Declare War on Future Memory Loss

Brain scientists used to believe that memory loss and other forms of mental decline were just an inevitable part of aging; nothing could be done about it, so whether or not someone became “senile” was just the luck of the draw.

This acceptance began to change in the 1990’s as more and more scientists began to explore other possible causes for memory loss. In the last two decades, we’ve learned that the brain can continue to make new connections among brain cells, and that it can even grow entirely new ones. Studies have also documented the importance of keeping the brain active; just as muscles grow stronger with exercise, so can the brain if it’s engaged in the right fitness activities.

All these scientific advancements have fueled the rapid growth of the brain fitness movement. Despite the explosion of interest in brain fitness, few understand what “brain fitness” actually means, or how to pursue it holistically.

“Brain Fitness” Is About Capabilities and Performance

First, “brain fitness” is NOT about the diagnosis or treatment of brain-related disorders such as Alzheimer’s or depression. These disorders are rightly defined as medical conditions, and they should be diagnosed and treated under the careful guidance of your doctor.

Similarly, “brain fitness” goes well beyond the prevention of brain-related disorders. Clearly, reducing your risk of having a brain-related disorder is a terrific goal in itself. But the concept of being “fit” means more than just “free of disease”.

“Brain fitness” is about capabilities and performance. Having a fit brain means that you possess the thinking and feeling abilities required to work productively, sustain meaningful personal relationships, and achieve your goals in life. In other words, “brain fitness” means that your brain is performing in the ways that you need and want it to.

There Are Many Important Dimensions to Brain Fitness

Just as physical fitness is about more than the strength of your biceps, brain fitness is much more than just the strength of your memory. The following paragraphs provide definitions to that describe the full breadth of key brain functions.

“Cognition” describes our “thinking” abilities such as processing, coordinating, strategizing and responding to information. This includes a range of critical brain functions such as the ability to remember, pay attention, and make decisions. While there are many ways to categorize the key areas of cognition, one useful approach is to focus on four areas:

  1. Recall measures the strength of your memory.
  2. Attention measures your ability to focus or concentrate while ignoring distractions and irrelevant information.
  3. Processing Speed measures the time it takes for your brain to process information and/or respond to it. An increase in processing speed can make you feel more alert and better able to react.
  4. Executive Function measures high-level thinking skills such as planning, making decisions, solving problems, and reasoning.

Meanwhile, “emotional well-being” describes how you “feel”. Emotional well-being allows you to calmly handle day-to-day challenges, maintain a positive outlook, adapt to change, and understand and care for others. One way to make sense of emotional well-being is to break it into five key areas: Anxiety, Stress, Mood, Emotional Control, and Emotional Recognition.

Building a Holistic Action Plan

Finally, in order to effectively pursue the maintenance or improvement of our brain fitness, we must pursue multiple modalities. Again, a physical fitness comparison might help to illustrate the point. Just as physical fitness is not achieved solely through the use of a bench press machine, a single activity such as crossword puzzles or computer-based brain exercises cannot possibly provide a complete brain fitness solution.

Most people are aware that brain fitness can be promoted through formal education, being actively engaged in life, and continuing to take on new challenges. Most people also understand the importance of a healthy lifestyle, including physical exercise, good nutrition, and stress management.

In summary, we now know that memory loss is not an inevitable part of the aging process. There is now a mountain of scientific evidence that document the benefits of brain fitness as part of an effective wellness program.  By understanding the full breadth of your brain’s abilities, clearly defining your unique brain fitness goals, and building a holistic, evidence-based action plan, you’ll be well prepared to live life to the fullest. If you are interested in an affordable new weapon to help you design a plan to optimize your cognitive well being, I invite you to check out the “neck up checkup” at

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For almost 30 years Ambrosius has been educating companies, nonprofit organizations and public agencies on how better to communicate with and serve middle-aged and older adults. He was among the first in the United States to realize the potential of the “new consumer majority” and specialize in older markets. He and his family recently returned to Sioux Falls, where he launched his campaign against ageism and his advocacy for ageless marketing in 1982. Ambrosius has delivered keynote addresses and motivational workshops in 49 states.