The most complex organ of the body
With 80-100 billion neurons, about 7000 connections per neuron and over 500,000 kilometers of nerve fibers, the brain forms the most complex organ of the body. At rest, the brain consumes 20% of energy at only about 2% of body weight. Compared to a computer, the brain reaches a storage capacity of about 2.5 million gigabytes and data transfer rates of >2 terabytes per second. This enormous power and the high investment of energy are necessary because the brain enables the perception of information in the environment, its cognitive processing and the conversion into a motor response. Without the brain, interaction with the environment would not be possible.
Performance of the brain in the aging process
How it changes
The performance of the brain is not stable but changes with age. This is particularly evident in cognitive functions. This includes, for example, reaction, decision-making ability, attention, or memory. The best performance is usually achieved between the ages of 20-30, when the brain is fully developed. However, abilities decline with age and can be reduced by up to 50% by the age of 70. The reduction in power is due to changes in the structure and function of the brain. More neurons are degraded, while the production of growth factors decreases. Evolutionarily, the brain is not designed to reach an age of 70-90 years. We lose up to 100,000 neurons a day, which increases the likelihood of accidents and falls in traffic, everyday life or sports as we age.
In addition to cognitive abilities, this also applies to visual and motor processes. In the aging gait, more and more resources must be invested in the execution of the movement. Especially in complex situations involving both cognitive and motor processes (e.g., crossing a street), this can lead to interference, which negatively affects the quality of motor skills. Accordingly, the risk of accidents and falls also increases here.
The visual system is the dominant source of information. We perceive about 80% of sensory information through the visual system. 30-50% of the brain surface is directly involved in visual perception and processing. For the acoustic system, it is only 2-3%. With age, the performance of the visual system also decreases. A reduction in visual acuity, contrast sensitivity and also peripheral vision contribute to this. In addition, the speed of perception decreases, which means that, for example, visual information is recognized and processed more slowly in road traffic. Here, too, the risk of accidents increases.
Adaptations in the brain
„Your brain is like a muscle“. This analogy is often used to emphasize the adaptability of the brain, and indeed the behavior of muscle and brain is similar in many ways. Like the brain, muscle strength is not constant over the life course and declines with age. We can counteract this process through strength training. It is similar in the brain. The brain can rebuild and adapt. This process is also called neuronal plasticity. Neuronal plasticity includes, for example, the creation of new connections between neurons (synapses) or the formation of new neurons, but this is limited to certain areas of the brain such as the hippocampus. In addition, the insulation around the axons of neurons (myelin) can be strengthened, which affects the speed of signal transmission of signals.
The principle of neuronal plasticity is now well described in science. For a long time, however, it was assumed that the brain is plastic only until development is complete. It is now known that neuronal plasticity can be achieved at any age. However, neuronal plasticity decreases with age. Adaptations in the brain are therefore easier at a young age than at old age. We therefore find it harder to learn languages or movements when we are older. Nevertheless, neuronal plasticity in the brain can be stimulated by appropriate training.
A large number of studies have already been conducted on neuronal plasticity in humans. To date, neuronal plasticity through training has already been demonstrated for >80% of the brain. Therefore, almost all areas of the brain can be trained. It can be assumed that the remaining 20% are also plastic, but some areas have not been investigated so far.
Neuronal plasticity is determined by both genetic and environmental influences. Genetic processes include the partially sequential development of visual, motor, and cognitive functions during development and the degradation of neurons during the aging process. However, it is assumed that the genetic influence is only about 25%, especially in the age course. The possibility of influencing brain development and health in old age through environmental factors is therefore enormous. Environmental factors include, for example, physical and cognitive activity, which stimulates neuronal plasticity and reduces neuronal degradation. In addition, diet, sleep or social contacts also have an influence on how the brain develops in old age. Regular cognitive and physical activity, can counteract the loss of visual, cognitive and motor skills in the aging gait.
Why we should train our brain
Train your Brain – or you will loose it
The development of the brain is to a certain extent genetically determined. As for the musculature, a reduction of power in the aging gait can therefore not be completely prevented. However, analogous to strength training, brain training can counteract the loss of visual, cognitive and motor skills. Faster reactions, better memory and more attention in turn help to reduce the likelihood of falls and accidents, maintain independence and support active participation in private and public life even in old age. Physical and cognitive activity also reduce the risk of neurodegenerative diseases such as dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. In combination with endurance and strength training, brain training therefore offers enormous potential to sustainably improve health and performance in old age.
How does brain training work?
Playful and Scientific
Brain training has been around for several decades. The approach is to target specific skills, mostly cognitive, to improve performance and health in everyday life. These trainings are usually conducted on digital devices such as computers, tablets or cell phones and often include a gamified approach. However, computer-based brain training has often been criticized for its limited transfer from training to practice. While performance improves in the trained task, transfer, e.g., to everyday life, does not. You can find more information on this topic here. VIKOMOTORIK training on the SKILLCOURT combines visual, cognitive and motor training content to optimize the transfer from training to everyday life, sports or work.