the latest in brain fitness

From my perspective, brain fitness is popping up everywhere and the industry seems on the brink of a popularity explosion. However, at the same time I am constantly amazed at how few people in the general public have heard of this concept. While I see articles, studies and programming everywhere I look, others don’t seem to notice it at all. I guess it all comes down to where you are looking and what you are looking for… Anyways, since I am paying attention, I figured I should share some of the things I have found in my virtual wanderings and explorations:

I have blogged about the benefits of juggling before in my section on brain fitness tips, but the article Juggle Heads article goes more into detail about just how very good it might be. It groups it with chess and dancing as great ways to engage both sides of your brain. Which is good because you never know what could happen and one day you might not have use of part of your mind and you’ll want to have strong reserves on hand!

A lot of fitness sites are now making a point of touting the (important) role of physical exercise on cognitive fitness. And post-partum depression too, apparently.

A new study “finally proves” what I already considered to be a fact: practicing regular meditation can transform not just your experience of the world, but it can also physically transform the structure of your brain.

Oh yeah, neuroplasticity has a dark side; we call it pain and neurosis. Just like positive thoughts can become entrenched through repeated use, so can the perception of pain. People can also dig themselves deep mental ruts that they cant escape and instead get stuck in a world of paranoia or obsession.

Speaking of popping up, more and more physical brain fitness / cognitive training centers seem to opening around the country. Here’s one I have not heard of called LearningRX

More to come soon!

Brain Fitness Arcade

online puzzlesHey all. Just to give you a preview, I am currently working on populating a brain game arcade for your use and pleasure. The idea is to get together all the best games on the web and organize them by the cognitive skills they test. This way I will be able to provide you with a larger selection of games and mental challenges will still providing them in a context for mental engagement. It will take awhile before I get the arcade fully stocked, but there will definitely be some games on their to choose from within the next week.

Direct vs. Indirect Brain Training

Here is a great video describing the difference between direct and indirect brain training techniques. I had not heard of this distinction before, but it makes perfect sense. The idea is that there is a difference between exercising an application of a particular cognitive skill and actually working to master the whole skill and be able to apply it in any situation. That is, if you are looking to improve your ability to focus, you are better off targeting focus more generally (like through meditation) than very specifically (like in a game).

Anyway, this guy seems to lay out a pretty straightforward approach to developing concentration and focus in your daily life. It’s definitely a very important aspect of brain training (your behavior and attitude in day-to-day life) to be aware of, and likely much more effective than just playing games. So if you have 8 minutes, check out this video on brain scultping

Want to be happy? Stay focused!

A recently published study concluded that the more your mind wanders, the less happy it is. That is, staying focused and present might go a long way to increasing your satisfaction and fulfillment in life.

The study was conducted in a novel way – using the iPhone. An application that people voluntarily downloaded to the iPhone randomly questioned participants about their current mental state – what they were thinking about, and how happy the felt. People who living in the present – attending to the task at hand or the environment around them – were significantly happier than those who were off in the world of daydreams.

Now, you may be thinking the same thing that went through my mind when reading this – that people who are unhappy with what they are doing are more likely to daydream, and so the results may indicate that daydreaming is a result of unhappiness rather than a cause of it. However, the researchers address that question in the study and seem to be convinced that the wandering mind is the source of the discontent rather than a product of it. Have a look yourself if you are interested in learning more.

In a way, it makes sense. There is a certain satisfaction or enjoyment that comes with being focused. And within the realm of wellness, spirituality and self-help, there is much emphasis on the power of being present, living in the now.

try something new (because learning is fun!)

The brain is designed to be a learning machine. It has evolved over millions of years to digest all the information around it and synthesize it into behaviors and decisions that enhance our probability of survival and reproduction. For all the talk you hear about specific regions controlling particular aspects of your body or your cognition, the truth is that the brain is highly adaptable and can undergo considerable reorganization/reconfiguration when tasked to do so.

