Brain-training games don’t work

I heard an ad on the radio a few days ago…

It was from one of those brain-training websites. It promised to boost your brainpower if you played their online games.

When sites like this first came out a few years ago, I thought they would work.

I even recommended them to my patients.   

But it turns out these online brain-training games only train your brain in one thing…

How to play their online games!

That’s the conclusion of an extensive review by more than 70 scientists. They published the results of their research in the journal Psychological Science in the Public Interest.1

In fact, since that review was published, one of the Internet’s most popular brain training sites had to pay a $2 million fine to the Federal Trade Commission for deceptive advertising.

The FTC said the company exaggerated the benefits of its games. It also said they preyed on consumers’ fears by suggesting the games could prevent dementia and Alzheimer’s.

Now I strongly believe that you can age-proof your brain and build a steel-trap memory. 

And one of the best ways is by taking up a new skill.

In fact, studies show that learning new skills greatly improves both your memory and mind. In a study done by the University of Zurich, researchers followed adults over age 65. They found that learning to play an instrument like the piano makes the part of your brain in charge of memory more active.2 It can even raise your IQ 7 points or more.

My advice to you is to take supplements like omega-3, CoQ10 and PQQ to improve cognitive function.

But one of the best ways you can stay mentally sharp is with exercise.

A new large-scale study in Neurology backs this up. The researchersfound that the brains of people who exercise are 10 years younger than those who don’t!3

But not just any kind of exercise… Running mile after mile won’t reverse or reduce your Alzheimer’s risk. Neither will jumping up and down in an aerobics class.

That’s because this kind of exercise does nothing for lung volume. And a low lung volume means not enough oxygen is reaching your brain. 

Lung volume declines with age. By the time you’re 50, you’ve lost 40% of your breathing capacity. By 80, that figure jumps to 60%.

And people with lower lung volume have a higher risk of cognitive decline.4 

That’s because not getting enough oxygen to your brain leads to a buildup of excess plaques and tangles in brain tissue. This is what happens to Alzheimer’s patients.

This is when your brain needs what I call “cognitive reserve.” This is a protective buffer zone that allows your brain to keep functioning even when tangles and plaques are developing.

Autopsies often reveal that a person had the physical signs of Alzheimer’s in the brain. But they never showed any symptoms. It’s because their cognitive reserve kept them functioning normally.

Physical exercise is what builds up this cognitive reserve. But you need to choose an activity that boosts cardiopulmonary fitness. That’s the measure of how fit your lungs are.

Short bursts of exertion increase the power of your lungs. Aerobic exercise does nothing for lung volume.

And it’s lung volume that makes a difference in preventing Alzheimer’s and dementia.   

My PACE fitness program focuses on incrementally increasing your lungpower — no matter your fitness level. And it only takes 12 minutes a day.

But before we get into the exercise, I want to talk about breathing for a moment.

Your body has a thousand involuntary functions going on all the time. And your nervous system is a balance of those functions — the “fight-or-flight” sympathetic system and the relaxing para-sympathetic system.

When you breathe in, it’s sympathetic — fight or flight. One example would be gasping in shock. When you breathe out, that’s para-sympathetic — relaxing.  

In today’s stressful world, your body stays in a sympathetic state more often.  

But you can change this. It’s as simple as focusing your attention on your breath.

Here’s one example of a PACE exercise that allows you to take control of your breathing while getting fit.

Hindu Squat

  • Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  • Extend your arms out in front of you, parallel to the ground with your hands open and palms facing down.
  • Inhale and pull your hands straight back toward you as if you’re rowing.
  • As you pull back, turn your wrists up and make a fist.
  • At the end of inhaling, your elbows are behind you with both hands in a fist, palms up.  
  • From this position, bend your knees and squat. Begin to exhale slowly.
  • Let your arms fall to your sides. Continue to exhale. Touch the ground with your fingers.
  • Continue exhaling. Let your arms swing up as you stand back up to the starting position.
  • Inhale and repeat.

To Your Good Health,

Al Sears, MD

Al Sears, MD, CNS

1. Simons D, et al. “Do ‘Brain-Training’ Programs Work? Psychological Science in the Public Interest. 2016.
2. Lutz Jäncke. Music drives brain plasticity. F1000 Biol Rep. 2009.
3. Willey J, et al. “Leisure-time physical activity associates with cognitive decline.” Neurology. 2016 Mar 23.
4. Dodd J. “Lung disease as a determinant of cognitive decline and dementia.” Alzheimers Res Ther. 2015.