The Fledgling Science of Brain Fitness: A Reality Check

April 29, 2010 at 10:58 pm Leave a comment

Fledgling Science:  Image by heberends on Stock.Xchng This week brought an important reminder about just how early we are in the scientific exploration of brain fitness and the influence of lifestyle on diseases like Alzheimer’s.

An independent panel assembled by the National Institutes of Health reviewed available studies on a variety of lifestyle changes that have been suggested to delay, slow or reduce the risks of Alzheimer’s disease.

Their finding? The evidence just isn’t clear.  The studies are promising but often conflicting, and there are problems with even the most basic concepts, like the definitions of Alzheimer’s and how to measure cognitive abilities.

In other words, though there are loose associations between lifestyle choices like diet, exercise, intellectual stimulation and social activity, the actual benefits remain loose and uncertain, and researchers have a lot of work to do before they can provide definite answers.  While a lot of studies point in positive directions, there’s just no proof yet of how (or even if ) we can prevent or reduce the risks of Alzheimer’s by making changes to our lives..

So what does this mean for those of us with an interest in our own brain fitness?

Well, it doesn’t mean we should stop the physical and mental exercises we do, stop eating right, or forget about getting a good nights sleep.  Preventing Alzheimer’s isn’t the only benefit our brain’s get from healthy habits.

But do we need to be realistic.  The lifestyle changes usually recommended are generally healthy choices; there’s no harm in eating a balanced diet with an eye towards anti-oxidants and Omega-3’s, and  there a lot of benefits outside of what the diet might do for our brains.   The same goes for physical exercise, intellectual workouts, social activity, tending to our sleep and so forth. These are good, healthy choices that benefit us, outside of the potential for preventing age-related declines and cognitive diseases.   So there’s no reason to avoid them, and a lot of reasons to do them.

We do need to be sensible about those choices.  Since there’s no guarantee that the changes will protect us, we should choose activities we enjoy. We should make changes that fall within our budget, and do things that make us feel better about ourselves and improve the quality of our life.

There’s little sense in forcing ourselves to spend 20 hours a week doing crossword puzzles we hate, and there’s no sense in spending significant slices of the budget on supplements which may turn out to have little if any effect on the wellness of our brains as we age.   The choices we make  for our brain fitness should be things that enhance our life in multiple ways, not just a hope of delaying or preventing diseases like Alzheimer’s.

Because it’s not just about preventing a specific disease. It’s about living a healthy, vibrant life throughout our years, and keeping our brains as fit and healthy as we can, for as long as we can.  Because the healthier our bodies and brains are, the better they can cope with diseases, injuries, and “normal” age-related declines.

Entry filed under: 7 keys. Tags: , , , , , .

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About This Blog


A healthy mind and brain is key to a healthy, active life. Come along for the ride as we explore the basics of brain health, with topics including:
  • Physical Exercise
  • Cognitive Training
  • Stress Management
  • Social Interaction
  • Sleep
  • Nutrition
  • A Sense of Purpose & Connection
Authored by Tori Deaux
Sponsored by Dakim Brain Fitness

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