Tuesday, February 05, 2008

No Easy Battles in War to Keep Mental Edge

None of us want to die a senile old man or woman detached from memories of the glory days and surrounded by strangers that call themselves your spouse, children or grandchildren. So among other things, Americans are spending millions on “brain exercise” computer programs, reports the NY Times.

But do these things actually work? Given how fast we’re increasing spending on these products, you’d think so. In 2005 we spent about $2 million dollars on brain exercise programs. This year, analysts expect the market to reach $80 million. But you might as well be taking your money to a casino. The problem, according to the Times, is that these brain exercise products are more “inspired by science” than actually “proven.”

In general, brain exercises (like Sudoku, learning a new language, a slick software program, etc.) only provide mental advantages “specific to the trained task.” Unfortunately, this kind of stuff falls short when it comes to “general mental fitness.”

What really works? Hard, painful, regular exercise, reports the Times. Exercise helps maintain something called “executive function” in the mind. Such functions include memory, focus, processing speed, response speed and so on. Exercise also reduces the risk of developing dementia and Alzheimer’s.

Scientists don’t know exactly why exercise works, but here are some of the leading ideas:
  • “Slows the age-related shrinkage of the frontal cortex”
  • May increase capillaries in the brain
  • Improves cardio health which lowers risk for mind-damaging strokes and heart attacks
  • Releases “growth factors… proteins that increase the number of connections between neurons”

No comments:

About Me

My photo
I started pound360 to channel my obsession with vitamins, running and the five senses. Eventually, I got bored focusing on all that stuff, so I came back from a one month hiatus in May of 2007 (one year after launching Pound360) and broadened my mumblings here to include all science.