Our cognitive abilities enable us to comprehend and interact with the environment around us. It is the brain that is responsible for cognition, and cognitive abilities or skills include processes such as attention, memory, decision-making, reasoning, and problem-solving among others. Shortly put, we require such abilities in order to complete tasks ranging from designing a space rocket to tying our shoes. Human cognitive abilities are at the heart of our advanced civilization, and they distinguish us from the plants and animals that share our planet in a variety of ways.
The Brain Game is a game that involves using one’s brain to solve a problem.
Scientists have been investigating and developing a variety of tools for training and streamlining the mind for quite some time. Some of these techniques, such as physical exercise or playing video games, are not what one would immediately think of when thinking of ways to improve one’s mental health. However, together with cognitive training methods such as meditation, they form part of the cognitive weaponry that neuroscientists are currently investigating and developing. The Frontiers Research Topic “Cognitive and Brain Plasticity Induced by Physical Exercise, Cognitive Training, Video Games, and Combined Interventions,” published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, is comprised of a collection of scientific articles that investigate these cognitive training techniques in health and disease, as well as in youth and old age, and is available online here.
Is it true that our cognitive abilities are something we are born with and that we cannot change? Do they naturally change as we progress through our lives? The unfortunate reality is that cognitive abilities can be impaired by injury or disease, and they can also deteriorate with age. “As people get older, they notice a decrease in their ability to pay attention and retain long-term memories,” explains Topic Editor Soledad Ballesteros of the Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancea. However, this decline is not unavoidable, and scientists are working to find ways to slow it down while also developing techniques for younger people to improve their cognitive abilities.
The ability of the brain to change and reorganise itself is referred to as neural plasticity. In all individuals, neural plasticity can be found at multiple levels of the neural substrate, ranging from the cellular level all the way up to the level of the actual brain structure. The neuroplasticity of the brain can be found even in the elderly, according to Ballesteros. Nurturing and enhancing our cognitive abilities may enable us to better grasp, remember, and apply information that we are exposed to, as well as complete tasks more quickly, regardless of our age or gender. But how does one go about accomplishing this? As Topic Editor Louis Bherer of the Université de Montréal explains, “the articles included in this Research Topic cover the most recent interventional and cross-sectional studies investigating the cognitive and neural effects on physical and cognitive activity across the lifespan.”
Physical exercise, which is well-known for its importance in maintaining physical health, is one approach being investigated by studies in the Research Topic. The importance of exercise in maintaining our cognitive health and preventing neurocognitive decline in older people is becoming more widely recognised. According to one study, increasing levels of physical activity in older people and diabetic patients can help to partially prevent cognitive decline. Other researchers have discovered that engaging in physical activity during math lessons can improve math performance in preadolescent students. It is still unclear exactly how physical exercise affects the brain, but researchers are making progress. However, according to a review, exercise can cause biological changes such as increased nerve cell or blood vessel growth, which can contribute to structural changes in the brain. Exercise can also cause changes in the body’s metabolism. Exercise can also have an impact on our motivation, mood, and sleep quality, all of which can have an impact on our ability to think clearly. In a different review, the potential of aerobic exercise in treating mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia and major depressive disorder, is summarised as stimulating neural plasticity in the brain, and this is supported by research.
Make our thoughts more concrete.
After several sessions in a driving simulator, one study found that older adults with mild cognitive impairments experienced a reduction in their driving errors, according to the findings. According to the findings of another group of researchers, who conducted a survey of younger people, they reported a variety of benefits from using brain-training smartphone apps, demonstrating the accessibility and widespread use of this type of cognitive training. Some of the improvements in certain types of memory were sustained for at least three months in older adults who participated in video game training, demonstrating the importance of finding cognitive training approaches that have long-term benefits for older adults. According to a review, video games have the potential to provide many cognitive benefits, including the improvement of attention, visuospatial skills, and memory skills.
In addition to the studies presented here, the Research Topic contains a plethora of other interesting studies. In addition to being pleased with the submissions to the Research Topic, the Topic Editors are also pleased with their decision to establish a Research Topic with Frontiers. “This Frontiers Research Topic contains 44 articles written by a diverse group of highly respected authors in their respective fields. According to Ballesteros, “We chose Frontiers because we believe it is important to reach a wider audience and that scientific knowledge should be disseminated and made accessible to all.”