Gym membership - for your brain?

Have you ever considered getting a gym membership – for your brain?

Corpus Callosum calisthenics may seem wildly futuristic, like something you might see in a Jetsons’ rerun. Yet a lot of people are turning to training programs they hope will keep their brains healthy and boost their cognitive functioning.

These programs are computer games and puzzles that cause a player to pay attention to detail, react quickly, and reason.

The games are meant to stimulate the brain like a physical workout stimulates your heart. You “train” regularly for brief intervals gradually building in difficulty.

There are several brain workouts that track your scores to let you know how you’re progressing – and how you compare with others in your age group.

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One of the first and most popular is “Brain Age: Train Your Brain in Minutes a Day!” for the Nintendo gaming system.

Another is Luminosity, a Web-based group of 40 brain-building games that can be customized into a training program, if one subscribes monthly or annually. Luminosity (“degree of brightness,” get it?) also comes as a mobile phone app, so you could “train” in anywhere. Register for a free trial at luminosity.com to try it out.

Challenging your speed and spatial skills with a swift game of “Penguin Pursuit” is pretty fun. And, for people, who haven’t had timed tests of math facts in decades, a Luminosity game that presents equations in raindrops that must be solved before they splat on the ground does, indeed, feel like a memory workout.

Players aren’t necessarily taught anything new, but the games make brains feel limber, energized and in shape to learn new things.

So, is there scientific research that proves brain games improve brain functioning?

“Whether mental games have any long-lasting effect is fairly controversial,” says Dr. Craig Kuesel, a Holland neurologist. “The more convincing evidence for improving brain health is being physically active.”

Even moderate physical exertion increases blood flow and nutrients to the brain, which can lower the risk or stem the progression of dementia, Kuesel said.

Physicians used to recommend puzzles and games to patients who complained their thinking wasn’t as sharp as it used to be, Kuesel said. Over time, however, results questioned whether benefits justified costs.

Nintendo’s advertising has always stated that Brain Age should be considered entertainment.

Kuesel, who’s enjoyed playing Brain Age himself, agrees.

“If you feel like there may be some benefit, can afford it and like challenging yourself, playing games isn’t going to hurt anything,” Kuesel said.

But most scientific research points to aerobic and weight-bearing exercise as the best strategy for maintaining active brain functioning, he said.

Have you tried any of the games mentioned?