Health and Fitness Information for Mature Adults 

July 03, 2009

Table of Contents

  • SharpBrains for Sharp Brains (Introduction to special issue)
  • The Human Brain (Its organization and functions)
  • The Big Four (Pillars of brain maintenance)
  • Brain Training (Defined)
  • Software, Software, Software (Computer-based brain training)
  • Meditate on This (Conclusion)

SharpBrains for Sharp Brains

The SharpBrains Guide to Brain Fitness is a 166-page soft-cover book that is available through It discusses society's ever-increasing interest in brain health maintenance, as well as the prodigious development of brain fitness products in recent years. This publication will be of particular interest to individuals and health-fitness providers who are, or soon will be, selecting brain training software for private or public consumption.

The guide's co-authors are the co-founders of SharpBrains, a market research and advisory services firm that addresses educational and healthcare applications regarding the growing body of knowledge emerging from cognitive science and neuroscience. Alvaro Fernandez holds a master's degree in education and business from Stanford University, and teaches at the UC-Berkeley Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. Dr. Elkhonon Goldberg, the chief scientific advisor for SharpBrains, is a clinical professor of neurology at New York University School of Medicine. He is also the author of The Executive Brain: Frontal Lobes and the Civilized Mind and The Wisdom Paradox: How Your Mind Can Grow Stronger as Your Brain Grows Older.

"SharpBrains' mission," as defined in the guide, "is to provide individuals, companies and institutions with independent, high-quality, research-based information and guidance to navigate the growing cognitive and brain fitness market. The firm publishes an annual series of market reports, titled the State of the Brain Fitness Software Market, for executives and investors." For more information, visit

The Human Brain

The SharpBrains Guide to Brain Fitness begins with a succinct overview of the major structures of the brain, brain functions, the aging brain, and neuroplasticity. This material is accompanied by interesting expert interviews, including Q/A sessions with Drs. Michael Posner, James Zull and others. Lifelong learning is stressed as a promising means of protecting brain health over time. Citing Dr. Zull, the guide explains, " way to motivate ourselves to keep learning is to search for meaningful bridges between what we want to learn and what we already know. When we do so, we cultivate our neuronal networks. 'We become our own gardeners.'"

The Big Four

The SharpBrains Guide to Brain Fitness emphasizes four lifestyle factors that can improve the health and functioning of the brain:

  • Proper nutrition,
  • Stress management,
  • Physical exercise, and
  • Mental stimulation.
  • While comprehensive older adult health-fitness programs seek to incorporate all four SharpBrains pillars of brain maintenance, Experience! readers are sure to take special interest in what the guide has to say about the third pillar, physical exercise. It states: "As little as three hours a week of brisk walking has been shown to halt, and even reverse, the brain atrophy (shrinkage) that starts in a person's forties, especially in the regions responsible for memory and higher cognition. Exercise increases the brain's volume of gray matter (actual neurons) and white matter (connections between neurons)." Cardiovascular activities -- for example, walking, hiking, swimming and bicycling -- are highly recommended.

    Personal interviews with prominent researchers, including Drs. Arthur Kramer, Elizabeth Zelinski and others, reinforce the guide's "four pillars" principles. Discussing the value of staying actively engaged in living, Dr. Zelinski notes: "A typical misconception about the brain is that there is only one general intelligence to care about. In reality, we have many different cognitive abilities, such as attention, memory, language, reasoning, and more, so it makes sense to have different programs designed to train and improve each of them."

    Senior health-fitness professionals have long promoted continued social engagement as critical to seniors' personal well-being and lasting quality of life. Indeed, social interaction is also acknowledged by the guide as an important component for brain health maintenance.

    Brain Training

    The guide distinguishes between brain training and mental activity. Two examples of mental activity, given in the text, are reading a book and learning a new language. "Mental exercise or brain training," it differentiates, "refers to the structured use of cognitive exercises or techniques. Its aim is to improve specific brain function." Examples of brain training may include cognitive therapy, meditation, biofeedback, and computer-based brain training software programs. Further information on those subjects is provided through expert interviews with Drs. Andrew Newberg, Martin Buschkuehl and others.

    Software, Software, Software

    Computer-based brain training programs are flying off the shelves. Aware of this growing trend, The SharpBrains Guide to Brain Fitness offers consumers assistance in evaluating the claims and scientific rationale behind the plethora of new products being marketed. A helpful ten-point "Checklist to Evaluate Computer-Based Programs" is provided, and numerous popular computer and software brain training products are analyzed in terms of:

  • Product type,
  • Intended user,
  • Specific brain function targeted,
  • Clinical validation, and
  • Price.

  • Meditate on This

    The SharpBrains Guide to Brain Fitness explores the widening range of cognitive health applications proliferating in today's changing world. In total, it features 18 timely interviews with leading scientists, as well as 21 specific computer-based brain training product reviews. Individual consumers, work places, and health-promotion service providers will be wise to consult this publication, especially in connection with choosing brain training computer and software programs.

    Experience! readers: Thank you for your interest and questions. Due to the high volume of contacts SFA receives, we cannot respond to individual queries or comments. However, the newsletter does address frequently asked questions and topics of vital interest to our members.

    Free SFA basic membership: If you aren't already a member of the American Senior Fitness Association (SFA), just sign up online at There are no fees or membership dues. And, we don't give out our members' personal information to others! When you join SFA, you'll receive our e-newsletter "Experience!" which will bring you older adult fitness news, research, and wellness tips.

    Fitness and health professionals: You may distribute copies of Experience! to your exercise clients and patients as a free newsletter service. Copies of Experience! or excerpts therefrom must always ascribe credit to the American Senior Fitness Association (SFA). To fulfill that requirement, include the complete banner (title information at the top of each newsletter) as well as all post-newsletter notes, messages, copyright information, and the SFA logo.
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