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Brain Fitness Expands, But Research Still Lags

Brain Training 2009We’ve talked previously about brain fitness programs, including a review of them back in 2007 and some digging into the research backing for them last year. We’re skeptical of a new industry that appears virtually out of nowhere that bases much of its exercises on activities that you could do just as easily for free.

As we said seven months ago, the best thing you can do for your brain is to save your money and go out for a walk. Physical exercise and activity is the only robust finding in research that can help an already healthy brain retain its elasticity in older age. Why? A more physically fit body has better blood flow, and better blood flow to the brain helps keep it functioning at the top of its game.

Since we last wrote on this topic, little has changed. There’s been no new definitive studies showing that brain training programs have any specific benefits to people without a brain disease, such as Alzheimer’s. But that didn’t stop the Ventura County Star doing a story on the growing trend and industry of brain fitness:

[Alvaro Fernandez] said he believes we’ll start to see brain fitness centers inside health clubs, and they won’t be just for seniors.

“I’m not sure we’re going to have separate places called brain fitness centers,” he said. “We’re already seeing health clubs where they have a room or classes for brain fitness.”

Physical fitness centers benefit from tools that help keep our bodies fit. The same can’t be said for our brains, where such tools, while available, have little proven effectiveness for everyday people looking to keep their brains “fit.” Instead, I prefer the sounder and unbiased reasoning of Dr. David Knopman, a spokesman for the American Academy of Neurology:

Knopman warns buyers to beware. There is a lot of money out there to be made, and he’s dismayed at how willing consumers and the media are to believe every claim they hear.

“The brain centers seem to be founded on the premise that mental activity done with a proprietary computer is superior to simply reading, staying socially active and discussing current events,” Knopman said. “You can discuss current events on your own and interact with friends, family and community without paying $500 a pop.”

To keep your brain healthy, consider these free, simple tips:

  • Exercise and eat right. Nothing has been proved more beneficial to a healthy brain than to keep a healthy body. That means exercise 3 to 4 times a week, and taking at the very least a walk of 30 minutes per day. Eating right means eating right-sized portions (especially at restaurants, leave something on the plate!), avoiding fast food whenever possible, and choosing a healthy eating choice over the one full of fat more often than not.
  • Keep good mental health. People who are under less stress or anxiety have a less stressed-out body, which directly relates back to maintaining good physical health. Get help for things you’re not managing well on your own, because the longer you put it off, the worse it’s likely to get.
  • Do something new everyday. The brain appears to benefit from novelty and new experience. Even doing a crossword puzzle or sudoku every day helps your brain “exercise” and be involved. In fact, simply reading the daily newspaper (for free, online) helps to work your brain, as you are taking in new information by reading. There’s been no research to suggest that you need a specific brain training software program. While many of them are based upon sound scientific principles, they lack scientific evidence to their specific effectiveness (outside of effectively separating you from some of your money).
  • There’s no need to pursue the latest brain fad. You’re just wasting your time and money. That includes all sorts of programs, seminars, trainings, vitamins and supplements. None of them are proven to work and while you may enjoy some benefit from doing them (perhaps from the placebo effect), you’d probably also enjoy some benefit from simply exercising and reading more.

I hope I just saved you and your brain hundreds of dollars. In this tough economy, you’ll need it.
Read the full article: As America ages, fitness centers evolve to include head health

Brain Fitness Expands, But Research Still Lags

John M. Grohol, Psy.D.

Dr. John Grohol is the founder of Psych Central. He is a psychologist, author, researcher, and expert in mental health online, and has been writing about online behavior, mental health and psychology issues since 1995. Dr. Grohol has a Master's degree and doctorate in clinical psychology from Nova Southeastern University. Dr. Grohol sits on the editorial board of the journal Computers in Human Behavior and is a founding board member of the Society for Participatory Medicine. You can learn more about Dr. John Grohol here.

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APA Reference
Grohol, J. (2018). Brain Fitness Expands, But Research Still Lags. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 26, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 13 Jan 2009)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
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