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Brain Fitness Program: how to select the right one

You can use our check­list for guid­ance on how to nav­i­gate through the grow­ing num­ber of brain fit­ness programs.

Forbes recently pub­lished a great arti­cle on Top Brain Boost­ers, by Alli­son Van Dusen, with good lifestyle advice on life­long learn­ing, com­puter pro­grams, social inter­ac­tion, stress reduc­tion, sleep, exer­cise and emo­tional health, and nutrition.

The arti­cle also men­tions the Mind­Fit and Posit Sci­ence pro­grams, and includes our Sharp­Brains Check­list to help select the right computer-based program.

Why did we develop a Check­list? Well, research shows that Phys­i­cal Exer­cise, Good Nutri­tion, Stress Man­age­ment and Brain Fitness/Exercise are all four crit­i­cal pil­lars for Brain Health. Most peo­ple already under­stand the first 3, but the 4th one, Brain Fitness/Exercise, is often mis­un­der­stood or over­looked. We have spent over 18 months inter­view­ing sci­en­tists and review­ing avail­able Brain Fitness/Exercise Pro­grams world­wide, and, given the over­whelm­ing amount of pro­grams mak­ing “Brain Fit­ness” claims nowa­days, we would like to share the research-based cri­te­ria we use to eval­u­ate Brain Fitness/Exercise programs.

The Forbes Top Brain Boost­ers arti­cle asks “How do you know if a pricey brain fit­ness soft­ware pro­gram is right for you?”

And offers our checklist:

10 Ques­tions to Choose the Right Brain Fit­ness Program

* 1. Are there sci­en­tists, ide­ally neu­ropsy­chol­o­gists, and a sci­en­tific advi­sory board behind the program?

(Neu­ropsy­chol­o­gists spe­cial­ize in mea­sur­ing and under­stand­ing human cog­ni­tion and brain struc­ture and function.)

* 2. Are there pub­lished, peer-reviewed sci­en­tific papers in PubMed writ­ten by those sci­en­tists? How many?

(Pubmed is a ser­vice of the U.S. National Library of Med­i­cine that includes mil­lions of cita­tions sci­ence jour­nals. If a sci­en­tist has not pub­lished a paper that appears in that data­base, he or she can­not make sci­en­tific claims.)

* 3. What are the spe­cific ben­e­fits claimed for using this program?

(Some pro­grams present the ben­e­fits in such a neb­u­lous way that it is impos­si­ble to tell if they will have any results or not…“brain train­ing” itself is a lim­ited ben­e­fit, because activ­i­ties like gar­den­ing or learn­ing a new lan­guage pro­vide “brain train­ing too”…you need to see some­thing more spe­cific, like what cog­ni­tive or emo­tional skill that pro­gram is aimed at)

* 4. Does the pro­gram tell me what part of my brain or which cog­ni­tive skill I am exer­cis­ing, and is there an inde­pen­dent assess­ment to mea­sure my progress?

(The ques­tion is whether the improve­ment expe­ri­enced in the pro­gram will trans­fer into real life. For that to hap­pen we need assess­ments that are dis­tinct from the exer­cises themselves.)

* 5. Is it a struc­tured pro­gram with guid­ance on how many hours per week and days per week to use it?

(Brain exer­cise is not a magic pill. You have to do the exer­cises in order to ben­e­fit, so you need clar­ity on the effort required.)

* 6. Do the exer­cises vary and teach me some­thing new?

(The only way to exer­cise impor­tant parts of our brain is by tack­ling novel challenges.)

* 7. Does the pro­gram chal­lenge and moti­vate me, or does it feel like it would become easy once I learned it?

(Good brain exer­cise requires increas­ing lev­els of difficulty)

* 8. Does the pro­gram fit my per­sonal goals?

(Each indi­vid­ual has dif­fer­ent goals/ needs when it comes to brain health. For exam­ple, some want to man­age anx­i­ety, oth­ers to improve short-term memory…)

* 9. Does the pro­gram fit my lifestyle?

(Some brain exer­cise pro­grams have great short-term results but are very intense. Oth­ers may be bet­ter over time)

* 10. Am I ready and will­ing to do the pro­gram, or would it be too stressful?

(Excess stress reduces, or may even inhibit, neurogenesis-the cre­ation of new neurons-. So, it is impor­tant to make sure not to do things that stress us in unhealthy ways.)

Spe­cial Offer: For a lim­ited time, you can receive a com­pli­men­tary copy of our Brain Fit­ness 101 e-Guide: Answers to your Top 25 Ques­tions, writ­ten by Dr. Elkhonon Gold­berg and Alvaro Fer­nan­dez, by sub­scrib­ing to our monthly newslet­ter. You can sub­scribe Here.

You may also enjoy these related blog posts:

- Neu­ro­plas­tic­ity 101 and Brain Fit­ness Glos­sary: an overview of the emerg­ing sci­ence and some key con­cepts to under­stand it.

- Brain Train­ing Games and “Games”: a 10-Question Check­list on how to eval­u­ate pro­grams that make brain-related claims.

- Cog­ni­tive Neu­ro­science and Psy­chol­ogy Inter­view Series: in-depth inter­views with 11 sci­en­tists and experts in cog­ni­tive train­ing and brain fitness.

- Books on neu­ro­plas­tic­ity and mem­ory train­ing: reviews of Train Your Brain, Change Your Mind, by Sharon Beg­ley, and The Brain That Changes Itself, by Nor­man Doidge. Both books are fas­ci­nat­ing and pow­er­ful; each would have mer­ited appear­ing in the 2007 New York Times List of 100 Notable Books.

Finally, this is one on the impor­tant top­ics we cover in our Sem­i­nars, so let us know if your orga­ni­za­tion needs more information.

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