Using Digital Tools to Channel Our Minds: Introduction

By Bonnie Feldman, Melinda Speckmann, Ellen M. Martin

New technologies in digital health, big data, genomics and neuroscience are converging to help us take better care of our minds, bodies and spirits. Just as our bodies require fitness through exercise and healthy living habits, our brains also need exercise to be fit and well.

Our brains are the control center for everything we feel, do and think. New understanding of brain plasticity, elegantly described in Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor’s Ted Talk, “My Stroke of Insight” dispels the old belief that adults do not generate new neurons. Neuroplasticity is the brain’s lifelong capacity to change and rewire itself (even if damaged!) in response to the stimulation of learning, experience and practice. More than just building new connections between existing neurons, neuroplasticity allows the brain to create new neurons, connections and networks, strengthening itself, rather like how muscles grow and develop as you do a physical workout.

Based on interviews with more than a dozen companies, that I will discuss at the mHealth Summit, in the next few posts we will explore how new approaches to brain exercise can help harness the mind/body connection- allowing us to channel our minds so that we can stay sharp, stay well and bounce back from illness.

Staying sharp: Our brains have various functions, specific cognitive skills that mediate our daily experiences. These functions include perception, attention, memory, motor, language & auditory processing, visual & spatial processing and executive processes. These functions relate to the skills of recognition, interpretation, mobility, concentration and processing. Cognitive training encompasses techniques that teach us ways to keep our mental skills sharp. Various new technologies offer online assessments and engaging games to help improve particular brain functions.

Staying well: Keeping our brains well means, ultimately, keeping our brains happy. Mobile sensors and new meditation techniques are being developed to “measure” our moods so that we can take charge of our own happiness. New work on resilience may offer further insight on how we can spring back from adversity.

Overcoming illness: With the advancement of mobile health, the ability to retrain our brains and develop healthy habits has become easier than ever. These tools may encourage good brain health and hopefully decrease the global burden of diseases such as depression, sleep disorders, trauma, stroke, cognitive impairment and learning disabilities such as ADHD, dyslexia and others.

Do you think that the fitness trend will expand brain fitness to include cognitive health and wellness?

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