Brain Fitness Roadmap – Past, Present and Future

As we enter a new year, I like to reflect on the past year and what that means for the one ahead. It’s been five years that I have been developing the brain fitness market, and have seen a lot of changes – both positive and negative. When I first started, there was minimal interest in the concept of exercising your brain. In the last two years however, there has been an explosion in interest from adults of all ages and media coverage and I have been interviewed by leading publications such as the Wall Street Journal, NY Times, Women’s Health.

This has been great news for both the industry and the general public. We are witnessing a shift in society, and a general awareness about the importance of brain fitness. We saw a similar shift in the 1980s with the physical fitness movement. Researchers and the medical profession pushed the positive health benefits of physical activity, but it took a while for society to fully integrate physical exercise into daily life. Thanks to recent scientific research we now know that the brain is malleable and we can build brain connections at any age. Just ten years ago, this was not thought possible.

Nintendo has also helped open up the brain game market with their extremely successful Brain Age game. This has, of course, created numerous copycats and flooded the consumer market with one-off and weak products. Yet, I am thankful to Nintendo as they were able to bring awareness of brain games to the general public. They had seen the success of their game in Japan and realized there was an aging population worldwide. In addition, they had the resources to market Brain Age and tap into this underserved area. Many people in the scientific and brain fitness community scoff at their game, finding it scientifically weak and a disservice to the consumer. I would have to agree that their product is scientifically weak and I have many of my own complaints. However, Nintendo has hit on something that I understand. They implemented the concepts of “engagement” and “fun factor” and it is one of the main reasons for their success.

So, what does this mean for 2008 and the next five years? There are those who say that the brain fitness market is becoming saturated and is in its later stages. I have seen the market develop up until now, and couldn’t disagree more. Brain fitness is still in its infancy and will see real growth in the next five years. Awareness about brain fitness has now passed the tipping point but we are still falling short in the area of “adoption” into our daily lives. The companies that truly understand what individuals are looking for will be rewarded with enduring customer loyalty. For us at Fit Brains, we believe the “adoption” of brain fitness will be answered through “relevancy”, “motivation” and a “fun factor”. Yes, it is possible to have fun and be scientific too – it just hasn’t been done! Some doctors and people might argue this, but it’s the key to full integration into daily life. People don’t stick with things they don’t enjoy, especially things like long-term health goals that are often difficult to maintain. If we can make an important aspect of a daily routine more accessible and engaging, people will be more likely to do them.

The team here at Fit Brains is extremely excited about 2008! We plan to have our first launch very shortly. Fit Brains will provide a brain games, tools and features that is fun and engaging. We hope people of all ages adopt a brain fitness routine so that we can keep our most important asset strong and healthy!

Brain Health Lifestyle: Physical Activity

Our last blog on brain health discussed the importance of mental stimulation (e.g. brain fitness, brain games) as one factor in my five factor brain health lifestyle. Clearly FitBrains provides a fun and healthy brain fitness regiment that is considered mentally stimulating.

Similar to mental stimulation (e.g. brain games), your brain appreciates it when you are physically active. The reason is simple: every time your heart beats 25% of the blood output from that one heartbeat goes directly to your brain! I refer to this as “market share.” If your brain goes even several minutes without sufficient blood and the oxygen carried by the blood will suffer potential damage with functional and cognitive loss.

Research highlights specific physical activities that reduce the risk of dementia (promote brain health). These include:

  • Walking on a daily basis
  • Aerobic exercise three times a week
  • Dance
  • Knitting
  • Gardening
  • Jogging
  • Treadmill, Stepmaster, Stationary bike exercises
  • Write with the non-dominant hand daily

Interestingly these activities employ both sides of the body, thereby stimulating both sides of the brain. An ambidextrous brain is probably a more adaptive brain than one that is highly specialized in one hemisphere.

Remember, the more active you are the more your brain will be nourished with the blood-glucose and oxygen it demands. You will have a happy brain!

Brain Health Lifestyle: Mental Activity

By now you are well aware of the importance and power of “brain reserve,” the buildup of protective neuronal connections across the lifespan. Brain reserve is one outcome of brain health and is believed to be able to delay the onset of neurodegenerative disease such as Alzheimer’s Disease (AD). I have proposed a five factor brain health lifestyle that includes Socialization, Physical Activity, Mental Stimulation, Nutrition, and Spirituality. Each of these major factors is critical to the health of everyone. As an integrated and proactive lifestyle, the activities and behaviors within each factor can help to shape a healthy brain, beyond what is generated from a passive brain.Mental Stimulation (e.g. brain fitness) is one of the major brain health lifestyle factors. Most people think of the brain as a cognitive or thinking system. While this is certainly true, your brain is far more than simply a thinking system. Your brain is responsible for your emotions, movement, sense of well being, imagination, creative and artistic side and so much more. The brain as a thinking system is certainly well accepted and deservingly so.Research has underscored particular activities that reduce the risk of dementia (brain healthy) and fit well into the mental stimulation slice of my brain health lifestyle. These include:

  • Fit Brains brain games
  • Reading and writing
  • Learning a second language
  • Sign Language
  • Travel
  • Board Game Playing
  • Computerized Brain Exercises
  • Puzzles
  • Musical instrument playing

Obviously, FitBrains provides an important tool and resource for you to stimulate your brain on an ongoing basis. The key element to making mental stimulation a brain health activity is to engage in the “novel and complex.” (e.g. brain games) Tasks that represent the novel and complex for you probably will stimulate your cortex and lead to the development of new neural connections. This is what leads to the buildup of brain reserve. In this scenario, brain fitness using activities such as FitBrains can be considered a health promoting activity, and one that should be included in a proactive brain health lifestyle.

Why Brain Health Matters

Health and healthy lifestyles have become a priority in the lives of more people than ever before. Millions of people walk or jog, engage in formal exercise, meditate, and abide by healthy diets all to maximize the healthy of their bodies. Interestingly, our culture, like so many before, prioritizes the health of the heart as most important. Indeed, the Egyptian royalty were buried with every organ removed except the heart because they believed the heart was the center of the universe.

We in the United States continue to prioritize the heart, a pump that perfuses blood throughout our body. We provide meaning and import to the heart it really does not deserve. For example, we ascribe love and emotion to the heart as when we say “I love you with all my heart or you broke my heart.” While common prose, it is really a silly statement. It is time to realize that our every thought, emotion, and motor behavior is due to the miraculous system of the human brain.

With recent research supporting the human brain as a highly dynamic, constantly reorganizing system (plasticity) capable of generating new brain cells and brain reserve, we are now able to apply a lifestyle that promotes health for the brain. Perhaps one of the greatest paradoxes of our time is the fact that most do not even know the basics of this critical part of our being-our brain!

Brain Health is important because our commitment to a lifelong lifestyle that promotes development of brain reserve can enhance our ability to maintain our thinking abilities, our memory, and our “life story.” Many Americans are afraid of brain disease and fear losing their memory. Brain health is a proactive and positive means to do what is in our control to maximize and preserve our brain function.

I have proposed and published a “Brain Health Lifestyle” that is proactive and contains five major factors to form your Brain Health Pie:

  • Physical Activity
  • Mental Stimulation
  • Spirituality
  • Nutrition
  • Socialization

Together, these five components each have specific research-based activities that relate to brain health and development of brain reserve. FitBrains provides opportunity for brain games that is considered important to the mental stimulation piece of the brain health pie. I will outline each of the five major components to your brain health lifestyle in upcoming blogs.

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!