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Brain Fitness

10/17/2008 3000 views

Our memories form a large part of who we are. Tiny lapses of memory make us feel like we\'re losing ourselves. As we age, these lapses of memory become more frequent. Until recently, it was believed that upon maturity, the shape and ability of our brains remained constant. We had to deal with the deck we were dealt, and there was nothing we could do about it. Now, we know that brains contain plasticity, an exciting notion as it means they are moldable. The concept of "brain fitness" and the entire "brain health" industry is founded on this principle: we can affect the future health of our brains.

Much like exercising on a tread-mill or taking a yoga class, it\'s believed by many that we can take measures to make sure our brains stay in shape. Basically, by taking our brains out of their ruts, where all they do is sit on the couch and channel-surf, we can build new dendritic pathways that contribute to the overall performance and function of our brains.

Since Alzheimer\'s, dementia and other memory-related illnesses can be almost impossible to predict or detect at early onset, are there measures we can take to prevent them?

Monique Le Poncin, founder of the French National Institute for Research on the Prevention of Cerebral Ageing, thinks there is. Le Poncin, who coined the term "brain fitness," has developed an exercise regimen for the brain, strengthening the areas in our brain that become weak over time. These areas include: perception, long- and short-term memory, visuo-spatial memory, structuralization, logic, and verbal abilities.

The exercises can all be done independently and quickly, on the way to or from work or throughout one\'s day. One of the exercises involves looking at a photo or at someone\'s face, going away and immediately drawing it. This exercises short-term visual memory and is to be completed every day. At the end of the week, one must sit down and draw all seven faces or photos observed during the week, exercising long-term visual memory.

Another trend when it comes to brain health is the creation of computer software such as Nintendo\'s BrainAge. "Just minutes a day, that\'s all it takes to challenge your mind" claims the website. The software is designed for a hand-held device and includes activities such as sudoku, piano player, word scrabble and number memory. When you begin your "training" the program gives you a test and assigns you a "brain age". As you progress, the hope is that your "brain age" gets younger until it "peaks" at the desirable age of 20.

Adults concerned about their brain health can also subscribe to websites such as, where they can complete a full 10 minute workout daily. The website claims it is designed by leading experts in neuroscience and cognitive psychology from Stanford and UCSF and that users have reported clearer and quicker thinking, improved memory, and increased concentration.

While both of these options do have visible short-term results among users, evidence that they prevent Alzheimer\'s or other related diseases is inconclusive. An article in the New York Times "As Minds Age, What Next?" (December 27, 2006) stated that while few scientists believe that activities meant to improve brain fitness can actually prevent dementia, they might be able to delay it.

Monique Le Poncin says that the best way to improve brain fitness, especially in older people, is to avoid monotony and routine. So why not spend time learning the banjo, or writing that novel you\'ve always wanted to, or learning to speak Italian, culminating in a trip to Tuscany? It definitely will not hurt you, and who knows, it could well contribute to the life-long fitness of your brain.

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