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Brainfit is a training program designed to reclaim your brain. In 10 to 15 minutes a day individuals who are beginning to feel the effects of memory loss will see immediate reversal of the mental aging process. The 9 distinct, fast and fun weekly workouts focus on a different aspect of brain fitness. This approach fits the lifestyle of the target market - age and intellect appropriate, fast, entertaining, and results oriented. Features include:...
Brainfit is a training program designed to reclaim your brain. In 10 to 15 minutes a day individuals who are beginning to feel the effects of memory loss will see immediate reversal of the mental aging process. The 9 distinct, fast and fun weekly workouts focus on a different aspect of brain fitness. This approach fits the lifestyle of the target market - age and intellect appropriate, fast, entertaining, and results oriented. Features include:
"The mind is like a parachute ... it doesn't work unless it is open." -Anonymous
A Modern Fairy Tale
Imagine a now middle-aged Sleeping Beauty and Prince Charming. They've had a little cosmetic surgery, work out regularly at the health club, eat a low-carb diet and attend Pilates classes regularly. They check their good and bad cholesterol yearly, drink a glass of red wine a day, and indulge in the occasional massage. Aging well is a top priority, and they understand the importance of a healthy lifestyle.
Every morning, they ask the magic mirror the proverbial question (with a twenty-first century twist). "Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the youngest of us all?" The mirror answers back," You guys look awesome, but may I suggest a PET brain scan to check out your aging brain? After all, what good is an attractive and fit body if you are not going to be mentally present to enjoy it?!"
And the moral of the story is ... "Don't forget to make brain fitness part of your antiaging strategy."
Searching for the Fountain of Youth
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow once said, "Youth comes but once in a lifetime." If Mr. Longfellow were alive today, he would marvel at how the scientific advances of the twenty-first century are creating ways for us to rejuvenate ourselves and live well into our nineties. Science and medicine are allowing us to replace aging body parts, transplant thinning hair, revitalize our libido, as well as nip, tuck, and lift anything that sags. But staying young is not just a matter of physical fitness and cardiovascular health; it is also a matter of brain fitness. For those who seek the fountain of youth, it's time to make brain fitness the next battleground on the antiaging front. Before you don your brain gladiator attire, however, it's helpful to understand what you have working for you and against you. So, let's begin with an understanding of how the brain ages.
Unraveling the Mystery of Brain Aging
In recent years, we have explored the surface of Mars, mapped the human genome, and cloned sheep. By contrast scientists are only just beginning to understand the processes associated with brain aging. Numerous factors, however, are colliding and catapulting neuroscience (the study of the brain and nervous system) to the forefront of medical research. First, people are living longer, giving us more aging brains to study and protect. The average life span today is seventy-five years, up forty-seven years from 1900. Scientists predict that life expectancy by the middle of the twenty-first century could be well into the nineties and beyond. Running parallel to increased life span is new brain imaging technology such as MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) and PET (positron emission tomography), which allows scientists to explore the surfaces of the aging brain and detect miniscule changes in brain anatomy. Finally, we have the baby boomers, seventy-nine million individuals strong, who are rapidly increasing the ranks of senior citizens, turning fifty at the rate of ten thousand per day; and they do not intend to age silently. Always a vocal group, the baby boomers are demanding to know what can be done to preserve their bodies and their brains.
What we are learning about the aging brain is dispelling old myths and opening up new avenues of research and treatment. Until very recently, brain aging was attributed to the ongoing loss of brain cells (neurons) through a natural biological process called apoptosis. According to Will Block, publisher and editorial director of Life Enhancement magazine, " of the roughly 100 billion neurons in the brain, we lose ... permanently ... about 100,000 daily." Only a decade ago, the prevailing theory of brain aging was based on the premise that an irrevocable loss of brain cells throughout our lifetime would result in progressive mental decline and eventual senility. Scientists now know this is not true. In fact, it is not the number of brain cells you have but the health of existing brain cells that determines brain resilience.
More recent studies suggest that the plaques and tangles that begin accumulating in the brain by our late twenties may be the critical factor in brain aging. Dr. Gary Small describes this phenomenon in his book The Memory Bible. He explains that "the subtle, gradual aging of the brain starts as tiny plaques and tangles that begin accumulating there, decades before a doctor can recognize any symptoms.... In fact, these plaques and tangles begin forming so early in our adult lives that subtle memory and language changes go unnoticed and ignored for many years."
