For athletes seeking a competitive edge on the field or court, working out the brain matters just as much as working out the body, Williams said.

He assesses each patient’s baseline cognitive strength and goals and prescribes “brain-training” exercises—timed, repetitive and increasingly challenging activities designed to improve reaction time, attention span or memory. Often, athletes sacrifice speed for accuracy—curated training can help them prioritize both, according to Williams.

The objective of brain training, which can be performed on a smartphone or a computer, is to increase neuroplasticity—the brain’s ability to grow and adapt—which is associated with stronger focus and concentration. Williams said he can optimize training with heartrate monitors that indicate a person’s stress levels during training, which informs him when to increase the difficulty of the tasks.

Some studies show that brain-training modules designed to improve a specific element of the mind—like attention span or visual-processing speed—work broadly to improve general cognitive function.

“The amazing thing is that often the performance doesn’t only improve on that task; we see improvements outside of the practice,” Williams said.

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