While many people have spent their time completing challenging crossword puzzles or listening to classical music to help increase brain function, one professor says simple exercise is more effective than any other method.
In an interview with The Economist, Nicholas Spitzer, a professor of neuroscience at the University of California, explained how his research has debunked the common notion that brain games like crosswords help the brain function.
“But let me dispel a brain development myth. Many people think classical music is going to enhance brain function (the Mozart effect) or playing particular games sharpens one’s cognitive function,” he said. “These theories have been looked at in detail and they don’t stand up. It is disappointing in a way, but what we have learned is that exercise is the key thing for brain function.”
When questioned about whether or not learning to play an instrument–another activity that is thought to improve brain function–was helpful, Spitzer said it has an influence but is not the most effective.
“Yes. That has clear cognitive functions that do crossover,” he said. “Especially learning to play and read the music at the same time. But exercise is number one, diet number two, and then social interaction. These are the important things for brain function.”
As for people who make a habit of finishing crossword puzzles, Spitzer does not discourage people from completing them.
“It is good for improving your crossword skills but does it lead on to other kinds of advanced cognitive function? No. There is no translation of the crossword skills to other skill categories,” he said. “That shouldn’t discourage anyone, they are a lot of fun, but a vigorous hike will do more for your cognitive function.”
“I’m a rock climber and an ice climber,” he said. “I go to the Sierra Nevada mountains, anywhere above 10,000 feet I’m a happy guy. At home I go to the gym.”
In addition to teaching at the University of California where he concentrates on “the ways in which neurons take on specialized functions to enable signaling in the brain,” Spitzer is the editor-in-chief of BrainFacts.org and is part of the BRAIN Initiative, which is a project backed by the White house that is aimed at advancing technologies that map the brain.
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