While the accumulation of plaques and tangles is an acknowledged factor in brain aging, new research studies suggest that this buildup of plaques and tangles may be just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to understanding and reversing brain aging. A recent USC Health magazine article entitled "The Aging Brain" cites new research suggesting that the root cause of brain aging may reside in complex chemical interactions that occur in the brain over time, as well as inflammatory processes associated with aging.
While the many different theories of brain aging compete for attention and funding, there are two points on which all scientists seem to agree: cognitive decline is not due to normal brain cell loss, and the mystery of brain aging will take generations of scientists to unravel.
The Amazing Brain
One of the most amazing findings arising from recent brain research is confirmation that the brain is a dynamic organ that continually rewires and adapts itself, even in old age. The miraculous regenerative powers of the brain are being seen in both the formation of new brain cells and the expansion of new neural connections between brain cells. Princeton University researcher Elizabeth Gould, studying macaque monkeys, reported in 1999 that the mature primate brain produces new neurons that incorporate themselves into the neocortex-the thinking center of the brain. In a January 2002 review in the journal Nature Neuroscience, Pasko Rakic and David Kornack reported spotting new brain cells in the hippocampus region of the brain, which is associated with learning and memory.
Perhaps most hopeful is data indicating that lifestyle choices, which are under our control, can hasten or slow down brain aging. Of particular interest are studies confirming that challenging the brain early and often builds cognitive reserve and boosts the brain's own regenerative processes. In his book Mozart's Brain and the Fighter Pilot, Dr. Richard Restak explains the effect of mental stimulation on brain health this way: "throughout our lives the brain retains a high degree of plasticity; it changes in response to experience. If the experiences are rich and varied, the brain will develop a greater number of nerve cell connections. If the experiences are dull and infrequent, the connections will either never form or die off." By regularly exercising our brain's mental functions we can build a stronger and healthier brain.
Memory Changes with Age
Since most of us do not have access to expensive brain scanning equipment, we must rely on more subjective measures of our own brain aging. One of the first and earliest signs of brain aging in healthy adults is a change in memory. In fact, memory peaks in our late twenties. So if you are experiencing the occasional memory cramp, you are not alone. A recent study by Bruskin/Goldring Research questions doctors about memory loss issues with their patients. More than 80 percent of all physicians surveyed said their patients over age thirty complained of memory loss. Another study by the Dana Foundation revealed that nearly seven of ten adults have concerns about memory decline.
Knowing you have plenty of company is not necessarily comforting. With the threat of Alzheimer's disease looming, most people want to know whether their memory failures fall within the normal range. Unless you are in the minority of people suffering from a real disease of the brain, the memory changes you are experiencing are perfectly normal. As reported in a Newsweek issue on memory, Dr. Fergus Craik of the Rotman Research Institute explains normal memory changes this way: "Memory processes are not lost to us as we age.... The mechanism is not broken, it's just inefficient." The inefficiencies we notice as we age usually involve recent memories rather than distant, past ones, according to Dr. Gary Small.
Still, it is helpful to have general guidelines by which to assess what's normal and what's not. Below is a checklist that shows the range of memory loss from benign to severe in middle-aged and older people. A more detailed checklist developed by the Memory Research Department of the University of Wisconsin can be found at www.medicine.wise.edu/mainweb/DOMPages.php?section=DOM&page=main. Additionally, The Alzheimer's Foundation of America provides, free of charge, a wealth of information about memory loss and treatment.
