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.
Do I really need a brain fitness program?
- 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!”)
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.
- Ball K, Berch DB, Helmers KF, et al. Effects of cognitive training interventions with older adults: a randomized controlled trial. JAMA. 2002;288:2271–81.
- Deutschman A. Change or Die. Fast Company. 2005;94:53.
- Elias, M. Want a sharp mind for your golden years? Start now. USA Today: Health and Behavior. 2005;August 17.
- Scarmeas N, Stern Y. Cognitive reserve and lifestyle. J Clin Exp Neuropsychol. 2003;25:625–33.