Make Your Brain Smarter

Author: Sandra Bond Chapman, Ph.D. (with Shelly Kirkland)
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Book Publication: 2013

Do you express the same ideas and opinions on issues over and over, complete tasks only as asked without thinking about the process, or strongly resist new concepts and technologies? If this is the case, “you are not harnessing the power of your frontal lobe (your brain’s command centre) to achieve your greatest potential,” says cognitive neuroscientist, Sandra Bond Chapman.

Recent strides in brain science have revealed that unless you have a specific brain disease that causes loss of nerve cells, then most, if not all, of your neurons remain healthy until you die. Furthermore, because our brains are the most modifiable part of our bodies, with the ability to change, and rewire (neuroplasticity), we have the ability to mould them to be sharper, more creative, and just plain smarter. In her new book, Make Your Brain Smarter, Dr. Chapman explains how we can utilize this astonishing cognitive capacity, even as we age.

Chapman’s research indicates that IQ tests are an inaccurate measure of brain potential, and memory is not the most important measure of brain function. She advocates for moving beyond memory as a chief brain concern, to focusing our attentions on the fitness of our frontal lobe. It represents a third of our brain, and is responsible for higher order cognitive functioning – capacity to reason, think abstractly, solve problems, and apply new knowledge. She suggests that in order to strengthen and maintain our frontal lobe functions we must “continually engage in complex and innovative thinking, be curious and creative and think broader, deeper and from a higher perspective.”

The first step in Chapman’s program is to acquire a benchmark for individual cognitive health (frontal lobe fitness levels). Her “Brain­Health Physical” is a mental stress test that measures cognitive abilities of strategic attention, integrated reasoning, and innovation, as these areas are “the foundation to achieve brain efficiency, ensure mental productivity, and maximize brainpower.”

Section II, ‘Maximize Your Cognitive Perfor­mance’ provides strategies to enhance those brain processes that are crucial to prime brain function. To strengthen your strategic attention (ability to decide what information is important to know versus what information should be ignored), Chapman offers the following: take time away and allow your brain to rest (brainpower of none); rather than multitask, focus on one task at a time, (brainpower of one); with a massive to-do list, focus on the two things that will have the most impact, require the most attention and the most rested brain effort (brainpower of two).

While Chapman believes you can make your brain smarter at any age, she has also found that building effective and efficient brain health levels across the life span requires different practices as well as an understanding of the basic needs of each. Those needs and practices are identified in Section III, “Make Your Brain Smarter At Any Age” with specific examples from Chapman’s client base, along with tips and practise tasks for each generation: 13-24 (immediates), 25-35 (finders), 36-45 (seekers), 46-65 (thinkers), 66-100+ (knowers).

Brain injury and diseases like Alzheimer’s are also addressed – offering hope and inspiration to sufferers and caregivers alike.

Despite the tendency to overuse catchphrases and trendy jargon like “brainomics,” “fluid thinking,” and “know brainers,” and sometimes appearing to be a public relations mouthpiece for Chapman’s Brain Health Centre, Make Your Brain Smarter is worth (thoughtful) consideration. In the next forty years our current lifespan is predicted to increase by more than a decade. This is not such a desirable outcome if we are unable to keep our minds functioning and make our own decisions. As Chapman advises, we need to give equal time, effort, and attention to the health of our brains as we do to the rest of our bodies. Chapman’s practical advice supported by sound scientific research could be key in maximizing our brain’s incredible potential.

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Susannah Kent is a Toronto area Fitness and Healthy Lifestyle Instructor.

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