Early, Usually Benign, Signs of Memory Loss
Occasionally having trouble finding the right word
Momentarily "blanking" on the name of a familiar acquaintance or colleague
Temporarily misplacing your keys or wallet
Momentarily forgetting what day of the week it is
Forgetting once or twice to turn off the stove
Forgetting an item on your To Do list
Forgetting an occasional meeting or appointment
Getting disoriented in a giant mall
Not recognizing someone you met a long time ago
Signs of Severe Memory Loss
Difficulty naming common objects
Difficulty in understanding words
Substituting inappropriate words, making sentences unintelligible
Asking the same questions over and over again
Putting common objects in inappropriate places, like putting an iron in the freezer and not recalling how it got there
Not knowing the date, time, or year
Wearing clothes inappropriately, like a winter jacket on a hot summer day
Forgetting important appointments repeatedly
Getting lost on one's own street
Not knowing where you are or how you got there
Other Changes Associated with Severe Memory Loss
Rapid mood swings and irritability for no apparent reason
Extreme personality changes, like changing from a person who is generally easy and open to one who is suspicious and fearful
Inability to perform common household chores, like setting a table
Inability to perform tasks involving simple calculations, like balancing a checkbook
Noticeable and inexplicable confusion at home or in the workplace
Fitness from the Neck Up
If you are reading this book, there is an excellent chance that reviewing the memory checklist brought you a sense of relief ... "I'm okay after all." Still, scientists agree it is easier to preserve memory and mental agility than it is to try and regain it. Think of it this way: would you wait until you couldn't lift your briefcase into the overhead compartment of the plane to start a muscle mass rebuilding program? Of course not-so why wait until your brain cells atrophy to start exercising your brain? The brain can't exercise itself. It needs your help. Choosing to have a healthier brain is a personal lifestyle choice. While most people understand the correlation between physical fitness and a longer, healthier life, few people extend the analogy to include fitness from the neck up. Most people would agree, however, that quality of life as we age is absolutely dependent on healthy brain functioning. What good is a long life if our mental capacities are going soft?
Scientists and medical professionals are sounding the brain health alarm. The Alzheimer's Association has a national radio spot that advocates," Stay active, eat healthy, and make brain health a personal and national priority." The message is clear. It's time to take exercising our brain as seriously as we take physical exercise and dietary health. We can actively influence the health of our brains by engaging in a planned program of brain aerobics. The choice is ours. We can sit back and hope that genetics play in our favor, or we can take an active role in building and protecting our brains, starting today.
What Are the Best Brain Fitness Exercises?
The brain thrives on novelty, so the best brain fitness exercises are those that make us think in new ways and are enjoyable. No matter how good an exercise is if it becomes boring and routine we are unlikely to follow through on a regular basis. How many of us have exercise equipment gathering dust in the basement or a spare bedroom? The mental exercises and hobbies in which you choose to engage must be stimulating and fun if you are going to practice them on a regular basis. Good brain fitness exercises include the following criteria:
1. Force you to think while doing them
assembling a model airplane
answering questions on television quiz shows
creating a new recipe from scratch
doing crossword puzzles or brainteasers
2. Challenge you to do old things in new ways
taking a new route home from work
brushing your teeth with your nondominant hand
eating your dinner with chopsticks
3. Include progressive levels of new learning
learning a new language
taking up a new hobby
learning how to use a new software application
learning or relearning how to play a musical instrument
4. Require new modes of thinking
writing a rhyming poem
building a sand castle or ice sculpture
drawing a picture
writing your memoirs
reading a new book genre (e.g., biography instead of fiction)
5. Involve body-kinesthetic challenge
cross-country skiing, golf, tennis, Ping-Pong, or pool
learning how to drive a standard shift automobile
riding a bicycle
creating art through painting, pottery, or woodworking
6. Are socially interactive
playing bridge or other card games
participating in book club discussions
doing volunteer work
taking classes at a community college
attending a play or a lecture with friends
7. Aerobic exercises, which pump blood and important nutrients to the brain
walking briskly or jogging
walking or running on a treadmill
working out on an elliptical cross-trainer
taking "spin" classes or step aerobics classes
doing jumping jacks
How Does the Brainfit Program Work?
The Brainfit program is a guided brain exercise program designed to put you on the fast track to fitness from the neck up. It is modeled on circuit training, one of the hottest trends in physical fitness training. In circuit training, exercisers move rapidly from one fitness station to another, spending five or ten minutes at each station. Fitness stations alternate between cardiovascular workouts and muscle building workouts. The huge popularity of circuit training is attributed to people's desire for a total exercise regimen which is also fast, fun, and effective.
Building on the gains and enjoyment people experience in circuit training, the Brainfit program consists of nine brain-boosting workout stations. Each station focuses on strengthening a different aspect of memory and mental agility. Daily exercises, which take approximately ten minutes to complete, are high impact and fun. The nine fitness stations with their primary exercise focus are described below:
Fitness Station Exercise Focus Making Memories Exercises for short-term and long-term memory Taking Aim Exercises using the fundamental memory skills Remembering Who Exercises for remembering names Remembering What Exercises for remembering that To Do list Remembering How Many Exercises for remembering important numbers Remembering When Exercises for remembering appointments and special occasions Remembering Where Exercises for remembering directions and locating