You need only consider a child to see how readily and eagerly the mind absorbs information; for the first 10-15 years of life we are rapidly trying to figure out the world around us and how we fit into it all. Everything around us during this time is exciting and new and we soak it all up like a sponge. Unfortunately, that process stops sometime soon thereafter for most people. In many cases, as we near adulthood, we choose a ‘career’ – or at least a more narrow path – and then focus most of our mental energy in that direction. We lose track of all the other activities/people/ideas out there to behold and consequently reduce the ways in which we use our minds.

Given the brain’s proclivity to learn, this process of narrowing our interests is probably doing us a great disservice. Granted, it may allow us to excel in a particular field, but it may also make us more likely to suffer from cognitive decline and even Alzheimers or other forms of dementia. Perhaps even more importantly, it increases the chance that our lives will become dull, routine, commonplace and otherwise boring. As soon as we forget that this world is a totally fascinating place, rife with opportunities to explore, grow, experience and the like, we have given up one of the fundamental aspects of being human. When we are no longer curious seekers of new ideas, new hobbies and new people, we are effectively resigning to a life of stasis. I am not suggesting that life needs to be teeming with stimulation – certainly there is such a thing as too much of a good thing, and the simple life has many merits – only that we should always keep learning and seeking out novelty to keep our minds young and our lives full of the richness that surrounds us.

blogging on brain fitness

These days, it seems as everyone is touting brain fitness. While people may disagree on exactly the best way to do this, there is little doubt that keeping your mind engaged with the world around you has myriad benefits and will keep you thinking more clearly and effectively as you age. There are so many different programs and techniques claiming to be the best approach to maintaining a healthy mind – from brain games and cognitive training to hypnosis and biofeedback to meditation and medications – it can be hard to sort it all all out (the only things everyone agrees on are getting exercise, eating well, reducing stress and being social). The truth probably lies somewhere in between, as a multi-faceted approach that requires you to use your brain in numerous different ways is probably the best approach.

Considering all this information out there, I have decided to create this page as a repository of all the various articles, ideas, scientific findings and other news coming out regarding brain fitness and cognitive health. I’ll update this post regularly as I come across new content. Please feel free to leave comments on this post if there is a particular resource that I have omitted that you feel would be valuable to my readers.

2050: 1.1 Million Over 100 Years Old: Their Aging Brains
Alzheimers Prevention and Brain Health
Brain Fitness: How Brain Games May Preserve Memory
5 Steps To Save Your Brain
Brain Improvement – Why Brain Training is So Important

A quick note to the younger folks in the crowd: all this information, while aimed at the older generation, totally applies to you as well. The sooner you start cultivating a healthy and diverse mental environment, the more likely you are to avoid mental decline as you age. So don’t read these things and think “hey I’m too young to have to worry about this” because starting now will only make it easier for you down the road.

Video of lecture on brain fitness and neuroplasticity

If you would like to learn some more about the latest science behind brain fitness and neuroplasticity, you should definitely have a look at this video. It captures a presentation by Alvaro Fernandez of SharpBrains delivering a lecture on the topic at the New York Public Library. It covers a wide range of topics on brain science and the burgeoning brain fitness industry. This guy really knows what he is talking about.

take notice

The brain thrives on novel stimuli. It loves to learn, to explore and discover. However, many of us lead lives of routine and pattern that limit how much new stuff our brains are exposed to. If this describes you, do yourself a favor and work to break these patterns and start seeking out new things. In general, new friends and new hobbies are probably the best way to go, but these require a considerable time commitment, so if you are unable to take these large steps you should start off with something smaller. Try this:

Pick an environment or object you are familiar with and regularly exposed to, whether it be your garden, the beach, the woods, your walk to work, or even just a painting in your bedroom. Inspect this environment carefully and try to notice some detail about it you have never seen before. In all likelihood, this will be easy, as our brains routinely filter out information they deem irrelevant. The next time you are taking that walk, working in your garden, or checking out your painting, try to find something else new, and continue with this process. Over time, you will begin to see the environment/object in ever greater detail, and with any luck, that tendency to look closer at things and be more aware will carry over into other aspects of your life.

