Whereas physical exercise influences the rate of new neuron creation, mental exercise determines how the new neurons are used and how long they survive. Brain exercise has both short and long-term benefits. Short-term benefits include improved focus, alertness, and memory, mental clarity under stressful situations, improved resilience to stress, increased creativity, among other things. Over the long term, mental stimulation assists in the build up of a “brain reserve” that helps prevent potential degenerative problems such as Alzheimer’s.
It’s important to keep in mind that brain exercise isn’t one thing or one specific activity. The brain is made up of different areas with each area being responsible for specific functions. When your child plays chess or does sudoku initially, it is beneficial in that it forces him to learn. However, if playing chess or sudoku becomes a routine, the marginal benefit decreases substantially. The point of having a brain is precisely to learn and just as importantly – to adapt to new activities and challenges. Hence, the rules of thumb for effective brain exercises are the key elements of novelty, variety, and challenge – much like a cross-training approach that athletes adopt to improve their overall physical performance.
These days, neuropsychologists recommend computer-based brain exercise programs over paper-based ones because computer-based programs are able to offer a greater variety of as well as new and novel activities that in addition, are customizable in terms of a proper increasing level of challenge. When shopping for computer-based programs, look for (neuro) plasticity-based ones that help the brain to form new neural pathways and work on the key areas of memory, attention, and reasoning improvements, and that helps increase processing speed and visual-spatial skills. More tailored, clinician- or coach-supported programs that train specific areas of a child’s cognitive and/or socio-emotional functions such as Neurofeedback are now available in Indonesia.
Speak to your child’s school psychologist or pediatrician for information and referrals on such programs.