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Variability and Learning
The brain and body are always striving to seek the most efficient pathways. This means using the least amount of energy to complete a task.
When we refer to energy, we are referring the amount of glucose utilized for the energy to complete a task, the amount of neurons recruited, and the amount of electrical energy as an output associated with initiating and/or completing a task.
As you know, the human body and brain are extremely adaptable. They are able to learn whatever physical or cognitive exercise you are performing very quickly with enough repetition. The mechanisms of this learning curve from a structural and functional perspective in the brain is shown in the graphic above.
This leaves us with a line that looks a lot like the one below when it comes to the benefit you are receiving from learning and performing this exercise. The beginning phase relates to the initiation of a new task, the acceleration phase is correlated with the neural benefits of learning and change, and the plateau reflects the efficiency that is achieved mentioned at the beginning of this post.
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Things may start off slow, but as you learn with enough trails/practice, you start to promote neuroplastic change, you begin to get the hang of it, and things ramp up to their most efficient levels.
Shortly thereafter, your brain and body has figured it out and you have plateaued out a bit. This is sometimes referred to as “overlearning”, which can be seen in professional athletes or musicians. This is when it’s time to try something else if your goal is brain health.
How Do We Find the Right Amount of Variability?
Finding the right amount of variability for optimal cognitive function and neuronal growth can be tricky at first. A healthy dose of consistent variability as identified in the chart above, is the ideal level of variability for achieving the greatest benefit.
Some examples of how an individual might achieve healthy variability in an exercise context might follow the steps below:
- Identify what types of training you are already doing. You can do this by “days per week” of the following modalities:
- If you find yourself biasing towards one style, dedicate 1 or 2 more days towards another modality
- Once you are more variably “balanced”, identify how you can provide “variability within variability”, by changing the style of the modality. Some examples include:
In order to promote neuroplasticity and longevity, implement the following into you or your clients’ routine:
- Variability (within Variability)
- Continued and Novel Learning
- Physical Activity & Complexity