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Cognitive Fitness and Brain Improvement: 10 Debunked Myths

Posted Oct 30 2007 12:00am

(Note: if you are trying to download the whitepaper featuring the 11 in-depth interviews that debunk those myths, click ).
Over the last year we have interviewed a number of leading brain health and fitness scientists and practitioners worldwide to learn about their research and thoughts, and have news to report.

What can we say today that we couldn’t have said only 10 years ago? That what neuroscience pioneer Santiago Ramon ySantiago Ramon y Cajal Cajal claimed in the XX century, “Every man can, if he so desires, become the sculptor his own brain“, may well become reality in the XXI. And influence Education, Health, Training, and Gaming in the process.

We have only scratched the surface of what science-based structured cognitive (i.e., mental) exercise can do for brain health and productivity. We are now witnessing the birth of a new industry that crosses traditional sector boundaries and that may help us understand, assess and train our brains, harnessing the growing research about neurogenesis (the creation of new neurons), neuroplasticity (the ability of the brain to rewire itself through experience), cognitive training and emotional regulation.

Let’s now debunk 10 myths, still too prevalent, that may prevent us from seeing the full potential of this emerging field:

Myth 1: It’s all in our genes.

Reality: A big component of our lifelong brain health and development depends on what we do with our brains. Our own actions, not only our genes, influence our lives to a large extent. Genes predispose us, not determine our fates.

• “Individuals who lead mentally stimulating lives, through education, occupation and leisure activities, have reduced risk of developing Alzheimer’s. Studies suggest that they have 35-40% less risk of manifesting the disease” – Dr. Yaakov Stern, Division Leader of the Cognitive Neuroscience Division of the Sergievsky Center at Columbia University.

Myth 2: The field of Cognitive/ Brain Fitness is too new to be credible.

Reality: The field rests on solid foundations dating back more decades — what is new is the number and range of tools that are now starting to be available for healthy individuals.

• “Rigorous and targeted cognitive training has been used in clinical practice for many years. Exercising our brains systematically is as important as exercising our bodies.” – Dr. Elkhonon Goldberg, neuropsychologist, Frontal Lobes fMRIclinical professor of neurology at New York University School of Medicine, and disciple of Alexander Luria.

• “Today, thanks to fMRI and other neuroimaging techniques, we are starting to understand the impact our actions can have on specific parts of the brain.” – Dr. Judith Beck, Director of the Beck Institute for Cognitive Therapy and Research.

Myth 3: Medication is and will remain the only evidence-based intervention for a number of brain-related problems.

Reality: Cognitive training programs are starting to

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