Here is question six of 25 from Brain Fitness 101: Answers to Your Top 25 Questions. To download the complete version, please click here.
How do I start a brain fitness program?
- Any activity that requires you to use your brain in new, challenging ways helps your brain.
- Recreational activities like bridge, chess, puzzles, sudoku, various classes, reading, and sports are all better than passively watching television.
- Add a computerized brain fitness program to get a complete mental workout on a regular basis.
Do something. Anything. Essentially, doing anything is better than nothing. So, if you enjoy playing strategy games like bridge and chess, then great – keep doing it. You’re working your spatial, memory, and planning skills, among others. Much like physical fitness, if you do something you enjoy, you’re more likely to stick with it over time. Find activities that use your brain and fit into your life.
The drawback to relying on social and recreational activities for your brain exercise is that they tend to be incomplete. For a more structured and comprehensive mental workout, try a computer-based program. These programs have the ability to assess your abilities at the start and create a regimen that will improve both your strengths and weaknesses. The programs also adapt to your performance to keep on challenging you over time.
Physical exercise and good nutrition will support your commitment to brain health. Passive activities like television watching will do very little to improve and stimulate your brain. And chronic stress will actually damage your brain.
Use “down” time to take a much-needed break. If you find yourself with ten minutes in the shower, in your car, on a walk, or even at your desk, try pausing to focus on your breathing and systematically relaxing all your muscles. Continued elevated stress levels can actually kill your brain cells, as well as cause other physical ailments. Therefore, just a few minutes of relaxation on a regular basis will go a long way to improving both your brain and overall fitness.
You must use your brain in order to improve it. Daily life can provide plenty of pleasurable challenges to work your mind, but be sure to seek out a diverse program that includes novelty, variety, and stretching practice.
- Gamon D. and Bragdon A. Building Mental Muscle: Conditioning Exercises for the Six Intelligence Zones (Walker & Company; 2003). ISBN: 0802776698
- De Bono, Edward. Six Thinking Hats (Back Bay Books; 1999). ISBN: 0316178314
- Mahncke HW, Connor BB, Appelman J, et al. Memory enhancement in healthy older adults using a brain plasticity-based training program: a randomized, controlled study. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA. 2006;103:12523-8.
- Scarmeas N, Stern Y. Cognitive reserve and lifestyle. J Clin Exp Neuropsychol. 2003;25:625-33.
- Willis SL, Tennstedt SL, Marsiske M, et al. Long-term effects of cognitive training on everyday functional outcomes in older adults. JAMA. 2006;296:2805-14.