Since starting my web development journey with FreeCodeCamp I’ve felt more awake, alert, and able to process information at greater speeds. What I didn’t know is that their curriculum might actually help me live longer too….
There have been a lot of studies into dementia and Alzheimer’s specifically regarding keeping one’s brain active and learning other languages, which coding can certainly contribute to. The primary term is “cognitive reserve”; the ability for your brain to compensate functionally to degeneration.
” Research indicates that people who have solid stores of cognitive reserve are generally less likely to exhibit the classic signs of dementia—short-term memory loss, difficulty multitasking. “
So how could you improve cognitive reserve with coding?
- Problem solving: Coding challenges your brain in different ways, forcing it to open new neural pathways. It increases efficiency, and improves our brain’s ability to work under challenging conditions. This means that if we suffer a brain injury, degenerative or otherwise, our brains are more likely to be able to function at a higher level afterwards.
- Creativity: I have noticed a dramatic rise in my creativity and originality since starting to code. This creativity is not just stuck in my OS, I am actually discussing more original ideas with friends and coders. One study showed there was a link between “verbal creativity” and an increase in cognitive reserve.
- Opening new possibilities: Coding has opened my mind to what is possible through coding. The options are literally endless. The process is similar to when I studied my degree in anthropology and realised that the representations of culture around the world are infinitely varied. So too, are the possibilities with code. This is opening up parts of my brain that I haven’t used for a long time, and could be improving my cognitive reserve.
There have been a multitude of studies showing that bilingualism can increase cognitive reserve. When processing a new language, older languages become activated to some degree in order to process new ones. This functional interaction produces more grey and white matter in the brain, leading to increased cognitive reserve. But can we assume that coding languages are the same?
A study from the University of Passau showed that brain scans on 17 volunteers when reading source code might shed some light. It was found that programming languages and natural languages activated the same parts of the brain in similar ways.
It’s not just coding, it’s not just Alzheimer’s
It’s not just your problem solving or multilingualism that will increase cognitive reserve though. You must work on your social, physical and intellectual capacities in order to increase it. This means going to social events, perhaps coding meetups, and both talking and listening to complex ideas. It also means exercising, which I am a strong proponent of, and actually think improves your coding too.
It’s also not just Alzheimer’s and dementia either, an increase in cognitive reserve has been shown to have an effect on incidence of vascular injury, Parkinson’s disease, traumatic brain injury, HIV, and multiple sclerosis. You’re not just stopping dementia by coding, you are having an effect on many other ailments.
So why have I specifically referenced FreeCodeCamp? I feel that their open source curriculum is more independent than any other I have tried, which simply leads me to use more brain matter than others, hopefully increasing my cognitive reserve more. I am not watching a video and doing small irrelevant challenges, I’m creating whole projects with FCC, like my Weather App that I recently built and am really proud of.
So next time you’re struggling, beavering away at another coding language, or simply learning some new grammar or syntax in your first, don’t dismay. It could save your life.