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Strength Train Your Brain

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The newest fitness craze focuses on strengthening your brain. Here's how to play your cards right and build more mental muscle.

Get Your Brain to the Gym

I know what to do when my thighs get a little jiggly (hello, squats and lunges), but what about when the trouble zone in question is a little higher up -- like on top of my shoulders? I'm talking about my brain, which has gotten noticeably flabby in the past few months. Suddenly it was taking me several minutes to figure out how to cook Minute Rice. Names of celebrities spent more time on the tip of my tongue than rolling off it. "You know who I'm talking about, right?" I would ask my husband. "That actor in that hit movie.... That guy?"

The one thing I did know: It was time for a brain-boosting intervention. So when I got an e-mail informing me that I had been selected to join the tens of millions of women and men who have plunked down money for the privilege of becoming a member of an online "brain gym," where I could play interactive games that are scientifically designed to sharpen the mind, I was intrigued.

Turns out, most of the people who belong to these gyms are looking to ace their LSATs, be wittier at networking events, or fast-track themselves up the corporate ladder. In fact, 75 percent of Lumosity's 40 million members are under age 40, and they're flocking to daily 15- to 20-minute brain workouts as enthusiastically as they flock to Spinning classes. Today a brilliant brain is just as worth training for as is a J.Lo butt. What could I do but pony up $15 for a monthlong course?

Week 1

Speed Match, where you indicate whether a shape matches the one before it, sounds simple enough, but I keep pressing the wrong arrow. My mind drifts to the chicken I need to defrost for dinner, which, of course, means I tap the wrong key again. I get so flustered that I forget to remember the next shape flashing before me, and the next. I panic. At the end of each session of approximately five games, I'm given a breakdown of my brain-performance index. My attention-capacity score -- 177 -- is especially dismal; it's in the bottom fourth percentile compared with other users my age.

Yikes! But, hey, I'm not stupid. My misunderstood brain and I decide to question the experts.

I soon learn that there are two types of intelligence: crystallized and fluid. Crystallized intelligence is the knowledge you learn from school and life experience; it gets better with age. Fluid intelligence is how you solve problems in new situations; it depends on your ability to focus, remember, and think creatively and logically. It's what IQ tests assess.

"So what does it mean if, ahem, a friend scored poorly on a brain-gym test?" I ask Susanne Jaeggi, PhD, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Maryland.

"These games don't necessarily reflect how intelligent people are," she replies. "Those who do better know how to play the game better."


In fact, most brain-gym tests don't actually promise to enhance fluid intelligence, I discover. Instead they claim to help increase certain aspects of it. That hedging is due in part to the newness of brain training. Experts only recently realized that the adult brain can grow new cells, for example. At the same time, fears of Alzheimer's disease have fueled the quest for brain-enhancing techniques. Plaques and tangles, the hallmarks of Alzheimer's, may begin showing up in your thirties, points out Gary Small, MD, a professor of psychiatry at the University of California, Los Angeles, and a coauthor of The Alzheimer's Prevention Program. "You need to stem the growth before they become a problem decades later."

No wonder brain training has become a billion-dollar industry.

Newly motivated, I jump back on the computer to work harder at building my mental muscle.

Next:  Weeks 2 and 3


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krsteach wrote:

Where are the brain games?

10/10/2013 06:34:31 PM Report Abuse
mnike000 wrote:

Scientific studies on "brain training" games doesn't support their benefits very strongly. Read the article!

9/29/2013 06:48:20 PM Report Abuse
asuarez-harmons wrote:

This was excellent nutrients for your brain. I will take all those tips and utilize them daily! Thank you.

7/23/2013 12:42:15 PM Report Abuse
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