Brain Games: Keep Fit With Mental Exercices

A few weeks ago I wrote a popular piece regarding brain exercise, detailing the exciting research showing how keeping your brain stimulated as we age can literally improve your memory. One underlying concept was to always stray from your comfort zone and challenge yourself to new situations and ideas.

Another way is with simple brain exercises. I’m sure a crossword puzzle would be great (I can’t get past the New York Times’ Tuesday puzzles),  but there are some fun computer games as well. One company getting a lot of press is Lumosity. They have a nicely designed website with dozens of games that work on different functions of the brain. You can also track your progress and also compare to others your age. It’s a paid site but you can try it free for a week; there’s also an iPhone version. I tried it out and it was fun, but I don’t think I’ll subscribe just yet. If I were older, say in my 50’s or 60’s and also had a bit more time on my hands, I may pay for this type of website. For now, I’ll stick to my crosswords.

Another company is Dakim’s BrainFitness, a stand-alone touchscreen computer with software that has 150 similar types of brain exercises. This machine, geared more to elderly care homes, was recently reviewed in a preliminary study and proved effective to preserve memory loss:

Assessed by 4 different memory tests, the group who played the BrainFitness game for the full 6 months gained almost 2 points on memory scores, increasing from 10.4 at baseline to 12.1 at follow-up.

This is in contrast to controls, who, having played the same BrainFitness game from month 2 to month 6, had the same memory scores decrease slightly from 10.2 at baseline to 10.1 at follow-up (P = .001). A total of 38 elderly subjects completed the 6-month trial, 22 at an average age of 82 years in the intervention group and 16 at an average age of 83 years in the control group.

“By month 6, the intervention group had played more than double the number of sessions at 93 compared with only about 40 sessions played by active controls, so it’s the long-term use that improves overall memory. The maximum benefit comes when you keep on playing,” Dr. Miller told Medscape Psychiatry.

Of course, you don’t need to spend money to keep your brain active. Just shut off that TV and do something new! Join that karate class or creative writing workshop. What other ideas do people have? You can leave comments below.

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