The last couple of weeks have been filled with media reports about brain fitness programs. The NY Times weighed in on the topic on the front page on December 27 with "As Minds Age, What's Next? Brain Calisthenics?" This article was quickly syndicated across the US and around the world (the International Herald-Tribune) and became the number one-emailed article of the week. I think we can say with some certainty that brain fitness is a topic of interest to millions and millions of people. Several blogs picked up the drum beat, too. The Today show on NBC put their own spin on the topic on Tuesday morning. Happy Neuron was one of the programs showcased in the NY Times and on the Today show.
I think it's great that the media is picking up on the very real interests of so many people, who are really thinking hard and searching high and low for good science on keeping their mental edge as the years go by (another way to say prevention of Alzheimer's and dementia). I admit that I was irritated by two comments: (l) "just do crosswords" because we know from numerous research studies that crosswords may be fun but don't do much for the brain--they're just too one-dimensional; and (2) why turn to software for brain exercise? why not do something free like learn a language or learn to play a new musical instrument? Hey, last time I checked, those two learning adventures were far from free.
Let's look at the real value of sites like Happy Neuron. Most of us would prefer to take a walk in the park every day but some days it's rainy or we don't have time so we hit the treadmill. Some days we don't have time for learning the cello or practicing Chinese either so one convenient thing to do is go online and exercise specific cognitive skills, like memory, concentration, reasoning, visual-spatial and language skills--all keys to learning and everyday living.
I'm extremely glad that awareness is building: brain exercise should be a part of a healthy lifestyle just like good nutrition and physical exercise. All are critical to our overall health and quality of life.