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Do I really need a brain fitness program?

Here is the fifth ques­tion of 25 from Brain Fit­ness 101: Answers to Your Top 25 Ques­tions. To down­load the com­plete ver­sion, please click here.

Ques­tion:
Do I really need a brain fit­ness program?

Key Points:

  • Brain fit­ness requires men­tal stim­u­la­tion, phys­i­cal fit­ness, good nutri­tion, and stress management.
  • A good pro­gram of men­tal stim­u­la­tion must pro­vide nov­elty, chal­lenge, and cog­ni­tive variety.
  • Use it or lose it! (Or even bet­ter, “use it and improve it!”)

Answer:
Yes, you need a brain fit­ness pro­gram if you want to keep your mind in top shape and dra­mat­i­cally slow the effects of age-related cog­ni­tive decline. If you don’t do any­thing to pro­tect your exist­ing neu­rons and add new ones, you will lose them. If neu­rons are used, they remain active and healthy and cre­ate func­tional con­nec­tions with other neu­rons, increas­ing their activ­ity and health. Exert­ing your brain may even lead to the birth of new neu­rons, and it res­cues the neu­rons you already have from decay, the “use it or lose it” phenomenon.

Recent research shows that the brain remains plas­tic and train­able through­out life. In a study pub­lished in the Jour­nal of the Amer­i­can Med­ical Asso­ci­a­tion, sig­nif­i­cant per­cent­ages of the par­tic­i­pants age 65 and older who trained for five weeks improved their mem­ory, rea­son­ing and information-processing speed.

“It’s wise to start men­tal work­outs even in one’s 40s, 30s, or 20s,” says Dr. George Rebok, pro­fes­sor at the Johns Hop­kins Bloomberg School of Pub­lic Health. “We haven’t yet devel­oped a cul­ture of men­tal exer­cise like our cul­ture of phys­i­cal exer­cise, but we should,” he says.

When we learn, we cre­ate phys­i­cal changes inside our heads. By prac­tic­ing a skill, we repeat­edly stim­u­late the same area of the brain, which strength­ens exist­ing neural con­nec­tions and cre­ates new ones. Over time, we can become more cog­ni­tively effi­cient, using fewer neu­rons to do the same job. And the more often we fire up cer­tain men­tal cir­cuits, the eas­ier it is to get them going again.

Con­clu­sion: Putting in the time now to exer­cise your brain will help you build the cog­ni­tive reserve you need as defense against aging later.

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