But how do you separate guts from science?
German researchers tried to do just that.
They wondered how the effects of physical exercise would stack up against new-fangled computerized programs.
Does the latest craze in brain boosting—via computer programs—actually improve cognition?
The scientists took two groups of elders with early-stage Parkinson’s disease and put half in an exercise group and half in a cognition-booster group.
They measured the elders’ memory, alertness, depression and other factors and compared them before-and-after the training, and then compared groups side-by-side afterward.
One group worked out on a Nintendo Wii game, where the elders engaged in tennis, swordplay, archery and air-sports with the computer.
The other group engaged in mental activities with CogniPlus, “a training system from Schuhfried for training cognitive functions,” according to the software website.
What did researchers find?
No significant differences in cognition or memory between the brain-training-computer group and the exercise-computer group.
In fact, elders who exercised their bodies “showed more improvement in attention” than the elders who trained with CogniPlus.
Researchers wanted to know whether computerized cognitive training programs truly work.
Salespeople laud the effects of the new programs.
Luminosity calls itself “A leader in the science of brain training” and offers monthly memberships of $10 and an annual fee of $80.
PositScience touts “clinically proven brain-training exercises” and bills $14 per month or $96 per year.
But data are shaky on the true effects of so-called brain training.
The German authors note that skill-specific training (such as solving math problems) doesn’t necessarily generalize to other tasks (such as remembering what’s on the grocery list you left at home).
What the study does confirm is the old saw that exercise counts.
And it doesn’t need to be computerized-exercise.
We’re attracted to the novelty of solutions. We’re persuaded by the bells and whistles of gloss. Gimmicks. Progress.
So I can’t help but think my Indian relatives deserve credit for eschewing progress in favor of the low-tech and home-grown answers to good health.
Just get off your butt.
See R. Zimmerman, U. Gschwandter, N. Benz, F. Hartz, C. Schindler, E. Taub and P. Fuhr. Cognitive training in Parkinson disease: Cognition-specific vs nonspecific computer training, Neurology, March 12, 2014.