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.


  1. Jane on January 20, 2009 at 7:30

    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. M. A. Greenstein, Ph.D. on January 20, 2009 at 8:07


    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. Alvaro Fernandez on January 20, 2009 at 9:22

    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 on January 23, 2009 at 10:53

    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 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

  5. asfa on January 23, 2009 at 10:58

    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 ( Addi­tion­al infor­ma­tion about “Brain Fit­ness for Old­er Adults” can be found in the Decem­ber 16, 2008 issue of our e‑newsletter Expe­ri­ence! (–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

  6. asfa on January 23, 2009 at 11:05

    Oops. Link correction.

    Sor­ry about that.


  7. Alvaro Fernandez on January 23, 2009 at 11:44

    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!

About SharpBrains

SHARPBRAINS is an independent think-tank and consulting firm providing services at the frontier of applied neuroscience, health, leadership and innovation.
SHARPBRAINS es un think-tank y consultoría independiente proporcionando servicios para la neurociencia aplicada, salud, liderazgo e innovación.

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