Jan 19, 2009
By: Alvaro Fernandez
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.