In the previous posts we have seen that one of the most effective ways to trigger neurogenesis (the birth of new brain cells) for adult neuroplasticity is exercise. Unlike smart drugs this is non-invasive and has numerous beneficial by-products, such as general health and mood improvements.
The evidence tells us that aerobic exercise—that is, exercise sustained at a moderate pace (aiming at 50-85% of maximum heart rate) for a minimum of 20 consecutive minutes—is the most effective in triggering the release of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), growing new hippocampal brain cells, and enhancing cognition.
Here’s a table from the American Heart Association to help guide your training.
- Neuron (brain cell) survival
- Formation of synapses (communication points between brain cells)
- Prevention of brain cell degeneration
- General neuroprotection
And we know from Tracey Shors work at Rutgers that if newly formed neurons are not integrated within existing brain circuits they typically die within a couple of weeks.
Learning to Build Brain Networks
Learning a new skill and acquiring new knowledge is one effective way of doing this. Thinking of learning a second language or musical instrument or application? Or learning a new subject matter? Combine your classes with regular aerobic exercise to boost the raw material you brain uses for skill acquisition.
Learning new skills results in building brain circuits for specific capabilities, which is excellent if that is your goal..
But we design brain training interventions that are aimed to improve general abilities – such as IQ or attention control or resilience. We are looking for maximum transfer from our brain training to your mental life as you deploy it in many different situations and different times – for problem solving, decision-making, comprehension, focus, multi-tasking, and efficient skills learning.
MAP Brain Training
Based on the dual goals of growing brain cells and keeping them surviving, Shors and others have proposed that coupling mental (M) and physical (P) training could be especially beneficial for cognitive enhancement. Here’s the idea behind this approach:
Integrated Mental and Physical Training : A Paradigm Shift
Like most Western science, a hidden assumption of MAP training is that mental challenges and physical demands are to be dealt with separately – sequentially. You do your meditation and then you do your running. Mental and physical are a duality.
The cognitive neuroscientist Dr David Moreau at the University of Aukland has been challenging this view by building cognitive challenges into physical movement and action.
This integrated brain training approach has advantages:
- It is time efficient.
- With the additional physiological challenge, different organs in the body compete for resources (e.g., blood supply, nutrients,etc.) and the brain is forced to work more efficiently, processing information better and faster with less fuel. In other words, it may be better for training brain efficiency.
- It is particularly suited to children who have a physiological need to burn energy and move around. Why not harness this drive, rather than inhibit it while doing traditional computer-based training?
- The combination of physical and cognitive demands into complex motor activities has been tested with very promising results.
Adaptive Movement Patterns (AMP) Training for the Mind-Body
Moreau created and tested a program which he calls ‘designed sport’ The movements of the program were designed to challenge working memory and spatial intelligence in complex motor sequences requiring memory and coordination between two people.
This kind of training is part of a broader ‘movement’ (!) in sports performance coaching of movement pattern training. When movement pattern training emphasizes adaptive problem solving and working memory for increasingly complex challenges it can be called Adaptive Movement Pattern Training or AMP Training.
This approach has been adopted by others including the company MovNat.
By emphasizing movement sequences that demand PMD, the body is stimulated to make adaptations predominantly in the central domains, including its sensory-perceptual, coordinative, and processing systems.
By emphasizing movement sequences that demand work capacity, the body is stimulated to make adaptations predominantly in its peripheral domains, including the musculoskeletal and cardiorespiratory systems.
Sports performance coach Danny Clark argues in this interesting article that sports coaching is moving to a new sports performance paradigm involving AMP training centrally.
The new paradigm is captured by this equation:
GPP or General Physical Preparedness is the now standard component of performance that emphasizes ‘functional patterns’ and mobility drills, where the goal is to correct dysfunctional patterns of mobility and stability and restore baseline function with an overall goal of measurable work capacity improvement – i.e., strength, power, agility, endurance, etc.
G – PMD or General Perceptual Motor Development draws on…
“Any external challenges that demand complex, adaptive movement patterns stimulate the brain to refine and build its neural pathways, increasing its ability to adapt via this neuroplasticity.” (Danny Clark, MovNat).
Training Benefits of Adaptive Motor Patterns Training
Moreau’s 2015 study found that AMP training out-performed interventions focused on either just physical training, or just computerized brain training, on measures of working memory capacity, spatial ability, and biomarkers of general health, such as resting heart rate and blood pressure”.
Physiological Benefits of AMP Training
Here are the results from AMP training for resting heart rate, oxygen saturation, systolic blood pressure and diastolic blood pressure. In each case, designed sports does better.
orange = designed sport training
blue = aerobic training
black = cognitive training
Cognitive Benefits of AMP Training
This graph showing both spatial and verbal working memory gains over 24 sessions of AMP training. For those of you who have trained with IQ Mindware apps, you will recognize this kind of training gain. But what is interesting here is that the training was physical, not the dual n-back, so increased scores on traditional working memory tests (given separately) is really impressive.
Working memory capacity is a subfactor of IQ, and correlates highly with fluid intelligence. Spatial ability is a significant predictor of success in many academic and professional domains.
How To Design An AMP Training Program
AMP training combines physical and cognitive demands. Training develops new patterns of motor coordination via demonstrations and active trial-and-error problem-solving with a partner.
Using Moreau’s system, each session is broken down like this:
- A progressive warm-up and light stretching (10 min).
- Core session (40 minutes)
- Cool down (tapered intensity) and stretching (10 minutes)
Core training involves – three types of problem solving:
- Perceptive problems, via situations with unusual proprioceptive / kinesthetic information. For example, in the first three weeks participants are blindfolded for 15 to 20 min per session to emphasize proprioceptive and kinesthetic information over more common visual inputs. In other situations, visual information may be restricted by specific positions (e.g. back to-back, or standing in stance looking down in grappling), forcing participants to integrate and evaluate proprioceptive inputs to determine the most efficient course of actions. The underlying logic of perceptive problems is to reduce participants’ reliance on visual information in order to encourage somatosensory processing.
2. Motor problems, via situations introducing increasingly complex motor coordination. For example in grappling, you transition from one to another of three levels of motion (standing — intermediate — on the mat) throughout the program, while increasing or decreasing execution speed. Other situations may involve lateral inversions, or body rotations in three dimensional space. Here, the goal is to encourage the emergence of novel, non-automatic motor sequences in unfamiliar situations.
3. Cognitive problems, via situations requiring active updating over time. For example, you have to maintain and update in memory a sequence of movements in every session, for further recall and execution at given times signaled by auditory tones. Upon hearing the signal along with a number, participants have to execute one or several movements within the series signalled by the number. On an increasing continuum of difficulty, recall can be identical to the initial movement, or require e.g. a lateral inversion for more complexity.
Training is augmented by:
- Stress / Arousal. Adding complexity may be done in moderately stressful or arousing situations to build resilience.
- Interaction. Social interaction with a training partner can help with motivation and building cooperative and competitive strategies that may help cognition.
Viable AMP Training Activities
- Physical activity games for kids
- Martial arts & MMA
- Functional/ movement pattern sports (Naudi Aguilar, etc)
- Indoor wall rock-climbing
- Obstacle courses