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Mental Exercise - What it Does for You

What does mental exercise do for your brain? I was recently asked three questions related to this. Here they are, along with my answers.

1. What are some of the direct results of doing brain/mental activities in the long term?

2. How often should one do a brain exercises?

3. What brain exercise do you recommend the most and why?

My Answers

Although scientists may argue about the degree of benefit we get from exercising the brain, virtually all agree that there is some benefit. When we learn new things and do basic brain exercises we produce new neurons and new connections between the neurons of the brain, a process which is referred to as neuro-plasticity. The idea that we can continue to improve our brains - or at least slow the normal brain function decline associated with age - is now considered a scientific fact by most scientists.

As reported on, research done by Doctor Joe Verghese and colleagues at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, working with Syracuse University, studied 469 subjects 75 years old or older. It was found that mental exercise reduced the incidence (or delayed the onset) of dementia of many types, including Alzheimer's disease. Specifically, they found that reading, playing board games, playing musical instruments, and dancing were all beneficial.

Amount Needed

How much brain exercise is needed to get noticeable results? This is not as well documented, but it seems likely that a good brain "workout" several times weekly is necessary for noticeable results.

Best Types

There are many different types of brain exercise which seem to be beneficial, but it may be most helpful to do things that are new to you. For the best brain workout then, aim for activities that use different types of sensory stimuli, and those that involve non-routine actions and thoughts. These appear to produce more of the good chemicals that encourage growth of new dendrites and neurons in the brain.

Perhaps the best examples of the right type of mental exercise are what is called "neurobics." Neurobics is a term invented by Lawrence Katz and Manning Rubin. It describes exercises that involve non-routine actions and thoughts. I have a page full of such exercises here Neurobics.

I also like the more "in the mind" exercises, such as imagining new devices or inventing routines to creatively solve problems and come up with ideas. You might imagine a new kind of electric fan, for example, or invent and explain a totally non-conventional way to address a common political or economic issue, or make up a way to get ideas from your dreams more consistently. The important point isn't how great the ideas are, but how much you stretch the mind to think in new ways. Mental work which does that will do the most for your brainpower.

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