Mark Baxter, Fit Brains and the Power of FUN!

Hello!  My name is Mark Baxter, and I am a Co-founder and the Vice President of Product Development here at Fit Brains.  I have a background in Psychology and have over 8 years of experience in the Games & New Media Industry creating top-quality games for broad audiences, including several hit titles on entertainment portals including Shockwave, Yahoo! and RealArcade.

I will be regularly blogging on a variety of perspectives related to Health and Entertainment, with a significant focus on Brain Fitness.  As such, I will be exploring topics relating to Psychology & Mental Wellness, ‘Brain Games, Serious & ‘Casual’ Gaming, and Online Social Communities.  Serious Games – defined as interactive content that uses entertainment for the purpose of education and/or training – has only recently gained wider acceptance with the advent of industry gatherings like the Serious Games Initiative in 2002.  This genre is growing quickly and covers a wide range of topics, including: education, corporate training, health and environmental awareness, to name just a few.

Increasingly our society is becoming aware of a concept that has long been at the foundation of effective children’s education: fun can be a great motivator for learning and growth! Fortunately, at Fit Brains we very much believe that the value of fun as a motivator applies to adults as well.  If we can make important aspects of our daily routine more accessible and engaging, we are more likely to do things we might not be as motivated to do – especially items like long-term health goals that are often difficult to maintain.

For instance, do you have greater interest in enjoyable physical activities like golf or rollerblading, or a prescribed fitness regimen?  Are you more likely to stick to a diet with food that’s healthy but bland, or food that’s healthy and tastes good?  For most, the answers to these questions are self-evident; any task that can be made more enjoyable will also be easier to integrate more consistently into our daily lives.  In the coming weeks and months, I will be exploring a variety of ways that Serious Games are gaining mainstream acceptance, and also take a look at the growing body of research that demonstrates their value in our everyday lives.

We believe that entertainment is a great motivational tool for healthy living.  Our goal is to provide you with a wide variety of entertaining games & activities that have a solid foundation in cognitive science.  At Fit Brains, we harness the power of FUN to help you keep your mind stimulated!


Why Should I be interested in Brain Health?

More and more we hear and read about the supposed powers of mental exercise. While this seems to make sense it is natural to wonder how and why “brain fitness” is beneficial.

We have learned within the past decade that the human brain has the ability to generate new brain cells (neurogenesis). The hippocampus, a structure that lies deep in the middle of each temporal lobe and serves functions of memory, learning, and spatial representation, is the site of such neurogenesis. Interestingly, this is the exact site of neurogenesis established in rodents in the 1950s. There appears to be something critically important about the hippocampus with regard to new brain cell development.

Similar to rodent brains the human brain reacts to environmental input in generally predictable ways. Damaging, punishing, and negative input can do structural and functional damage to the hippocampus. In contrast, positive, nurturing, and stimulating input can help to foster structural and functional enhancements. As we noted earlier on this blog, the human brain seeks and enjoys mental stimulation and exposure to the “novel and complex.”

A daily brain workout (e.g. brain games) can help to provide the brain (cortex) the stimulation it seeks. Environments that are considered complex and novel by your brain will provide the most benefit particularly when compared to input that is rote and passive. Daily brain games that challenge the cortex will also help to build new cellular connections (synapses) that in turn reflect “brain reserve.” Recall, brain reserve is believed to delay the onset of neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s Disease.

One of the greatest fears of the baby boomers, those born between 1946 and 1964, is the loss of memory and onset of dementia. A proactive approach to try and delay the onset of such loss and disease is a lifelong brain health lifestyle, part of which includes daily exposure to the novel and complex. 

What exactly is Brain Reserve?

Brain reserve refers to a brain that has formed many cellular connections and is rich in brain cell density. The power of brain reserve is that we believe it has the ability to delay the clinical onset of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s Disease (AD). Simply put, AD will have to work longer and harder to manifest itself if it invades a brain that has built up reserve.

I often use the example of a brain that looks like a jungle versus one that looks like an island with one palm tree. In this example, the brain that looks like a jungle is the healthy brain because it has tremendous cellular connections like the density of a jungle and therefore brain reserve. If you think of AD as a weed whacker, it will invade the brain and begin to do its damage by destroying brain cells. However, it will take AD a long time to show any impact if it has to destroy a jungle’s worth of brain cell connections. In contrast, AD will manifest quickly after infiltration into the brain if it simply needs to destroy only a relatively few cellular connections (the island with one plam tree).

