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Brain games: Hype or truth?

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While experts argue whether the billion-dollar brain game industry really helps improve brain function, most would agree that staying mentally active is keenly beneficial.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) states, “Being intellectually engaged may benefit the brain. People who participate in meaningful activities, like volunteering or hobbies, say they feel happier and healthier. Learning new skills may improve your thinking ability, too.

“For example, one study found that older adults who learned quilting or digital photography had more memory improvement than those who only socialized or did less cognitively demanding activities.”

NIH cites multiple activities to keep the brain active: reading books and magazines, playing games, taking/teaching classes, learning news skills, and volunteering.

“Scientists think that such activities may protect the brain by establishing ‘cognitive reserve.’ They may help the brain become more adaptable in some mental functions, so it can compensate for age-related brain changes and health conditions that affect the brain.”

Some simple brain exercises include saying your telephone number backwards, using your non-dominant hand to eat a meal or brush your teeth, doing a math equation in your head, memorizing your grocery list, showering and getting dressed in the dark, memorizing lyrics to a new song, and learning new vocabulary words. Some experts suggest stimulating your brain by combining activities, such as listening to an audio book while jogging.

The NIH adds, “Be wary of claims that playing certain computer and online games can improve memory and other types of thinking. Evidence to back up such claims is evolving. The National Institutes on Aging and others are supporting research to determine if different types of cognitive training have lasting effects.”

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