How to Sharpen Your Mind with Brain Workouts

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The slowing down of the brain is inevitable. What I meant to say was, the slowing down of the brain with age is inevitable.

I’ve become absentminded lately. In fact, just yesterday, while preparing a turkey sandwich for my son, I took a jar of mayonnaise out of the fridge and forgot to use it. Although I remembered to put the mayonnaise away, I later discovered that I had returned it to the pantry.

Not only do I find that I’m increasingly absentminded, but I’m also more and more forgetful. Words don’t come to me as easily as they used to. I try to hide my forgetfulness from others because it’s embarrassing. During a recent conversation with my daughter, I grew frustrated when it took me five minutes to think of the word “blackmail.” I had to pay her five bucks not to tell anyone.

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Fortunately, you can sharpen your mind by working out your brain. It’s kind of like going to the gym, except only your brain exercises. Brain workouts are no longer limited to word teasers, wooden puzzles, and Rubik’s Cube — you remember, that colorful cursed cube that is so frustrating to solve that after three minutes you want to smash it against a wall?

Now we have Internet brain training using apps, such as Lumosity, Jungle Memory and CogniFit that make brain workouts fun. I decided to try Lumosity, probably the best known app, which is a program that offers scientifically designed games reported to improve cognitive abilities, such as speed, memory, attention, flexibility, and problem solving.

Before you register for the three-day free trial, you’re asked to choose a particular aspect of each of these areas that you’d like to improve. For instance, I chose attention, which includes improving productivity and precision at work or at home, avoiding distractions, concentrating while learning something new, and maintaining focus on important tasks. But I can’t be certain, because while I was registering, I was talking on the phone, checking my email and trying to assemble my new outdoor grill.

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Lumosity develops a personalized training program based on your responses and your age. I tried a game called Word Bubbles, which challenges your language skills and flexibility. You’re given three letters, and you have to type as many words that start with those letters as you can in a set amount of time, after which you’re challenged with a new set of letters. I was given the letters “squ.” “Squid,” “squabble” and “squalor” immediately came to mind. After that, my brain came to an abrupt halt. I suddenly wished I had a Rubik’s Cube to hurl at the wall. It was only after the clock ran out that I thought of more words: “Squirrel,” “squish,” “squeak”…

So, does brain training really work? Numerous scientific studies indicate that our brains do better in the long term if they are exposed to novel activities like brain exercises. Other research has shown mixed results.

Personally, I have found brain training to be (mostly) fun and rewarding. I can’t prove that my mind is any sharper for it, but it did spark the idea to write this article. I’m still thinking of a way to get my five bucks back from my daughter…

When Jersey Girl Lisa Tognola traded her job as freelance writer for that of full-time mother of three children, it didn’t take long before her writing was reduced to grocery lists, notes to school nurses excusing her kids from gym class, and e-mails to her husband reminding him to call his mother. Daily life as a suburban mom was fraught with challenges and unexpected dangers like adult dinner groups, town hall meetings and home shopping parties. Rather than fight her fate, this mom embraced it by unleashing her inner columnist. Her weekly column, Main Street Musings, reflects on life in the suburbs — the good, the bad, and the ugly. Visit her blog, Main Street Musings. Follow her on Twitter @lisatognola.

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