Health Beat: Brain training: Saving cognitive capital

Health Beat: Brain training: Saving cognitive capital

DALLAS - It controls our thoughts, stores our memories and drives our emotions. Without your brain, you wouldn't be you.

"There's not a single asset that you have that's more important than your brain," said Sandra Bond Chapman, founder and chief director, Center for BrainHealth, The University of Texas at Dallas.

Chapman said our brains are overloaded with information.

"We are exposed to more information in a week than people in the early 1900s were in their whole lifetime," Chapman said.

Researcher Jennifer Zientz helps people learn to process information with a brain-building program called SMART training.

"Our brain wasn't built to store every single piece of information we have, so you really have to have a filtering system," said Zientz, head of clinical services, Center for BrainHealth, The University of Texas at Dallas.

Zientz said it's all about saving your cognitive capital. It's like a savings account for your brain.

"Over your life, you use your brain in certain ways that has built up a reserve," Zientz said.

Zientz teaches patients three simple strategies: integration is breaking down and summarizing information; innovation is coming up with solutions to problems; and strategic attention means blocking out useless details.

"So you can save your cognitive capital for thinking about things that really matter," Zientz said.

Dr. Sina Aslan studied the brains of people who completed the SMART training program.

"One individual's brain blood flow improved as a whole by about 12.6 percent," Aslan, adjunct assistant professor, Center for BrainHealth, The University of Texas at Dallas.

Most of the patients also increased the speed of communications across brain networks by 30 percent.

"Thirty percent faster speed is like regaining 20 years of brain function," Chapman said.

Attorney and business owner Chad West had four weeks of brain training in hopes of improving his efficiency at work.

"I would go through an entire day, sometimes a week, and feel like I had not accomplished anything. This training actually has completely changed my way of thinking," West said.

West learned the "two-one-and-none" technique. He performs the two most important tasks that require the highest level of thinking first.

"No matter what happens in that day, I am going to knock those two things off my list," West said.

He focuses on one thing at a time. None means he thinks about nothing five minutes, five times a day to clear his brain.

"It's helped my brain come up with new ideas, creative ideas. It's helped me feel more relaxed," West said.

Another brain-training tip is to stop multitasking. Your brain can't think deeply when you focus on two different tasks, so get rid of distractions.

"You're going to get better brain power, better product, and you're going to be able to accomplish your task much quicker," Zientz said.

It's training for your brain that could mean a sharper, more focused you.

Chapman said researchers can actually see brain changes after just 12 hours of training, but it isn't a permanent fix. Just like our bodies, you have to keep working out your brain to see the results.

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