This tip emphasizes a general trend that emerges in many of these brain fitness tips: don’t be lazy and complacent with your mind. Use it as it is meant to be used, and be sure to take in all the richness of the world around you. Step up to challenges instead of shying away from them, and let what your brain does best: learn, grow and adapt.

downloadable brain games

Typically this website focuses on online brain games, but just for a brief diversion I will direct you a resource for downloadable, offline mind games and brain fitness programs. This website has a long and lengthy list of different software programs related to mind exercises and brain games.

Brain Fitness Pilot Project

New evidence towards the efficacy of brain fitness is now emerging from Australia where they just completed their Brain Fitness Pilot Program. Among their findings were:

  • Participants found improvements in their memory and were able to follow conversations better.
  • Brain has the ability to change in response to new learning.
  • Exercising the brain reduces the risk of developing dementia in later years.

The study consisted of a variety of older participants, people in their 60s, 70s and 80s who spent just two hours a week doing structured brain exercises. After an 8-week period, a majority of participants reported an improvement in their train of thought and could remember names and shopping lists better, while another 70 percent found an improvement in their hearing and their ability to follow and remember conversations.

Encouraging news for anyone worried that their mind might be slipping! Would you be willing to spend two hours a week doing brain training if it meant a healthier sharper mind? That’s just 20 minutes a day!

keep on dancing, never grow old

If the following tip sounds more like preaching than advice, that’s because it is: lace up your shoes and go dancing. Not only is dancing great exercise (which increases blood flow to your brain), relaxing (reducing stress), and fun (improving mood), it also serves to exercise your balance, coordination skills and sense of timing/rhythm. It can also be a great vehicle for socializing (which, as discussed in a previous post, is one of the most important aspects of brain fitness), and a way to channel your artistic/creative abilities. You get all this from something that you can pretty much do anywhere, anytime, for free. In my personal experience, dancing is just about as good as it gets, and if there is one thing I would like to encourage others to do, it’s dance. There are so many different styles so you should be able to find something that works for you, regardless of your experience level or your musical tastes. Just do it, your mind and body will thank you.

And that doesn’t even consider the affects the music itself has on your brain, aside from the movement aspects:
http://acda.org/files/ChorTeach-Vol2%20no1_Hampton,%20A.pdf
http://www.sott.net/articles/show/196429-Music-Improves-Brain-Function

A few interesting quotes I came across:

Researchers who followed nearly 500 people for 21 years found that ballroom dancing was the most protective physical activity. It reduced dementia risk by 76 percent.

A recent report from the Changing Age Partnership confirms that dancing may be a key to successful aging. Dr. Jonathan Skinner of Queens University Belfast recently presented research findings that strongly suggest regular dance sessions offer mental, physical and social benefits to seniors. These benefits seem to hold back the overall declines normally associated with aging: The seniors who dance seem to stay more engaged and motivated, have reduced aches and pains, combat the common sense of social isolation, even stimulate their immune systems in multiple ways.

And here’s a great article from the brain fitness experts at SharpBrains: Waltzing your way to physical and mental fitness

Brain Training Games dot Net

The brain games on this website have been specially designed to maximize the benefit of your training session. Each game targets specific mental faculties (such as attention, memory, visuospatial skill, reaction time, etc) in simple and straight-forward ways. Most importantly, the games automatically become harder as you make progress, ensuring that they always provide an appropriate degree of challenge.

IQ Lift

IQ Lift’s cognitive neuroscientist led team supplies the only IQ brain training download scientifically demonstrated to improve IQ, improve brain function and increase fluid intelligence and working memory capacity. We also supply lab-tested natural brain nutrients and the best brain supplements that improve IQ and brain function. We have expertise in how to improve I Q and improve brain function for:

Patch Words

In this fun word game, you need to work against time to patch together the words and fill in all their holes. Work with the set of loose letters to assemble a set of valid English words.

a new project

For those of you that are interested in a more sophisticated brain training option, have an early look at my new site http://brain-training-games.net. The site offers a variety of different brain games & exercises that target various different cognitive functions such as attention, memory, visuospatial skill, time estimation and more. Each game is designed to start off easy but get more difficult as you progress and further develop the specific cognitive skill

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