“Brain fitness” is all the rage lately — the idea that by “exercising” your brain, you can keep your mental ability at high levels even as you age. The good news is that there’s more science to back up this fad than in other recent gimmicks such as the Mozart Effect. The bad news is that “training your brain” takes a bit more work than popping a CD in the car stereo — and the science to back it up is far from conclusive.
Undaunted, the Wall Street Journal had a panel of reviewers test six “brain fitness” products. Some of them even sound like they might be rather fun. The article, unfortunately, is behind a paywall, but I’ll include some excerpts below.
Brain Age: Our testers, two of their husbands and a couple of teenage kids loved using this set of games on the go. The sudoku game — a math puzzle — was addictive. Our panel liked having their speed measured on a scale that runs from “walking” to “rocket-ship.”
Sudoku? I’m supposed to shell out twenty bucks (plus $120 for the Nintendo DS) for a game I can play free online on about a kajillion web sites?
Brain Builder: The way the site quantifies those results wasn’t intuitive, says Ms. Mettler, author of a self-care health guide. “Being rated ‘L3/8322’ in focus doesn’t say much to me.” Even though recalling numbers in order might be a useful way to assess memory, our users found it tedious. They rated BrainBuilder the least fun among the products sampled. One likened it to eating cooked spinach as a child.
While this one seems a little better on the science end of things, sounds like the application is lacking.
Brain Fitness Program 2.0: A study published in a peer-reviewed journal last year found that the program improved memory by 10 years on average. The subjects — 62 participants ages 60 to 87 — improved their performance on program-related tasks as well as their overall memory skills, as measured with a standardized battery of neuropsychological tests. They still showed those gains three months after completing the program.
This sounds more promising. What’s more, the WSJ reviewers actually liked this product. But at $395, it ain’t cheap.
There are other free ways which may be just as effective. We’ve linked previously to an article about the beneficial effects of reading Shakespeare. “Brain fitness” may be as simple as keeping your brain active through reading, conversing with friends, and engaging in interesting hobbies like playing music, painting, and — dare I say it? — perhaps even blogging!
The WSJ article also links to a video which claims to be an interview with two experts about the science behind “brain fitness” regimes. I couldn’t get it to work on Mac Firefox, and it crashed Safari. It’s also not clear whether the video requires a WSJ subscription, but in case it works for you, here’s the link.