Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

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Brain Fitness/ Training by the American Senior Fitness Association

Brain Fitness Coming to Senior Exercise Classes (press release):

– “The American Senior Fitness Association (SFA) has announced a new brain fitness training program designed for exercise professionals. Brain Fitness for Older Adults teaches senior fitness instructors and personal trainers how to incorporate effective cognitive fitness into physical activity programs, offering seniors the opportunity to boost both physical and mental fitness simultaneously.”

Comment: a very timely initiative, given the interest we see in brain fitness education and initiatives, and the benefits of both physical and mental exercise on brain health. It makes a lot of sense to enhance public awareness through train-the-trainer initiatives. What remains unclear in this SFA program is what is the direct evidence for something that is billed as a “brain fitness training program” and seems to advocate one particular set of exercises and movements for their trainers and trainers’ clients. It is one thing to claim a product provides good information & is educational (like a book, or this blog, or classes on the brain & brain health) and another one to claim that it is a “brain fitness training program”, for which we should ask the same questions we ask of any other intervention to enhance cognitive functions, technology-based or not, following our 10-Question Program Evaluation Checklist. What is the direct evidence that seniors trained by “senior fitness instructors and personal trainers” using the methodology that the SFA advocates will “boost both physical and mental fitness simultaneously”?

10 Questions to Choose the Right Brain Fitness Program – and a brief explanation of why each question is important:

* 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? What specific cognitive skill is the program training?

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?

Cognitive training, or “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.

For more information on each question and printable layouts, visit this page.

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8 Responses

  1. Jane says:

    that program looks like a scam, at best a late-night informercial…over $200 for a few publications with anonymous endorsements and no way to answer your questions

  2. Alvaro,

    I’m a bit suspect of “right” brain emphasis as we now know so many of the activities once associated with right brain dominance, i.e. Betty Edwards argument for creativity and visual art, actually involve the whole brain and central nervous system!

    Edward’s program was ground breaking years ago. I’m for moving forward to create whole-brain programs that qualify hemispheric relations relevant to particular human activities!

  3. Jane: thank you for the heads up, will take a look at their website in the next few days.

    M.A.: I agree that it is time to debunk the left brain- right brain myth…but I missed how that is relevant here? did the training program mentioned above say something about it? I hope not!

  4. asfa says:

    Mr. Fernandez, while waiting for our first post to appear on your blog, we took the time to prepare answers to your “10-Question Program Evaluation Checklist.” Due to the length of the answer sheet, we have posted it on our website at http://www.seniorfitness.net/brain-fitness-program-checklist.htm. We hope to hear from you soon.

    I would also like to reiterate my offer to send a complimentary copy of the program for you to examine.

    R. Grant Clark
    Member Services
    American Senior Fitness Association
    P.O. Box 2575
    New Smyrna Beach, FL 32170

    Phone: 888.689.6791 /386.423.6634
    Fax: 877.365.3048
    E-Mail: asfa@seniorfitness.net
    Website: http://www.SeniorFitness.org

  5. asfa says:

    Apparently our January 21st comment was not received by your blog so we are submitting it.

    Mr. Fernandez, I am posting on behalf of the American Senior Fitness Association (SFA). We are pleased to discover that Sharp Brains has taken an interest in our “Brain Fitness for Older Adults” program and would be happy to answer any questions you may have concerning the program. First, let me give you a little background on our organization.

    SFA was founded in 1992 to promote excellence in older adult fitness. In 1998, SFA president Janie Clark, MA, co-authored the “National Standards for Preparing Senior Fitness Instructors” and in 2004 we were a supporting agency for the “International Curriculum Guidelines for Preparing Physical Activity Instructors of Older Adults,” which were prepared in collaboration with the World Health Organization among others. We provide widely accessible senior-specific fitness information and resources as well as internationally recognized educational programs for fitness instructors, personal trainers, and health care providers. Our programs are accepted for continuing education credit by most major fitness organizations, and the programs and other initiatives recently earned us a 2009 “Best Practice Award” from the National Council on Aging (NCOA).

    The “Brain Fitness for Older Adults” educational program is our newest initiative. As with all of our programs, it was submitted for expert peer review with recommendations being incorporated prior to its release to the public. The program is designed to help senior physical activity professionals learn how to blend cognitive fitness into their active lifestyle programs. Janie Clark was the lead author of the program and I have made her aware of this blog. She would be able to answer any technical questions you might have about it.

    Meanwhile, I invite you to learn more about SFA and our educational programs at our website (www.seniorfitness.org). Additional information about “Brain Fitness for Older Adults” can be found in the December 16, 2008 issue of our e-newsletter Experience! (www.maturefitness.com/Newsletter_2008-12-16.htm). We would also be pleased to send you a copy of the program for your review if you’d like. If so, let me know where you want the materials sent. Here is my contact info:

    R. Grant Clark
    Member Services
    American Senior Fitness Association
    P.O. Box 2575
    New Smyrna Beach, FL 32170

    Phone: 888.689.6791 /386.423.6634
    Fax: 877.365.3048
    E-Mail: asfa@seniorfitness.net
    Website: http://www.SeniorFitness.org

  6. Thank you for the additional context, we will look into it in detail.

    You mention that the materials were subject to “expert peer review” prior to publication – who are the experts who did so? or, at the very least, who are the members of your Scientific Advisory Board, who vouch for the quality and accuracy of the content you present? I can’t find this important information in your website, and it would be the starting point for our analysis. Thank you!

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