“Brain gyms” can build intellectual muscle

Physical exercise is well-known to help brain function. A regimen of regular exercise has been shown to slow the progression of neurologic diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. There is now information suggesting that improved cognitive ability may result in more competitive athletic performance.

Previously it was believed that the brain could not repair or reorganize the networks contained within it. More recently, terms like “neural plasticity” and “cortical reorganization” have been used to describe these mechanisms of recovery. They are witnessed after stroke or brain trauma and result from early intervention in the form of aggressive physical, occupational and speech rehabilitation.

People beginning to experience memory deficits and difficulty completing complex tasks they previously found easy are turning to so called “brain gyms.”

Facilities such as Vibrant Brains, Nifty after Fifty and Sparks of Genius set up mental workouts for patrons on a variety of computer programs. These workouts are designed by trainers and are based on cognitive weaknesses.

“Cognitive rehabilitation has always emphasized improvement of attention skills,” said Dr. Christopher Tolsdorf, a neuropsychologist who specializes in neuropsychometric testing in his Norwich office. “This is best accomplished by memorization. This alone will improve the ability to attend, concentrate and focus.”

Tolsdorf is a fan of teaching children rote memorization of academic material.

Tolsdorf also believes that focusing on one skill like crossword puzzles or Sudoku will only make someone better at those games. Variety is an important factor in rebuilding cognition.

Several brain gyms combine mental and physical exercise with classes on improved nutrition. Many participants have attributed improved athletic performance in sports like tennis and golf to their increased attentiveness.

While the benefits of brain gyms are based on conjecture and theory rather than accepted scientific proof, the concept that diet and physical exercise improve brain function is well-documented in scientific literature.

You may want to quickly memorize a sonnet as part of your warm-up on the driving range.

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