation and sees it impacting on productivity, as well as memory, among other things. She says she has seen very real changes in both herself and her employees.

So if you want to check it out for yourself, here are the details.

For Lumosity, go to www.lumosity.com and for Spark! go to www.braindepartment.com

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