Brain reserve is developed over the lifespan as one exposes his or her brain to the novel and complex, the enriched environment on a daily basis. A Brain Health Lifestyle that involves Mental Stimulation (e.g. brain games), Physical Activity, Spirituality, Socialization, and Nutrition can help to build up brain reserve and maintain a healthy brain.

Physical and Mental Exercise – Both Good for the Brain

Two recent studies show further evidence that both physical and brain exercise (e.g. brain games) have a positive impact on the brain. In the first study, USA Today reports “children who play vigorously for 20 to 40 minutes a day may be better able to organize schoolwork, do class projects and learn mathematics”.  In the second study, the BBC reports, “a Dundee school took part in the project to show how computer games can enhance and build on classroom learning”.  These studies illustrate the need for education systems to include more physical and mental exercise in the curriculum.

In the last several years, similar studies have been published that indicate the same holds true for adults. With a global aging population, both physical and brain fitness are important and need to be apart of our daily life. As a society, we should all make an effort to keep our bodies and minds functioning at a high level.  For more information on these articles, click on the links below:·

Dr. Paul Nussbaum, Fit Brains and Brain Health- Part 2

Here is part 2 to the inital brain health blog from Dr. Nussbaum

Your Brain Health

1. Brain health begins in the womb and needs to be promoted across your lifespan.

2. Engage in the novel and complex not the rote and passive.

3. Consider the following Brain Health Lifestyle to build up your brain reserve:

Five Domains of the Brain Health Lifestyle: Socialization

  • Do not isolate or segregate as you get older. People who isolate have a higher risk for dementia.

  • Join groups and social organizations in your community.

  • Maintain and build your friendship and family network.

  • Be forgiving.

  • Develop hobbies.

  • Do not retire.

Physical Activity

  • Walk between 7,000 and 12,000 steps daily. Walking several times a week reduces the risk of dementia.

  • Buy yourself a pedometer to remind yourself to walk and to keep track of your daily steps.

  • Dance as this is a behavior that reduces the risk of dementia.

  • Garden and Knitting reduce the risk of dementia.

  • Aerobic exercise will help the heart and thereby feed the brain with the necessary blood and oxygen. It also promotes cognitive functioning such as memory and is now believed to relate to positive structural changes in the brain.

  • Use both sides of your body more often: Become ambidextrous.

Mental Stimulation

  • Play Fit Brains brain games

  • Learn a second language.

  • Read and write (use your nondominant hand) on a daily basis: the more complex the better.

  • Learn sign language as it increases IQ and increased IQ reduces the risk of dementia.

  • Play board games as board game playing reduces the risk of dementia.

  • Travel reduces the risk of dementia because it involves a new and complex environment.

  • Play a musical instrument.

  • Listen to classic music as it helps to increase learning.

  • Problem solve.


  • Pray on a daily basis as it enhances your immune system.

  • Attend regularly a formal place of worship at it relates to better quality of life and longevity.

  • Learn to meditate in order to slow down. Animals exposed to environments that are too stimulating demonstrate slowed brain development.

  • Learn relaxation procedures with deep breathing and muscle relaxation.

  • Slow down and do not be afraid to say “no”.


  • Eat 80% of what you intend to eat at each meal. Reasonable caloric restriction can increase your longevity.

  • Eat with utensils and you will eat less and also eat healthier foods.

  • Increase your intake of Omega 3 fatty acids. This includes fatty fish such as salmon, sardines, and herring. Several ounces of salmon weekly reduce the risk of dementia. Walnuts and unsalted nuts are also good for you.

  • Increase your intake of antioxidants. This includes Vitamins C and E. Colored fruits (grapes, apples, cantaloupe, and berries) and vegetables are good for you. The FDA recommends five servings of fruit and vegetables a day.

  • Decrease your intake of processed foods and red meats. Lean meat such as chicken breast without skin is relatively okay.

  • Green leafy vegetables are good for you.

  • Eat one sit down meal with others a day. This activity provides many brain boosting effects at once (classic music, language, eating with utensils, slowing down, eating healthier foods).