For many men, a trip to the gym means hitting the weights or maybe grinding out some hardcore cardio. But now a new form of fitness is being offered in a different kind of gym — a gym for the mind. Though the idea of mental aerobics has been floating around for some time, its mode of delivery has changed, and the early buzz looks promising. Just recently, the Wall Street Journal called brain gyms “the latest in mental heath.” So why all the hype? Read on to find out as AskMen.com explores working out at the brain gym.
Aging and The Brain
It doesn’t take a neuroscientist to figure out that aging takes its toll the brain. Generally speaking, as we age our brain mass shrinks, the outer surface thins and chemical messengers in the brain decrease, collectively effecting communication between brain cells. Our ability to retrieve old memories thus declines, as does our ability to form new ones. However, this decline isn’t exactly the same for everyone. How we manage our day-to-day lives can have great influence on how sharp we remain in our old age. In the near future, part of this daily management might involve working out at a brain gym.
Benefits of Brain Training
Over the past several decades, science has shown us that those who continue to learn and are mentally active in old age remain more mentally fit than those who do not. More recently, however, the specifics of brain training and its benefits are being explored. While some short-term studies have shown that brain training improves memory and attention skills, it’s still too early to say whether sustained training will prevent or slow down the onset of mental disorders such as Alzheimer’s. Many people in their 50s and 60s, especially those with demanding careers, feel they can’t afford to suffer from even minor memory lapses. They are an eager market for any kind of memory or alertness therapy.
Where to Get Fit
The brain gym industry is still in its infancy, but it’s growing rapidly. Storefront brain gyms are opening up in areas with a high concentration of retirees, but the online brain gym experience is popular as well. Some online brain gyms require a subscription, but there are free options too. Some storefront brain gyms to check out include vibrantBrains in San Francisco, the Neurobics Club in Sarasota, Florida, or the dozen or so quasi physical/mental fitness clubs in southern California called “Nifty after Fifty.” Once inside, you’ll find an atmosphere similar to an internet café, with people “working out” on computers.
What to Expect
If you’re adventurous enough to flex your mental muscle, you’ll find membership rates for brain gyms similar to those required at conventional gyms. In fact, much like in conventional gyms, seeing customers working out under the guidance of a personal trainer won’t be out of the ordinary. Inside, it’s very likely you’ll find top-of-the-line computer stations loaded with the latest in brain-training software from industry names like HappyNeuron, Lumosity, Posit Science Corp., and even Nintendo. These are training games that target various aspects of neurological function: language, reasoning, visual-spatial orientation, memory, attention, and so on. Gyms may also offer courses (at an additional fee) that combine brain training with stress-reducing remedies like meditation or even good old physical activity.
The key to maintaining a healthy mind is exercise, but it’s important to understand that the body and mind walk hand-in-hand. Maintaining lifelong physical fitness and healthy nutritional habits will ensure that your brain has the biochemical capacity to perform at its fullest, and only then will mental stimulation reap its rewards. Brain gyms alone can’t ensure a nimble mind.
A Smart Choice for Suckers?
In hindsight, the expansion of the brain gym industry might be regarded as a mere effort to capitalize on the hordes of Baby Boomers about to turn 65, many of whom are nervous about aging and will throw as much money as necessary at the problem. We’ve made physical exercise into a product for consumption, and perhaps memory and intellectual agility is the logical next step. Regardless, with people retiring later and later in life (a trend unlikely to change any time soon given the economic situation), Baby Boomers are right to be concerned about staying mentally “in shape.”
More from AskMen.com: