Unless you've been living under a rock for the past few years, you have read by now multiple articles about the brain training and brain exercise craze: sudoku, Nintendo BrainAge, multiple online games, programs like Posit Science and Lumosity…
What works? What doesn't work? How do brain training programs compare to other popular brain health interventions such as gingko biloba? Can we somehow prevent Alzheimer's Disease or memory loss? If not, why should we pay as much attention to our brain fitness as we pay attention to our physical fitness?
Let's debunk, once and for all, ten myths about brain fitness and brain training that remain surprisingly popular today.
Top 10 brain fitness and brain training myths, debunked:
MYTH 1. Genes determine the fate of our brains.
>> Fact: Lifelong brain plasticity means that our lifestyles and behaviors play a significant role in how our brains (and therefore our minds) physically evolve.
MYTH 2. We are what we eat.
>> Fact: We are what we do, think, and feel, more than what we eat.
MYTH 3. Medication is the main hope for cognitive health and enhancement.
>> Fact: Non-invasive interventions can have comparable and more durable benefits, and are also free of side effects.
MYTH 4. There's nothing we can do to beat Alzheimer's disease and cognitive decline.
>>Fact: While nothing has been shown to prevent the pathology of Alzheimer 's disease, there is abundant research showing we can delay the onset of symptoms for years -a very meaningful outcome which is often overlooked.
MYTH 5. There is only one "it" in "Use it or Lose it".
>> Fact: The brain is composed of a number of neural circuits supporting a variety of cognitive, emotional, and executive functions. Using or exercising just one (like "memory") is unlikely to be of much help.
MYTH 6. Brain training can help reverse your brain age 10, 20, or 30 years.
>> Fact: "Brain age" is a fiction. Some brain functions tend to improve, and some decline, as we get older. And there is considerable variability across individuals, which only grows as people get older.
Myth 7. Brain training doesn't work.
>> Fact: Brain training, when it meets certain conditions, has been shown toimprove brain functions in ways that enhance real-world outcomes.
MYTH 8. Brain training is primarily about videogames.
>> Fact: Real, evidence-based brain training includes some forms of meditation, cognitive therapy, cognitive training, and biofeedback. Interactive media such as videogames can make those interventions more engaging and scalable, but it is important to distinguish the means from the end, as obviously not all videogames are the same.
MYTH 9. Heart health is brain health.
>> Fact: While heart health contributes significantly to brain health, and vice versa, the heart and the brain are each crucial organs with their own set of functions and preventive and therapeutic interventions. What we need now is for brain health to advance in a decade as much as cardiovascular health has advanced over the last several decades.
MYTH 10. As long as my brain is working fine, why should I even pay attention to it?
>> Fact: For the same reasons you should add gas to your car and change the oil regularly - so that it works better and performs longer.
Alvaro Fernandez is the Co-Author of The SharpBrains Guide to Brain Fitness, recently featured as one of the Best Books on Brain Fitness. SharpBrains.com is the leading clearinghouse website tracking brain fitness information and programs, combined with brain teasers and games.